The Garçonne, the Girl, and the Biedermeier Babe? Weimar Dress and the Ghosts of Fashions Past

Katherine Tubb (University of Glasgow)

In summer 2009 Berlin’s Kunstbibliothek staged an exhibition called Pailleten – Posen – Puderdosen – Modezeichnungen und Objekte der Zwanziger Jahre. The title was painted in gold across the wall outside the first room – a literal evocation of Weimar Berlin’s fabled ‘golden twenties’. Inside was a rich display of original fashion drawings by the era’s most accomplished graphic illustrators. In the catalogue, the show’s curator, Adelheid Rasche, discussed these images, and the styles they created and recorded, in relation to two familiar (even clichéd) female figures of the twenties: the Garçonne and the Girl. She writes that Berlin’s illustrated press, in conjunction with film and theatre, brought about the Typisierung and Idealisierung of contemporary fashion for Weimar’s masses in the form of these two figures. Magazines, indeed, offered readers ‘eine stetige Auseinandersetzung mit neuen modischen Trends,’ and Rasche, like many fashion historians, links these trends with women’s emancipation.

But she fails to acknowledge that a number of drawings in her exhibition incorporate elements of 18th and 19th century styles, perhaps derived from the historical costume dramas that enjoyed great commercial success in Weimar film and theatre. Many commercial photographers, like Yva and Marta Astfalck-Vietz, supplied images of women in period fashions to the press; yet the monograph published on Yva in 2001 does not reference her work in this area. Nor have broader histories of Weimar’s visual culture ever referred to the large body of articles in illustrated magazines which showcase past styles. And, more specifically, no work has yet been done on the Stilkleid, a haute couture creation of the mid-twenties, perhaps inspired by Germany’s traditional Fasching season, as well as its historical film and theatre, which caused controversy in Weimar’s fashion press because it united the flapper style with the 18th century box crinoline.

Using contemporaneous theory like Georg Simmel’s, this paper will examine the place that past styles had in Weimar dress, in order to moderate the myth, still current today, that ‘golden twenties’ fashion radically overhauled the exterior expression – and even the interior nature – of femininity in the modern era.


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