Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Nazis Had the Best Uniforms, Part III

Runner up for worst uniforms and military hardware design of WWII, the French.

But wait, there's something of an enigma here, no? A fatally-flawed Maginot Line of an argument, if you will. After all, you may have noticed, if you read the last two posts, that my basic premise is the countries with the best uniforms (who invariably lost) also had kickass art movements shortly before WWII; and the ones that didn't have important new art movements in the two or three decades immediately preceding the war, such as Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and the rest of the Allies (not including Russia, which I discuss here), had the saddest-looking uniforms, yet won (though the Australian and Gurkha slouch hats were rather dashing).

To recap: Germany had German Expressionism, not to mention the Bauhaus (more of a design movement, but we'll allow it); Italy had Futurism; Russia (not officially naughty until after the war, but easily could have been if they'd felt like it) had Suprematism and Constructivism; and Japan is Asian, invariably cool and über-aesthetic, so we'll forgive them for having no major new art movements in the immediate run-up to WWII, but they were a big influence on the Bauhaus, so they lost anyway (the natty little peaked caps and generally tasteful beigeness of the Japanese uniforms probably didn't help them either).

But back to France. That WWII military fashion enigma. How did they pull it off?

I really don't know what the French excuse was for having unmemorable, baggy - typically war-winning, as I hope I've shown - uniforms, yet still losing earlier on in the war. (Perhaps their "problem" was the exceedingly cool partisans, or the quirky but fashion-forward shorts and kepi ensemble.) They had Jean Prouvé and Art Deco, Cubism and Picasso; and they practically "owned" Neoclassicism (think Arc de Triumph and Chanselise), well before the Germans adopted their own pumped-up, hard-edged redux.

In fact, if you think about it, Napoleon's rigorous redesign of Paris, etc., was the first Third Reich - I mean strictly in terms of aesthetics - and Hitler's was the second Third Reich. So, by rights, shouldn't it have been the Fourth Reich?

The French even had the rather macho, though admittedly elegant, Eiffel Tower. Then why the unglamorous uniforms (ridged Adrian helmets notwithstanding)?

I believe the French simply knew that what it all comes down to is a comfortable life with a beautiful woman, a bit of gently-affirming high culture, some soft cheese and a good bottle of wine with friends.

The jack boots would just stomp on through, leaving the French relatively untouched, as long as they didn't make too much of a fuss. It seems they purposefully made their uniforms a little less snazzy than they might have, so as not to invoke the wrath of the sometimes catty, Schmeisser-wielding Nazi fashionistas.
Pic of exceedingly naughty, but well-dressed, Germans in Paris from StrangeMilitary.com.

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