Knott’s Preserved

By now it’s no secret I have fallen head over cowboy boots in love with Knott’s Berry Farm. The literal farm turned theme park has one of the most unique, interesting, and classic American dream stories that there is. The book that helps tell that story best is Knott’s Preserved: From Boysenberry to Theme Park, the History of Knott’s Berry Farm.

With extensive research, interviews, and massive collection of vintage photographs and ephemera, co-authors Christopher Merritt and J. Eric Lynxwiler, weave a tapestry of berries, chicken, and a sudden theme park that sprung up as a result.

Walter Knott, along with his wife Cordelia, began their small berry farm in Buena Park in the 1920s, and eventually Knott cultivated an unnamed berry he acquired from Rudolph Boysen, who had long given up on the hybrid of blackberry, red raspberry, and loganberry. Walter took the plant and nurtured it, and soon it was producing large berries that were rich in flavor. Knott chose to name the berry the boysenberry, after Rudolph Boysen. Walter sold berries and other fruit from a small roadside stand, and a tea room was added where Cordelia sold sandwiches, rolls, jam, and fresh berry pie. It was really a family operation, as the Knott children helped in making the pies. When the Great Depression arrived, the Knott family looked for a way to raise their income, and one night in June of 1934 Cordelia did something that would change their lives and the southern California landscape forever, she made fried chicken.

Word spread that this was the best fried chicken, and very soon Cordelia’s Tea Room had regular customers, and long lines. Soon one of the Knott daughters, Virginia, began selling small gifts from a card table in the lobby to aid both income and in entertaining people awaiting tables, and in 1938, just four years after serving the first dinner, the restaurant saw its first expansion, and Virginia got her very own gift shop, which still bears her name to this day.

But guests were having to wait a rather long time to be seated. And Walter wanted to entertain them. With volcanic rock he ordered from Death Valley, Walter built a waterfall for guests to enjoy while waiting. He quickly followed up that project with another, a millstone vignette, where guests waiting were encouraged to sing “Down by the Old Mill Stream”. Then inspired by a trip to Mount Vernon, Walter recreated George Washington’s fireplace. These were the first “attractions” Walter built to entertain customers waiting to be seated, and guess what, these three attractions are still at Knott’s Berry Farm, and free to the public. They are also something I have wanted to share for awhile, and this book offers a nice way to introduce them.

Today, tucked behind the Berry Market (which is part of the larger Marketplace shopping center just outside the main gates of Knott’s Berry Farm) you can still find these three original attractions. So if you stop in for a bite at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, be sure visit these hidden treasures.

But these small things couldn’t entertain the thousands that were flocking for a taste of Cordelia’s chicken, sometimes waiting over three hours, and soon Walter got the idea to pay homage to his grandmother, who came to California in a covered wagon. In 1940, construction began on what would become the Gold Trails Hotel, and would house a unique diorama depicting a wagon heading west. From this, Walter thought he needed more western buildings to give frame and context to the Gold Trails Hotel, and soon a real life Ghost Town sprung up! Here, guests could spent time as they waited for their tables at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant.

Soon Walter’s Ghost Town grew to have a life of its own, and buildings continued to be added, some of which were real buildings that he relocated to the property, others were built. Some of these buildings were called “peek-ins” as guests could literally peek in through the window and see a scene, like a barber giving a shave or card game being played at the sheriff’s office. These peek-ins were followed by panning for gold, a real antique train guests could ride, and before Walter Knott knew it, he had a full fledge them park. What is so wonderful is that Knott’s Preserved offers a perfect commentary on how each attraction was developed and added, and how the Farm had to change with the times, including stories I had never heard before. It also discusses the many hard working people who joined the Knott family with their project, including the self-taught wood-carver Andy Anderson who bought so many of the original peek-in characters to life, and artist Paul Von Klieben who designed buildings, painted gorgeous images for various locations, including the awe inspiring Transfiguration, which you can see and read about in my post about the Knott’s Berry Farm auction.

People came from all over southern California to visit. Patrick’s grandmother originally hailed from Nebraska before moving to California, and after marrying an Italian immigrant, she stuck to cooking Italian food for her family, but every once in awhile the family traveled to Buena Park from Burbank just for fried chicken and so she wouldn’t have to cook. My dad recalls visiting often (although from the much closer town of Downey), and I am lucky enough to have a handful of photographs from his visits (which I’m planning to share in a vintage Knott’s Berry Farm photograph post).  And stories like these aren’t at all uncommon as Knott’s Preserved shares.

Knott’s Preserved beautifully describes the path of Knott’s Berry Farm from its first steps as a simple farm, through the development of Ghost Town, and the later themed “land” and ride additions were made, not all of which were successful. I learned so much about the Knott family, long forgotten attractions, unrealized attractions, and how the Farm grew into what it is today, including the origins of Knott’s Scary Farm in 1973, and the unique addition of the Peanuts Gang in 1982.

For some, Knott’s Preserved will be a walk down memory lane, for others, like myself, it offers a wonderful glimpse into what Knott’s Berry Farm was once like. It is something any person interested in Knott’s Berry Farm should read.

Knott’s Preserved is available for purchase at Knott’s Berry Farm, both at stores inside the park, as well as Virginia’s in the Marketplace. It is also available for purchase through the the publisher’s website.

Disclaimer: I was not approached by the authors, publishers, or any employee of Knott’s Berry Farm to do a review Knott’s Preserved. I wrote this review of my own accord.

For the Love of the Garish

Recently I was contacted by a Robert Jones, a photographer who had published a book called Garish: Roadside Color Polaroids, after seeing my interest in roadside and photography on my blog. I am always eager to look at photos featuring roadside attractions, dilapidated buildings and long forgotten signage, and the fact that this book was shot entirely with a Polaroid Colorpack III made it all the more interesting.

I honestly couldn’t help smiling when going through Jones’ book. It was full of exactly what I love. Signs, both of the hand painted and neon variety, bizarre statues, buildings, and much more. Plus, he did it with a vintage camera, and if you’re a long-time reader, you may recall that Patrick has a love for shooting a vintage Kodak Dual Flex II, especially with color film, for all the same reasons Jones does. Vintage, middle-class consumer level cameras, of the Polaroid and Kodak variety, have relatively poor lenses, ones that create soft focuses, and natural vignetting. These effects, combined with the rich colors that are ever more saturated with the film, create an almost dream like effect, like you are looking at an image from a memory of something long since past. It personally made me feel good knowing someone else is out there doing what I love to do, and finding these delightful bits of history and taking a snapshot to share with the rest of the world.

John DeFore accompanies Jones’ photographs with an essay on the topic of color film. From the beginning, color film was shunned by the photography world’s elite. Black and white was the only way to go in order to be taken seriously as an artist working in the photographic medium. I found DeFore’s essay very interesting, and in many ways could relate. When I was in high school I took what was one of the last black and white film photography classes at our school. The year after I graduated our school replaced it with digital photography. (I guess I should be thankful that they kept a photography program.) However the subject matter I always wanted to capture involved color! The lush blonde hair of my friend set against red bricks, when we had to do a portrait, the red of a rose in our still-life assignment, and the brightly colored 99W Drive-In when we were able to shoot whatever we wanted for our final project. And the items I enjoyed shooting outside of the classroom also involved color, especially when I would attend car shows with my dad. Candy apple red, aqua, and plum crazy (yes, an actual factory color from Dodge). Yes, the dynamic lines of vintage automobiles, the curve of a friend’s face, could all be captured in stark black and white, but for so long what man has created has never been the subject matter of “real artists” when it comes to photography. For me, and it seems for Jones as well, photographing the man made is not just one of artistic endeavor, but also one of preservation, to capture something that someone else put time and love into, before it is lost to time. Jones, as DeFore discusses, does not appear to look at his subject matter with “ironic juxtapositions, or framed them in ways that suggest a new layer of meaning is being created, Jones is happy to simply celebrate what he has found.” That isn’t to say that Jones just takes a picture without giving it thought. Much of his framing is glorious, and I would love to have nearly any one of these pieces featured in this book hanging on my wall.

I utterly appreciate what Jones has done here. He lets his images speak for themselves, with their vibrate colors, and the use of the Colorpack III film size. It is books like Garish that continue to inspire me, to seek out the unique, bizarre and manmade attractions that dot our landscape here in America.

Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man

Oh, here we are with another Disney related post! I have apartment shooting slated for this week, however next week is creeping up on me faster than I thought! And we return to Portland next week for Expo/Patrick’s work/a friend’s wedding. So I must get that in order, in addition to dealing with some other more dull matters regarding the move. I also have my Halloween costume to share with you! And I hope to have that post up within the week too! But for now, here’s a mega Disney geek post!

One of my favorite Disney artists is Marc Davis. If you don’t follow Disney animation or Disney Imagineering history, the name Marc Davis may not mean a whole lot. But if you have enjoyed such Disney animated classics as Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, or visited Disneyland and laughed at the poor trapped African safari on the Jungle Cruise or enjoyed the happy haunts of the Haunted Mansion, then you have seen Marc Davis’ work. Marc Davis was one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” who were the core team of animation for Disney. Many would go on to direct and some would go on to work at Disneyland as Imagineers. Marc Davis laid pen the paper and brought to life many of our beloved animated characters, including Tinker Bell, Maleficent, and Cruella De Vil and later went on to do work for attractions at Disneyland. Recently Disney published a book covering Marc Davis’ work, Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man, and over the weekend Disneyland hosted a signing of the book with several of its contributing authors and Alice Davis, Marc Davis’ wife, who also did work for Disney.

Alice Davis is another favorite Disney legend of mine. We have her to thank for the darling costumes the children of “it’s a small world” are wearing, and the wide array of costumes seen in Pirates of the Caribbean, including the beloved redhead in the auction scene, in fact, many of the scenes throughout Pirates were originally conceived by Marc Davis in concept, and this Alice smoothed out the edges in costume design and construction.

While a short book, it covers Marc Davis’ childhood, self-taught drawing skills that he honed at the zoo, followed by his entry into Disney, working his way to Imagineering. The book showcases a wide range of his work, everything from early portraits to life sketches to animation drawings to concept art for attractions and most surprisingly his stunning abstract art. Alice Davis receives a small section in the back, showcasing some of her early non-Disney costume sketches, as well as those done for “it’s a small world”.

For those who have helped Disneyland become what it is today, by creating memorable moments for families every day, a special honor is receiving a window on Main Street. For those who may be unaware, next time you walk down Main Street take a look up at the windows. Each and every name you see is a real person who had a hand in creating the magic. Both Marc and Alice Davis have windows on Main Street, side-by-side, of course.

It was a true pleasure to meet Alice Davis, as well as many more, including Don Hahn, who was very active in Disney animation during the 80s and 90s, and was involved in the documentary covering that time period, Waking Sleeping Beauty.

Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man is available at the Disneyland Resort, as well as on Amazon.


Preface: Please note that I am fully aware that I have readers from all over the globe and the topic of the garment trade is a global issue, however, in this review I will be discussing the damage that has been done to the United States’ textile industry. I may use the term “your”, “ours”, “us”, “we”, etc. referring to the United States and its citizens.

I like to consider myself a good shopper. I’m not just talking about deals here. I’m also talking about how I shop and where the items I’m buying come from. In high school I took Financial Math, a course that discussed real-life applications of math, including taxes and credit cards, and we watched the documentary Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices (which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube) and I swore off Walmart then and there. Then in college I took a sociology course where we watched a documentary about the garment industry (the title of which escapes me right now) and I was horrified. Sure, I had heard about sweatshop conditions, especially when Oregon’s own Nike was put on the hot seat in the 90s. But I wasn’t totally aware of the awful conditions garment workers were in. After seeing the documentary I became frantic about checking my clothing labels. Thankfully this information wave hit during a time when I was already beginning to shift my wardrobe to being all vintage and second-hand, so the transition to stop buying new wasn’t very difficult. All of this said, I didn’t really feel a need to read Elizabeth L. Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion when it was published in 2012, but when an article came up on Facebook last week discussing what happens some of the clothing we donate (hint: it doesn’t all go out on the floor!) I felt compelled to learn more about the garment industry and of course it is always good to arm yourself with statistics when the topic of fast fashion comes up.

When I began Overdressed, I wasn’t five pages in before I knew it was a book I felt every person should read. Cline’s writing is so easy to read, and conversational and full of interview quotes from lawyers to designers to garment factory workers. She discusses how she came about to write this book, informing us of her own closet dilemma and the issues of quality. My mouth dropped when I read the following statistic: “The United States now makes 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50 percent in 1990.” Um. What!? In an era where the US is so concerned about the economy, and where their food comes from, I am constantly shocked at how few people care about where their clothing comes from, and ya know what, a terrifying 41 percent of our clothing comes from China. And it’s visible, and when sifting through clothing at places like Buffalo Exchange or Goodwill I see “Made in China” the most often and it is heartbreaking.  In 1996 there were 624,000 people employed in the textile industry in America, today (or as of 2012) that number has plummeted to 120,000. To make matters worse, in 2010 America imported $364 billion worth of products from China, and costing the United States about 2.8 million jobs. Think about that. I firmly believe we vote with our dollar, and right now, China owns us and it is damaging to our economy and our livelihoods.

In the early part of the 20th century, Americans became appalled by factory conditions, especially when the 1911 Triangle Fire thrust it into the spotlight, but today, as our textile industry has shifted overseas, labor conditions for our clothing is something many just don’t think about, and to make matters worse, as Cline explains, the companies that many buy from don’t seem to care either, and state they have no legal responsibility over the conditions of the factories that make their goods. Today all consumers seem to think about is how cheaply can they get the latest fashions. And, as noted in the paperback’s afterward, since the initial publication of Overdressed, Bangladesh has seen several devastating events occur, including the fire in April of 2013 that killed over 1,100 workers.

While sweatshops are discussed in detailed, Cline’s book isn’t an expose on the sweatshops that blanket Asia, but is in fact a book about the garment industry and fashion as a whole. There is discussion of the environmental impact of textile production, especially that of synthetic fibers, legal issues regarding fast-fashion companies ripping off designs and the history of the garment industry in America. Cline interviewed countless people for the book and their insight helps bring Cline’s statistics to life as it showcases the impact fast-fashion has all over the world.  But it is not just those who are active in the fashion industry whose quotes are scattered throughout Overdressed. Cline also interviews shoppers, especially those of fast-fashion. I was disgusted when a shopper expressed that an H&M blazer was “good quality” and later admitted “I like really trendy stuff that’s in this spring, and next spring will probably be out…That’s why I won’t invest a lot of money in one thing.” A friend of this shopper confirmed the same mentality, “I don’t want to pay so much to buy one shirt because the style is going to change.” Fashion changes so rapidly that shoppers no longer view fashion and clothing as an investment, something they will wear for years, but rather as a brief encounter for a few months.

An interesting topic Cline discusses is one that never really crossed my mind much, and that is what happens to our donated clothing once it’s been dropped off on the doorsteps of thrift stores. I had always assumed it went out on the floor, unless it was too damaged it went into the trash. But there is in fact a huge industry around these cast-offs. Garments that are not good enough to be put out on the floor go to textile recycling centers, such as Trans-Americas Trading Co., who then “grade” the clothing and sort them into items that can still be used as clothing, or so terrible that it is then sold off to fiber buyers who break down the clothing so it can be used in various products, including carpet padding and insulation, while another portion goes to the rag industry.  One life of used clothing that I did not know about was the market in sub-Saharan Africa, in which bales of clothing are taken there and resold.

One of the running themes in Overdressed is that of quality. As quality continues to decrease, as does the average person’s knowledge of what to do with damaged clothing. And that is one of the brutal environmental issues. People now treat clothing as disposable, mainly because the quality of the clothing in most stores today is so poor and the trends so fast that repairing something seems so silly. Why learn how to sew so you can fix something, which will take time and effort, when you can go to the store and buy another and maybe find something else as well? The lack of sewing in general is another topic Cline talks about a great deal, and shares her first sewing experiences and how happy owning her own sewing machine has made her, and that she is now able to make her off-the-rack clothes fit better and make her own things from scratch.

Much comparison is made between the current views toward the food industry (shopping locally, trade-free, organically, etc.) and the fashion industry. Many people care about where their food came from, and check food labels, but don’t give a second glance to their clothing labels, and Cline offers glimmers of hope that a fashion revolution is on the horizon. She also offers advice on how to move away from fast fashion, and it’s simple, it’s something many of us (and with this I mean us vintage girls!) are already doing – develop your own style. Work on what looks good on you, what you really like, and buy well made pieces and care for your garments well.

I can’t recommend Overdressed enough! If you wear clothes you need to read it! You can buy Overdressed, including Kindle editions, on Amazon. To learn more about Elizabeth Cline and view a shopping guide of places she recommends visit her website.


Victorian Secrets

A few weeks ago an article had been floating about the interwebs.  It was an article about a woman who wears Victorian garb as many of us vintage gals rock the 40s and 50s.  I was so intrigued, having an interest in the Victorian era in addition to the mid-20th century.  The woman, Sarah Chrisman, mentioned how wearing her corset every day for a year reduced her by waist ten inches, improved her posture and reduced her migraines.  As a migraine suffer myself I was enthralled by the notion of a corset curing migraines, yes, more so than the trimming of the waist! I was even more excited when I read that she had recently written a book about her transformation as a daily corset wearer, and promptly purchased it!

Chrisman’s book, Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself, is an insightful look into how today’s society looks upon the corset, and those who dress differently.  Always interested in the Victorian era, Chrisman had collected clothing of the period, and when her 29th birthday arrived, her husband, Gabriel, gave her a corset.  Initially she wasn’t happy with the gift, but as she looked at her corseted figure in the mirror, she was enthralled, quickly wanting to wear her corset as much as possible.  Wearing the garment lead Chrisman to do research about corsets, and quickly learned that much of what she had heard about the corset were pure myth, and as she began to get a smaller waist, her wardrobe slowly transformed to become more in line with what women of the Victorian era wore.

As Chrisman’s waist shrank, she began to receive a wide range of comments, from gushingly positive to horrifically negative and some that she just didn’t know how to take! Many people were intrigued by her deep interest in the period that would take her to the lengths to wearing a corset 24/7, but others, mostly women she noted, were appalled, calling the corset a symbol of oppression.  As Chrisman and her husband got deeper into their manner of dress, they began to be invited to events as participants, and were then able to educate, and dispel stereotypes of the Victorian era as depicted in films and crush flat out lies, such as broken bones (which refer not to human bones, but the bones of a corset, originally referring to the fact that the stays were originally made of whale bone).

I enjoyed Chrisman’s comparison of dressing in period clothing to that of being from a different country. She quotes a book which states that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” How true that is! But unlike foreign countries, which have ambassadors and such, Chrisman notes that “[h]istory has no emissaries.” And I would like to think that historians, and those who choose to dress in a manner from the past can be those emissaries, to become a “[h]istorial ambassador”, and Chrisman and her husband do just that.

Dressing out the norm on a regular basis has its own daily struggles, but sometimes there are special circumstances that can make it even more difficult, and in that case some, like myself, make concessions.  One example is air travel (for more on traveling for the vintage loving gal, read this post).  When the holidays approached, Chrisman had been corseting herself every day since her birthday, and had altered her clothing so much that there were “few clothes left that would fit me without my corset”, and chose to go through with their holiday flights to the east coast in her corset.  The flight to the east coast was met without too much issue, and the TSA apologized for the inconvenience, but between their arrival and their departure, Newark, the same airport they were to fly out of, had a bomb scare (Chrisman’s book, while contemporary, much, including this visit takes place in 2009, post-9/11, but pre-common use of body scanners).  When flying back to their home state of Washington, Chrisman’s corset set off the metal detector and was subjected to a strip search, and feared a body cavity search, but was spared that.  After this case, Chrisman makes no mention of deciding upon different arrangements for future travel, or to select a specific travel wardrobe that does not require her corset.

While Chrisman enjoys the Victorian era, and I myself the mid-20th century, I still found her book extremely easy to relate to.  Dressing out of the past’s closet, regardless of era, is often met with odd comments, many of which I face on a daily basis.  People wonder what you’re doing “all dressed up” or if you’re “in a play”.  Chrisman’s corset and the comments surrounding it were similar to how some react when the topic of girdles is brought up.  Some are quick to bad mouth them while I stand there in one! Then those who lived through the days of seamed stockings inquire why on earth I wear them.  Tired of checking for straight seems, and attaching the garters, they rejoiced when seamless stockings, followed by pantyhose became the norm.  Chrisman also recounts moments of “a special kind of self-torture” when looking at garments on-line that are out of budget, something I’m certainly guilty of!

Victorian Secrets isn’t without issues though.  Chrisman isn’t afraid to describe people physically that she comes in contact with in an negative light, describing a man with “triple chins”, a woman as “dumpy” and as a “crone”.  She also assumes someone’s education based upon their manner of speech, and declared that the person should be “weeded from the gene pool”.  There were other moments I had issue with as well, such as a moment when a hostess’ hair whips through a cake’s frosting, and instead of informing her hostess of the issue, Chrisman instead makes a “mental note” not to eat any of that cake.  While such descriptions of people may add to a fictional story, it comes across as unnecessary and cruel in a memoir which is to focus upon wearing a corset on a daily basis.

Overall, I found Victorian Secrets book a very quick and easy ready, finishing it in just five days (possibly a new record for me!), and could be easily completed in one sitting.  Her style of writing is similar to that of a blog in many respects, but I will admit I did bump into two words I was utterly unfamiliar with and had to look up!  The book is accompanied with images from various catalogs of the turn-of-the-century, Gibson drawings, and photographs of the author herself.  Ultimately I found Chrisman’s mini-memoir to be inspiring, and encouraging.  She has armed herself with numerous sources as she steps outside her front door to quickly thwart those who know only the stereotypes of the period, and has become a Historical Ambassador! I find myself now more eager to speak up for myself when one talks about the annoyances of girdles and/or stockings and other matters of “oppression” with regards to dress.

You can purchase Victorian Secrets on Amazon.

Speaking of corsets and girdles, now is a good time to mention tomorrow is the last day to enter the What Katie Did book giveaway if you haven’t already! It closes tomorrow night and the winner will be announced on Thursday!

Broken Threads

When I completed my review of Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich, I made note of other books on fashion and World War II that I was looking forward to reading and sharing my thoughts with you.  And today I share with you my thoughts on Broken Threads: The Destruction of the Jewish Fashion Industry in Germany and Austria.

Broken Threads stems from a fashion exhibit that was produced by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in 1999 and shares a collection of essays written by a variety of authors on the subject of Jews and the fashion industry during the Second World War.  Nazi Chic author Irene Guenther is among the essayists and a few of the pieces are translated from German.

The book opens with a wonderful introduction that discusses the origins of the book, and why fashion is an important part of WWII history, and brought up a great point – fashion is a way to bring in new audiences to Holocaust education.  What so few people know is that the Jews were integral to the fashion industry.  Prior to the WWII, Jews in Germany operated nearly eighty-percent of the department and chain stores, sixty-percent of the wholesale and retail clothing business and forty-percent of the wholesale textile industry.  They had talent regarding fashion design, knowledge of textiles and extreme business savvy that made them excel in the fashion world.  But by being such a pillar of the fashion industry, the Jewish owned businesses became easy targets once Hitler rose to power.  Jewish fashion was deemed a perpetrator of modernism, something the Nazis felt was un-German.  According to the Nazis, modernism was degenerate, and the fashion coming from the Jews was labeled hideous, and a “satanic mockery of womanhood”.  Boycotts ensued, Aryan take-overs of businesses began, and those shopping at Jewish owned businesses were labeled as traitors, which even became grounds for divorce in Germany.

In 1933 Adefa, the Federation of German-Aryan Manufactures of the Clothing Industry, was created.  The group aimed to eradicate Jews from the fashion industry, and perpetuated that their goods were superior to those made by Jews.  Members had signs in their store windows boasting that their garments were “made by Aryan hands” and the garments also bared sewn in Adefa labels.  Additionally, the group produced fashion shows and exhibits showcasing their German goods and aimed to produce a true German style.

Eventually, the boycotts and work of Adefa culminated in in Kristallnacht, where 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. After that horrific night, Adefa felt its goals of ridding the fashion world of Jews was complete and began to focus on removing Jewish methods and technique from the industry.   Then, on August 15, 1939, as Jews were forced into the ghettos, Adefa proclaimed success over the Jewish “monopoly” in the clothing industry and dissolved.

In the ghettos Jews were then, ironically, forced to work to produce clothing and shoes for Nazi officials, their wives, the military and even for “Aryan” businesses, who contracted cheap ghetto labor in order to gain huge profits, and the same thing continued into the death camps.

Broken Threads also offers more details regarding the rationing process, noting precise points to garment numbers, but the images painted regarding the lack of inventory, and desperate means that women went to clothe themselves and their families are not as harsh as those described in Nazi Chic.  Other topics of discussion are the history of Jews in the garment industry, dating back to biblical times, the history of the department store, and the Aryanization that occurred in Vienna.

In many respects I wish I could have read Broken Threads prior to Nazi Chic.  It is a much easier read, includes a timeline and pictures throughout, while covering many of the same topics as discussed in Nazi Chic.  The only topic really omitted is the discussion of women in the military.  So for those wishing to learn more about the fashion industry under the Third Reich, and not the military aspect, then Broken Threads is a much better read, and I would recommend it for anyone with the slightest interest in the subject.

Broken Threads is available on Amazon.

Nazi Chic?

A minor warning before we get started today. Today’s post may be viewed as controversial and maybe even frivolous. However, I find it an enthralling and important topic. Further more, I do not support the horrible and anti-Semitic views of the Nazis nor do I sympathize with them.

When you think about World War II, you think about Pearl Harbor, Rosie the Riveter, air raids over Britain, and the horrors of the Holocaust.  Us vintage lovers may also think about the fashion of the time, and how the silhouettes were sleek and sexy or the dawn of slacks and fashionable casual wear.  But for the most part, when we think about the fashion, we think about our nation’s war time fashion, whether that’s the United States, Canada, Britain or Australia.  We simply don’t think about Germany.

To many, the topic of fashion during WWII, and specially German fashion, may be deemed unworthy of attention or shallow in contrast to the atrocities that the Nazis committed.  But Irene Guenther, author of Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich paints a portrait of a nation not only at war with the world, but at war with itself and how fashion played a role under Hitler’s rule.

There are a lot of good things and a lot of not so good things to Guenther’s book.  First off, it’s not an easy read.  It reads like a text book.  It’s taken me longer than I care to admit to finish. Part of that may be because the first part of the book I care little about – World War I.  The book is difficult in some parts to read, while easy in others.  It is also of the type where there is a section of pictures in the center, instead of throughout.  I’m sorry, but when discussing items such as art, fashion and architecture, I believe that pictures should be along side words.  She also takes time to discuss the extravagance of some of the higher up male officials of the Nazi party, and rationing of food, areas I found unnecessary.

Now, let’s talk about the good and the extremely fascinating. Nazi Chic? is filled with incredible battles within Nazi Germany toward what its ideal woman should be, and what “German Fashion” meant.  It also discusses how early on Nazi Germany set itself up for the economic failure.  Nazi Germany thought itself supreme, and quickly did away with accepting imports, which included much of the fabric and some of the clothing the country needed.  But this was just one nail in the Reich’s coffin.  At the time, the Jewish population had nearly total control over the German fashion industry, from design to manufacture to sales.  They had the skill set and the know-how.  By eradicating Germany of the Jews, Germany lost much of its clothing and fashion industry.  Much of the Aryan takeovers resulted in poorer quality goods and as even Magda Goebbels, wife of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, noted, upon observing many of her favorite Jewish designers disappearing, “Elegance will now disappear from Berlin along with the Jews.” And, boy, was she right.  Despite Germany’s early start to rationing, supplies for the average German ran out and over the war years, women were far from elegant.  Between the lack of imports, the amount of items going to the soldiers and the disappearance of the Jewish garment industry, shops were bare.  Burlap sacks were unwoven and rewoven into underwear, sweaters and socks.  Those who had lost someone to the war reworked their male family members’ remaining clothing items into new items for themselves.  The extreme shortage of leather left many out in the cold with regards to footwear, and over time, materials that we now think of as being average for footwear, such as cork, wood, and for the vintage fanatic, Plexiglass, were all innovations of the shortages Germans suffered.

Both those higher up officials and their wives could still have nearly everything they wanted, and sometimes by the most unique means.  While it wasn’t unheard of for Nazis to take what they pleased from the homes of the Jews they forced into the ghettos and later concentration camps, the Nazis would go on to use those in such horrid locations as a virtual sweatshop.  Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps, had a warehouse, dubbed “Canada” where the items that were taken from the Jews were thrown.  Aware of the goods, Frau Höss, the wife of the camp’s commandant, Rudolf Höss, took items from “Canada”, along with two female inmates, and forced them to design and make clothing for her and the Höss family.  Gossip and jealousy ensued, and to avoid further resentment, Frau Höss established a sewing room detail at the camp where a select few inmates were required to produce two custom-made pieces each week for the female SS guards and the wives of SS officers.  Everyday clothes, lingerie and evening gowns were sewn and if the women are pleased with the work, the inmates were given an additional piece of bread.  How fascinating that prior, items made by Jews were deemed degenerate, were now a prized possession.  While Frau Höss and other Nazi women were enjoying the luxury of custom-made garments, and the average German woman was darning and patching, it was those in the camps who suffered the most.  They were wearing filthy “pajamas” day in and day out, and most of the time not even given the basics of underwear.  By war’s end and the camps were liberated, those women who survived and had the strength stormed the SS headquarters of their camps and took tablecloths to make a dress or skirt.

Most interesting to me is the brief mention of how the swastika was treated in fashion.  While it was common place on uniforms and their accessories, as well as armbands and party pins, it also found its way into the everyday fashion and home of Germans.  Guenther makes note that it appeared on dog collars and bedsheets, and even as a ladies’ hat, however she either never discovered images of these, or chose to omit them in her picture pages.  Those interested in vintage fashion, especially that of 1940s are familiar with that of sweetheart jewelry – items that carry a patriotic theme such as the stars and stripes or a “V” for victory – but we never think about the notion of Nazi sweetheart jewelry.

Other topics discussed are the issue of women in uniform, Germany’s fashion institutes, attitudes toward France, hypocrisy of what it meant to be a German woman, and Kristallnacht. But do not expect to read anything about Coco Chanel or Hugo Boss.

While the book may appear thick, nearly a third is notes and bibliography.  And Guenther’s notes are nearly just as interesting.  You can tell that this subject means a lot to her, and that she spent many years reading and interviewing people on the subject to compile this astonishing book that is in fact the first English language book on the subject of Nazi Germany fashion.

Overall, I found Guenther’s book to very interesting, and at times shocking.  I will note that Nazi Chic? is written in typical essay format, and while it does include first-hand accounts, these are not shared directly, but rather indirectly, and the reader is only aware of such personal tales when reading the conclusion.  I recommend the book for those with a high interest in the history of the Nazi Party, and/or the garment industry and those who are fanatical about 1940s fashion.  Interested in buying? Click here.

I have a few more books on the subject of fashion during World War II and I look forward to reading them and sharing them with you as well.