When what we wear becomes propaganda


from: Sheela R, via email

In the 1930s, the Nazis encouraged women to wear traditional volk clothing such as the dirndl, ostensibly to promote an image of purity and austerity. Various ploys were engaged to achieve this: from advertisements in magazines advocating the use of dirndls to outright condemnation, as harlotry, of fashion heavily influenced by French standards.

The idea was to eventually reduce women to simplistic gender roles of childbearing and domestic slavery. This was also to discourage what the Nazis saw as elements of foreign liberalism, “tainting” their womenfolk.

Not surprisingly, some women, including prominent persons such as the actress, Marlene Dietrich, felt compelled to adopt the Nazi stance on dressing, in the name of virtue.

The use of fashion propaganda in the hands of the Nazis was also purely exploitative, to satisfy socio-economic needs and as a means to gain control over their citizens.

For example, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutsch-arischer Fabrikanten der Bekleidungsindustrie or Adefa was created by German clothing manufacturers to systematically exclude Jews from the textile and garments industry, through the creation of “Aryan-designed” and manufactured clothing. Through a series of economic sanctions, forced buyouts and relentless persecution, the minority Jewish community was eventually eliminated from the fashion world by 1939.

The Islamic State also uses the theme of purity and honour to control and compel its female citizens to dress in accordance with guidelines produced by its female Al-Khanssaa Brigade.

Punishments meted for infringements are harsh and often arbitrary. At the Ghazlani camp in Mosul, five women were stoned to death for refusing to wear the veil. At other times, women were beaten with a stick on their heads for not complying with the guidelines.

Sadly, a preoccupation with dressing is well alive in our nation.

From sarees to tight jeans, self-appointed moralists have taken it upon themselves to determine what constitutes appropriate dressing and what is not. It is high time we decide for ourselves on what to wear instead of ceding control to moralists who pontificate about women’s dressing.

Simply put, we don’t need propagandists robbing us of our fundamental rights, using fashion and dressing as a tool.

Sheela R is an FMT reader

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