German Boys' Clothes: Literary References in Novels

Figure 1.--

There is a great deal of interesting fashion information in German novels. This inforation is especially interesting to HBC bcause of the importance of France in the fashion world. There are useful refrence to fashion in novels for the simple reason that fashion is important to people. Novels are all about describing the human condition. Thus novelists have to address what is important to people. Of course a major part of any novel is developing the character of the key people in the novel. Of course many people express their character in the clothes they choose. In other instances clothes are determined by the circumstances in which they find themselves. While the decriptions in novels are less dependable than actual photographs or autobiographies, the descriptions often provide insights that are lacking in the photogrpahs.

Monkia Maron (1941- )

A HBC reader reports, "I have recently come across an interesting description of the Leibchen, a support garment, in a famous novel by the distinguished German novelist and essayist, Monkia Maron. The Leibchen was a bodice worn by both girls and boys to hold up long stockings." In Germany, especially East Germany, it continued to be worn as late as the mid-1960s. Maron grew up in Germany and spent much time as a journalist in East Berlin. The novel is entitled Animal Triste (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1996) and has been beautifully translated by Brigitte Goldstein and published by the University of Nebraska Press (2000). The novel is highly autobiographical in places and describes a love affair between the narrator (a 90 year-old palaeontologist woman who has spent her life working at a musuem in East Berlin) and another scientist of natural history named Franz.

Fred Uhlmann (1901- )

Fred Uhlmann describes German boys clothing in his novella, Reunion (1960). Uhulman was a native of Stuttgart, Fred Uhlmann was born in January 1901. Reunion has autobiographical elements to it and he paints a vivid picture in the mind of the reader of the Eberhard Ludwig Gymnasium, which the story is based, a school like any other with its teachers and boys. In 1933 the year the story is set Uhlmann was an anti-Nazi lawyer, and because of what was occurring in Germany at that time, he was forced to leave his beloved birthplace. The plot involves two 16 year old boys who are classmates at the same exclusive school. One is Jewish, the other a rich aristocrat. They become inseparable companions and soulmates. A year later their friendship is over. For this is Germany and the year is 1933. The book is narrated in the first person by the Jewish boy. Here are two passages which mention clothing: "Most of our mothers felt that anything was good enough to go to school in so long as it was made from a tough durable fabric. We weren’t as yet interested in girls, so we didn’t mind being dressed in the functional assortment of jackets and short trousers or breeches [knickers] bought for us in the hope that they would last till we grew out of them." Another passage: "But with this boy it was different. He wore long trousers, beautifully cut and creased, obviously not off the peg like ours. His suit looked expensive; it was light grey with a herringbone pattern and almost certainly ‘Guaranteed English’. He wore a pale blue shirt and a dark blue tie with small polka-dots; in contrast our neckwear was, greasy and rope like. Even though we regarded any attempt at elegance as‘sissy’, we couldn’t help looking enviously at this picture of distinction." Uhlmann's novella was made into an effective made for TV film by the same name.


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Created: September 5, 2003
Last updated: 8:05 PM 11/19/2005