Imagining Cool Fashion Bodies and “Exoticism” in the Literature of the Weimar Republic

Authors

  • Catharina Rüß TU Dortmund

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2611-0563/10569

Keywords:

Weimar Republic, Jazz Age, Postcolonial Critique, Fashion History, Queer Style

Abstract

The era of the Weimar Republic is regarded as a period showing a marked increase in cool fashion presentations. Depictions of coolness as a fashion practice of dressing and style narratives in the literature of the Weimar Republic has this far hardly been discussed in Fashion Studies. In the foreground of the essay are the styling performances of urban flappers, bohemians and jazz boys in novels of the 1920s. With their looks these characters – who can be considered as antecedent hipsters – try to distance themselves from the mainstream. They usually live in metropolises. Mostly this means Berlin, often described as a transcultural area where diverse trends from different countries are blended to the flair of the “Roaring Twenties.” In the German capital a new cosmopolitan scene unfolds that also includes members of the British “bright young things.” Dancing the Charleston, these figures are often presented as wild. Their styles seem as vibrant as their dance steps with which they differentiate themselves from the generation of their bourgeois parents. In this context the essay highlights the question: in what sense is the idea of cool fashion and hipsterism as a statement of otherness often correlated not only with the fashion industry but also with the cool appearance of Afro-American musicians and artists, and in that context with several exoticisms and primitivisms. By showing selected examples the essay points out some problematic dimensions and ambiguities of cool fashion performances from the Weimar Republic till today. This demonstrates that the 1920s were perceived as a short period, as Langston Hughes states, “where the negro was in vogue.” Overall, the essay shows how white writers and artists from their superior perspective of whiteness glorify blackness as a fashionable fetish and an anti-bourgeois statement by combining specific aesthetics and outfits with different mystical stereotypes and desires for nonconformity, closeness to nature and freedom. They formulate a crucial motif of white hipster coolness which is part of the rhetoric of socially critical outsiderism right up until the present day.

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Published

2020-05-20

How to Cite

Rüß, C. (2020). Imagining Cool Fashion Bodies and “Exoticism” in the Literature of the Weimar Republic. ZoneModa Journal, 10(1S), 239-254. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2611-0563/10569