Batwing sleeves, carrot jeans, teased hair – Germany in the 80s was characterized by lively, exalted fashion. But while the boutiques and department stores in the West were full of them, things in the GDR were more than bleak. Trendy clothing was hardly available. That’s why the population often sewed, knitted or crocheted the fashionable pieces themselves.
Of course, these didn’t have the look of industrially produced western goods. On the one hand, the choice of fabrics was limited and, on the other hand, there was a lack of haberdashery. GDR fashion often lacked the typical pop ornamentation, such as patches, rivets and decorative zippers. Not to mention prints. But that didn’t just apply to the homemade things. Even officially, decorative details were not even put into production, even if they were originally intended by the GDR designers.
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That was also the reason why people in the SED state were always dressed so simply. A lucky few were the exception; They received the discarded belongings of relatives from over there via Western parcel. Today, many photo series from the fashion magazine Sybille give an idea of the potential that was wasted in the East back then. Thank the economy for shortages.
This meant that real fashion trends could not develop in the GDR. What remained of socialism in terms of fashion is at most a few stylistic clichés. They even appear again and again as fashionable moments in the collections of famous luxury brands. Whether the designers really had socialism in mind when designing is only partially known. We found these three GDR references.
1. Oilcloth blanket with flowers
Floral-printed oilcloth was probably on almost every East German kitchen table until before the fall of communism. A phenomenon that probably also existed in the former Soviet Union. The Georgian-born designer Demna Gvasalia says that the floral patterns in his collections are references to the tablecloths in his childhood. He even created dresses for his label Vetements out of the oilcloth they were made of.
The fashion designer now only calls himself Demna and is creative director at Balenciaga. And he still makes these clothes that look like the tablecloths from back then. He even still uses the waxed textile – for example for three dresses from the Balenciaga collection for next summer, which was just shown in Paris.
In the kitchen of the privileged cyclist Olaf Ludwigs, a mix of patterns is manifested that is still associated with the GDR today. Note the floral tablecloth made of waxed fabric.Imago
Stylistically outrageous, but quite practical: the oilcloth ceiling. It was hard to imagine GDR tables without it; Vetements made two apron dresses out of it for its 2016 summer collection. Alain Gil Gonzalez/Imago
2. Work coat in gray
Uniforms were worn in all public areas in the GDR. Each group had its uniform. The children were organized into pioneers and provided with white shirts and scarves; the youth wore the blue shirt of the FDJ. In many companies, smocks were worn, which were often gray and made of slightly shiny chemical fiber. The GDR was a state of workers and farmers, workwear instead of a jacket and tie, so to speak.
Raf Simons is a fan of this style; since he became co-creative director of Prada, the Italian luxury label sometimes unintentionally exudes a touch of the GDR.
Well, where did the colleague in the middle leave his smock shirt? This is what workwear looked like in 1987 at the VEB Kombinat Machine Tool Construction Fritz Heckert in Karl-Marx-Stadt.Härtel Press/imago
Frock-like designs from the Prada summer collection for 2023 are strongly reminiscent of the labor heroes in the socialist planned economy.Prada
The photo documents from the fall of the Berlin Wall prove it: the style of the moment was jeans in general, and stonewashed jeans in particular. According to myth, the trousers made of roughly washed denim were mainly worn by East Berliners. Whether it was actually the case or not, the spotted look became a fashion cliché of the declining East.
By the way, the GDR produced its own stonewashed jeans back then. They were called “marble jeans” because they generally didn’t allow terminology to be dictated by capitalist foreign countries. This wash was last seen in Glenn Martens’ current Diesel collection at Milan Fashion Week in September. However, it is unlikely that the Belgian, who was born in the early 1980s, had the German reunification in mind when designing.
Stonewashed jeans represent 80s fashion in the GDR like no other item of clothing. Photos like these are to blame. The pictures of the fall of the Berlin Wall document the popularity of denim washing at the time, especially among the Eastern population.imago
In Milan, the Diesel brand is showing a series of stonewashed looks for next summer.Diesel
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