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Seminal Styles of the 20th Century, Part Three: Supply, Demand, Gender-Bending and Nuclear Cheesecake

Seminal Styles of the 20th Century, Part Three: Supply, Demand, Gender-Bending and Nuclear Cheesecake
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Springtime for Hitler on the Paris Runways. Pin-Up Girls Pump More than Morale. Plus our 21-Gun Salute to Gender Bending in the Military.

  Dedicated Follower of Fascism

Although Adolf Hitler was a lousy painter, had a kitsch mustache, was rumored to have had an affair with his half-niece, Geli Raubal, (who committed suicide—or was murdered to keep her quiet—as a result), reportedly had only one testicle (which perhaps explained why he never allowed anyone to see him in the nude), is thought by some to have been a closeted homosexual who enjoyed urolagnia (I peed on der Führer!) during sex, and last but not least, was the inventor of the blow-up doll (No, really. Not wanting his troops to fraternize with non-Aryan vaginas, Hitler had his scientists whip up a prototype fuck-dummy with blonde hair, milky-white skin, big hooters, thick lips, and remarkably real-feeling lady bits. Too bad for his troops that the factory, located in Dresden, was leveled by Allied bombers before production could begin), he did understand a few things about what to wear.

Nazi uniforms were some of the most smartly turned out and singularly recognizable fashion statements of the 20th Century. “I know there are many people who fall ill when they see this black uniform,” said Heinrich Himmler, who as Reichsführer-SS (Schutzstaffel), headed up the Nazi police and security forces, including the Gestapo. “We understand that, and don’t expect that we will be loved by many people.”

Himmler was correct. However, except in the guise of Dick Shawn as a misguided hippie in the original film production of The Producers (1968. d. Mel Brooks) (“I lieb ya. I lieb ya, baby. Now lieb me alone”) Hitler wasn’t looking for love, he was looking for unquestioning devotion from his followers and abject fear from his enemies. The kinky, S & M SS uniform, designed by SS-Oberführer Proffesor Dr. Karl Diebitsch and graphic designer Walter Heck, inspired both. Like Volkswagen, the firm of Hugo Boss collaborated with the Nazis before and during the war, and was responsible for manufacturing these and a myriad of other uniforms by means of forced labor. (Ironically, the much-loathed garb of the Nazi’s would undergo a something of fashion renaissance in the mid-’70s thanks to the Punk Rock movement, but more on that later.)

  A Mannequin Among Men

But the Third Reich wasn’t alone in its pursuit of world fashion domination. The Allied forces had a true designing diva of their own: General George Smith Patton, III. General Patton’s well-documented love of the conspicuous bordered on a grandiosity usually reserved for drag queens. His passion for fashion manifested itself in, among other things, his uniforms, which as a General, he had the discretion (within reason) to create himself. In his book, Patton: A Genius for War, biographer Carlo D’Este wrote: “One of these officers was McLain, and as he arrived, he observed ‘a tall, stately officer (Patton) leaning against a tree wearing green padded jodhpurs, a pea-green double breasted jacket fitted at the waist, with brass buttons running from the waist up over the right shoulder, with a pearl-handled [sic] revolver on a peculiar sling under his left arm.’ His helmet, reputedly obtained from the Washington Redskins football team, had a gold raised band around it that looked very much like a halo.”

Fortunately for the Allies, Patton more effective as a general than a couturier, and as to his pistols being pearl-handled, that was pure hooey. “Only a pimp in a New Orleans whorehouse or a tin-horn gambler would carry a pearl-handled pistol,” he proclaimed. Patton’s revolver was—in his own words: “Ivory-God-Fucking-Damn-Handled.” Glad we’re clear on that one.

  World Conflict Creates a Sexual Identity Schism

When America entered the fray after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, women on the home front were caught in the curious conundrum of having to play the dual roles of muse and muscle. As the ranks of soldiers, sailors and marines swelled and men marched off to war, two things were assured: long separations leading to lack of intercourse between opposite sexes (and undoubtedly lots of masturbation and same-sex experimentation), and the need for women to go to work.

From this dichotomy was born two icons, different as night and Doris Day. The first was the pin-up, as personified by “Sweater Girl” Lana Turner (the tit-bit of choice for breast men), redheaded heartthrob Rita Hayworth (who made men throb all over), and chorus-girl-turned-movie-star Betty Grable, whose million-dollar legs boosted the morale—and the boners—of countless G.I.s around the world. One of Hollywood’s most significant contributions to the war effort was a stunning array of stylized cheesecake glamour girls showcasing ever-more revealing outfits featuring bare midriffs and enough leg to leave little to the imagination. (God bless Dorothy Lamour.)

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Rosie the Riveter. Literally created as an advertising gimmick to encourage women to take on men’s work, this fictitious butch heroine had a history-changing impact that reverberated from the factory to the loading dock to the bedroom. There are actually two Rosies. The original was created for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post by Norman Rockwell . The second , a poster picturing a feisty femme in a red-and-white polka-dot bandana baring her bicep under the slogan: “We can do it!” isn’t even really Rosie (or Rosie real). The singularly emblematic image that is often misidentified as Rosie, was, in fact, created by Howard Miller for the Westinghouse Corporation—however, a Rosie by any other name would smell as sweet, and still played a vital part in sending 20 million American gals to work in factories and offices across the nation.

  Sturm ünd Drag

But standing squarely between the two extremes was another icon, a rare combination of male and female sexual energy, the doyenne of drag herself, Marlene Dietrich. Equally at home whether attired in a sultry sequined evening gown or in the full regalia of a man’s tuxedo, Dietrich had already established herself as a gender-bending pioneer in the 1930s. Her sexual conquests—of both male and female lovers—was one of Hollywood’s worst kept secrets, and the stuff of Tinsel Town legend. Dietrich sported a stylish wardrobe that spoke to both her passions.

Although a German national, Dietrich was vehemently anti-Nazi, and during the war, part of the patriotism she felt for her adopted country took the form of donning an American military uniform on-screen, most notably in a Hollander/Loesser song and dance number, “The Man’s in the Navy” from Seven Sinners (1940, d. Tay Garnett) co-starring the über-straight John Wayne, one of her numerous off-screen paramours. (How’s that for butch on butch?) Dietrich achieved an effect that was both beautiful and mannish, which rendered her simultaneously alluring on a deep-seated sexual level to both the male and female members of her audience.





The not-really-underground celebrity status Dietrich garnered as a seminal gay role model was offset by two factors: her zealous love for America (in addition to her film roles, Dietrich suited up in G.I. duds in real life as a tireless entertainer for the USO)—and a double-standard that allowed women to appear masculine yet retain sexual viability, when feminized men could only be viewed as sissified fops.

While there were numerous examples of cross-dressing men in mainstream entertainment and films, it was always an expression of comedy. Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle and Red Skelton were never meant to be seen as the real deal, no matter how well-coiffed their wigs, or how much lipstick they slathered on. (One might argue that Errol Flynn’s epic outing as an outlaw in tights in the 1938 film classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood (d. Michael Curtiz) was an exception to the rule, but it would be reaching.)

Even as late as 1949, with the war over, when Cary Grant—a certified sex symbol, who, like Dietrich, was eagerly embraced by both genders—donned girly garb for the Howard Hawks’, I Was a Male War Bride, his masculinity was never in question. One of the most handsome men ever to grace the screen, for this flick, Grant was tricked out as one hell of an ugly woman. While the director was more than likely simply going for laughs, it does beg the question of whether the image of a beautiful man passing as beautiful woman would have been perceived by audiences as nearly so innocent or amusing. (More than likely not.)

  Back at the Fashion Front

Not surprisingly, the war had a dramatic impact on fashion in general. With Parisian couture out of commission, rather than emulating French designers, American fashionistas had to come up with their own lines. Rationing of everything from gasoline to fabric also had a profound impact on current vogues. Having to do less with more, American designers focused on sportswear. Interchangeable wardrobe items afforded well-turned-out women the illusion of having more options and outfits.

With most dry goods including fabric, being channeled to the war effort, shorts skirts became patriotic. Ironically, with more female leg being exposed than ever before, Nylon stockings—a black market favorite—were almost impossible to find. While some gals made do with bare legs, bobby socks and saddle shoes, die-hard style divas resorted to having faux seams applied to the backs of their legs with makeup, rather than appear nekkid in their high-heeled wedge sandals.

But perhaps the most telling fashion revelation that emerged from the era was that felt by the women in uniform, rather than those whose garments merely emulated them. Thousands of women joined the WACs (Women’s Army Corps), WAVEs (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. U.S. Navy), WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), as well as taking on more traditional roles of nurses. Exempt from combat, while some who enlisted found themselves treading the boring waters of the typing pool, many of these pioneering females ferried planes, worked in communications, code breaking, and transport. Clothing designed to be task specific offered females a freedom of movement and sense of purpose many had never before experienced. Jumpsuits, uniforms and flight jackets became extensions of the identities of the women who wore them—as much or more so than for their male counterparts.

To probably no one’s surprise (except, perhaps the U.S. Government with its officially sanctioned blinders), the absence of man meat did not necessarily put the kibosh on coitus or passion for chicks in the military. Although it was frowned upon (as in, it could get you expelled, discharged , tossed out on your cute patootie), women in close quarters sometimes fell in love…with one another. Lesbians whether out (at least self-acknowledged), bored and horny, or simply same-sex curious, found an outlet for their amatory desires while serving their country. For some, these girl-on-girl romances were a passing fancy; for others, a revelation revealing an expanded palette of erotic options, and, for a lucky few, the beginning of life-long relationships and lasting love.

  A Separate Piece

When the war finally came to an end in 1945, sinfully delicious Grable and others of her ilk may have had the last word when it came to sexually charged fashion, but it was the descendents of Rosie the Riveter and our female military veterans who left the most profound mark on modern culture. For many women who had tasted the freedom of earning their own wages and not being beholden to a man for her daily bread or the roof over her head, stepping back into the retro-role of housewife and mother was no longer a viable option—as much as it may have encouraged by the U.S. Government. Like it or not, females were in the workforce to stay. To be taken seriously in the business world, working gals needed serious clothing. In response to demand, designers came up with women’s suits that aped men’s fashions.

Working alongside men every day, women often had to do twice as much to get half as far. Equal pay, a promotion, or that cushy corner office? Pie in the sky. But the workplace double standard that really cut to the quick was the orgasm inequity. While the blueprint for a successful businessmen’s climb to the top of the corporate ladder included a home, a wife, a few kids, and at least the prospect of getting some nookie on a fairly regular basis, career girls, for the most part, got the shaft (and we’re not talking Mr. Happy).

In the ’40s, a girl still had to consider her reputation. Bad girls may have given head, but they didn’t get ahead. Smart broads cracked wise and channeled their sexual energy into work. In Hollywood, the poster girl for this spinster army was quintessential second banana, actress Eve Arden. Arden seldom got the man, but she often had the best lines. So just what were these working women doing with themselves? Doing it with themselves while watching their reflections in a glass ceiling, no doubt, and for the few and the brave, carrying on discreet affairs. For the most part, however, it was an either or proposition— a man or a career.

  A Slice of Radioactive Cheesecake

Once husbands and boyfriends returned to the fold, many families did revert to traditional roles, however, some of the predilections men had acquired during the war years were genies that simply would not go back into their bottles. These guys had gotten a taste of bare flesh. Mmm, cheesecake good! We want more! And boy, were they about to get it.

Although the origins of the two-piece bathing suit can be traced back to the cave dwellers (see, those scenes with Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. (1966, d. Don Chaffey) are historically correct after all, at least from a costuming perspective) it was a pair of dueling Frenchmen, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, who re-introduced the garment to modern-day beaches.

Heim, a clothing designer, was technically first, launching a creation he dubbed the “Atome” in 1946, but it was Reard, a mechanical engineer, whose “Bikini,” named after the atomic test site at the Bikini Atoll, who got the glory. Legend has it that Reard’s conspicuously skimpy design was so controversial at the time, that was unable to find a fashion model brave enough to bare her wares to be his mannequin, and he was finally forced to hire a nude dancer to display the (then) scandalous suit.

Soon, enough, beach bunnies around the globe were besotted by the fashion, and men everywhere were fêted with a sea of female flesh—little suspecting that America was headed toward a Twilight Zone of conservatism and sexual repression the likes of which hadn’t been seen in decades. Eisenhower, he’s our man…and if he can’t do it, no one can. Go, Ike!

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