Gender-Bending in the Weimar

Many thanks to Denise of Blue Gardenia for featuring my sewing space in her continuing series.  Run over and check her out if you haven’t already.

I spent the weekend dreaming and sketching and searching for inspiration.  The Real Cabaret was low on my iView list, but eventually I clicked on it.  What a treat.   I knew Cabaret as some musical with Liza Minelli, but confess complete ignorance of the substance of the movie.

It’s based on Goodbye Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.  As a young homosexual Englishman in the 30’s, he moved to Berlin.  At the time, Berlin experienced an unprecedented level of sexual and political freedom.  One way Berliners expressed this freedom was through the cabaret- not a simple titillating floor show, but also a medium for playing with music and sound, as well as challenging the rising Nazi government and social conventions.  Women in particular experienced a level of freedom and equality not seen again until the Sexual Revolution.

Jean Ross, a writer of considerable wit and the basis for Sally Bowles, the main character in Cabaret.  I like her outfit here- plain and severe, yet flowing and undoubtedly comfortable.  I bet I could knock off a little shirt like that.  Patch pockets on the front of her trousers.  Ballet flats, sarcasm and smooth dark hair?  I got that.

The documentary inspired some digging on my part, which turned up two new-to-me artists, Christian Schad:

And Otto Dix:

This is the not-so-mainstream late 20’s and 30’s.  You won’t find any of these ladies on a Simplicity pattern envelope.   I especially like the girl in a man’s suit, and the sexually potent older woman portrayed as simply beautiful, rather than predatory.

At the same time, they are completely accessible and offer me a great deal of style inspiration- how to wear that fabric flower, makeup inspiration, etc.  I look forward to mining Weimar Germany and finding out how women dressed.

Ruth Jacobi.

Edited to add:

Anita Berber, thoroughly unconventional, pioneer of tuxedos for women, used her body and her sexuality as a form of protest.

What elements of Weimar-chic strike your fancy?

Thanks to everyone who expressed encouragement and concern after my quilting post.  I feel much, much more at peace now.


  1. I love the hair, the hats, the shoes, the makeup from that period. That said, there are family photographs from that time (though not from Berlin) that show the day's fashion to be hugely unflattering on many women. Matrons in sack-like garments (the no-waist or low-waist fashion), please no… The wide men's style pants, blouses and sweaters looked good even on average figures, though. As for dresses, the return of the waist in the 40s/50s was a winner, IMO.

  2. Matrons still wear sack-like garments, I saw a lady at the grocery the other day who could have been a badly dressed dowdy type from any era back to the Romans. Seriously, she was so generically dressed she could have been a time-traveler. The 30's have quite a lot of shaping, which I didn't realize until I started working with patterns from the time. They don't necessarily "nip" in at the waist, more like hug the figure in a way that can either be gorgeous or awful… I'm working on a wardrobe plan inspired by Jean's look and the Weimar portraiture. I have a few other pictures of her kicking around here.

  3. This post inspired so many memories – my first year at Uni I studied all the Weimar artists and writers and designed costumes for the Threepenny Opera and watched the Blue Angel and that whole genre.The woman with a pet duck is new to me though – and a real winner!

  4. I'm late to this post, but I just wanted to say the books "Voluptuous Panic" and "The Hot Girls of Weimar Berlin" are worth a look for plenty of contemporary photos and art. There's one picture from "Hot Girls" I loved so much I had it matted and framed, and it now hangs on my bedroom wall. It's a woman lounging on a couch wearing nothing but a feathery mask, a big fan and a smile. A smile! When was the last time sexy women were allowed to smile? PS Any modern trendy who thinks they know how to party should check out the wild times they had in Weimar Berlin and hang their head in shame.

  5. Thanks, Susannah, I'll look them up as soon as the library re-opens. I've been pondering putting together a wardrobe of a look I call "Voluptuous Androgeny" in my head, drawing heavily on Weimar inspiration. I might call it "Voluptuous Panic" instead. Wicked. I couldn't agree more with you Re: partying. Sometimes I read about what the Romans got up to (or certain passages of Herodotus) and I realize I've seen nothing.

  6. Have you seen the film "Cracks" (2009)? Absolutely spot-on for this style of dress, as worn by a charistmatic teacher in a 1934 boarding school. I blogged about it today!

  7. Pingback: Finished Object: Jean Ross Pants « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  8. I got reminded of Erich Kästner’s books re-reading this post. Because it must be roughly the same time. So I think that’s the aspect I love most about it, that it reminds me of his heroines and heroes, all those people with playful minds. :-) Like the lady with the goose!

  9. Pingback: Trouser Legs: How Wide is Too Wide? « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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