Nazi chic

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Nazi chic is the use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture, especially when used for taboo-breaking or shock value rather than out of genuine sympathies with Nazism or Nazi ideology.

Its popularity began in the 1970s with the emergence of the punk and glam rock movements: the Sex Pistols' first television appearance occurred with a person of their entourage wearing a swastika.[1] Nazi chic was later used in the fashion industry.

Popular usage[edit]

In the surf culture of the 1950s and 1960s, "Surf Nazis" would experiment with Nazi aesthetics, such as swastikas and Nazi helmets, and sometimes paint swastikas on their cars. Their motivation was often anti-establishment rebelliousness, rather than genuine sympathy with the Nazis.[2] American artist Ed Roth sold plastic Nazi stormtrooper helmets to surfers in the 1960s, and told Time magazine, “That Hitler really did a helluva public relations job for me.”[3] In the 1960s, some filmmakers looking for edgy and controversial ideas incorporated Nazi themes into their works for shock value, with the 1965 film Censored described as having "the dubious honour of being the very first skinflick to mix Nazis and naked women" [4]

In the early 1970s, glam rock acts incorporated nazi symbolism into their works, often for the shock value and outrageousness. Steve Priest, of the glam rock band The Sweet, wore a nazi uniform and fake toothbrush moustache in a December 1973 live performance of Ballroom Blitz, on Top of the Pops.[5] In the 1970s punk subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend the Establishment became popular. Among these punk fashion items was a T-shirt displaying a Swastika, an upside-down crucifix and the word DESTROY– which was worn by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, seen in the video for "Pretty Vacant". Rotten wore the swastika another time with a gesture that looked like a Nazi salute.[6] In 1976, Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was also known to wear a Swastika armband with fetish S and M clothing, including fishnets and a whip. These musicians are commonly thought to have worn such clothing for shock value directed towards the British WWII generation rather than being genuinely associated with any National Socialist or fascist ideologies, and those with such interests likely became part of the Nazi punk or white power skinhead subcultures.

In 1984, two T-shirt designs featuring Adolf Hitler were produced in West Germany.[7] The more famous of the two was the "Adolf Hitler European Tour" design, which featured a picture of Hitler against the backdrop of a map of Europe, with conquered territories shaded; and tour dates given as:

  • September 1939 Poland
  • April 1940 Norway
  • May 1940 Luxembourg
  • May 1940 Holland
  • May 1940 Belgium
  • June 1940 France
  • September 1940 England Cancelled
  • April 1941 Jugoslavia
  • May 1941 Greece
  • June 1941 Crete
  • August 1942 Russia Cancelled
  • July 1945 Berlin Bunker.

A less popular T-shirt featured Hitler giving the Roman salute, and a yo-yo hanging from his hand. The text read "European yo-yo champion 1939-1945". Sale of the apparel led to a legal case in Germany, in an attempt to have it banned as "glorifying genocide".[8] Local courts ruled against the shirt makers, although Bavarian state courts later ruled in their favor.[citation needed] In 1988, Ralph Engelstad was criticized for a party he held at his Imperial Palace hotel-casino in Las Vegas featuring bartenders wearing the "European Tour" shirts.[9] In 1990, the ACLU represented a high school student on Long Island who was told to remove the shirt or face suspension by school officials who claimed the shirt was anti-semitic.[10]

In an interview with Welt am Sonntag, Bryan Ferry, the English singer and musician, acknowledged that he calls his studio in west London his "Führerbunker". He was quoted as saying, "My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves. ... Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful."[11] (Later Ferry denied ever making this statement, and the newspapers printed a rectification.) The American glam metal band Mötley Crüe inserted in the booklet of the album Mötley Crüe (1994) an image of Nikki Sixx dressed as a Nazi. Officially, the photo was related to lyrics about judging by appearances, but in actuality was inserted to mock the media.[citation needed] The discographer decided to cancel that photo and to reprint the whole booklet. In the Mötley Crüe autobiography, The Dirt, the band writes about their "Nazi Wednesdays", in which they used to walk down the street dressed in Nazi uniforms.[page needed]

English rock musician Lemmy of the band Motörhead collected Nazi memorabilia and had an Iron Cross on his bass guitar, but stated that he collected these memorabilia for aesthetic values only, and considered himself an anarchist or libertarian.[12]

In early 2005, a designer using the pseudonym "Helmut Doork"[13] began marketing a parody souvenir T-shirt with the slogans "My grandparents went to Auschwitz and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!" and "Arbeit Macht Frei."[14] In response to a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League, the design was removed from CafePress' website in late 2006.[15] The creator later uploaded it to Printfection. After Printfection removed it without explanation the creator then released it into the public domain, giving anyone permission to print and/or commercialize the design without permission.[16]

Prince Harry was criticized for wearing a costume with a swastika armband[17] causing considerable embarrassment to his family. He later issued a public statement apologizing for his actions, but his lack of apology in person angered some groups.[citation needed] Harry's impromptu costume resembled the Afrika Korps, rather than more political units such as the SS. Writer Moyra Bremner commented on BBC News 24 that no one had stopped the prince wearing the costume.[18]

Alternative hip hop group OFWGKTA uses the swastika symbol and makes references to Nazism in its lyrics.[19]

Nazi chic fashion can be seen in the music videos for Madonna's "Justify My Love" (1990), Marilyn Manson's "The Fight Song" (2001) and Lady Gaga's "LoveGame" (2009).[20]


Uniforms and other imagery related to Nazi Germany are sold in East and South East Asia, where some consider it fashionable. Hong Kong and Japan have each witnessed a growth in the casual wearing of SS uniforms, as well as increased interest in White power music.[citation needed] Sometimes in East Asia, Nazi uniforms are used as part of cosplay.[21] In South Korea, an area generally isolated from Nazi cultural influences during the Nazi era, Time magazine observed in 2000 "an unthinking fascination with the icons and imagery of the Third Reich."[22] In Indonesia, the SoldatenKaffee, a café featuring nazi decoration and memorabilia closed in 2013 due to controversies and critiques by international media as well as death threats and hate mail to the owners. The SoldatenKaffee, however, reopened in 2014, the owner claimed that his establishment was never aimed to promote Nazi ideology explaining that Nazism was only seen from a historical perspective in Indonesia. The SoldatenKaffee closed again in 2017 due to moving elsewhere for lack of local demand.[23]

In some parts of the world, World War II is not taught in schools as a battle of political ideologies, but as a conventional war. This type of education treats Hitler and the Nazi Party as charismatic and powerful leaders of countries during wartime, instead of war criminals as elsewhere. George Burdi, the former head of the neo-Nazi record label Resistance Records, claimed to have sold many CDs to Japan, because some Japanese believe themselves to be the master race of the East.[24] In Turkey, Hitler's book Mein Kampf became a best-seller in early 2005 following price cuts and rising Turkish nationalism.[25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Today Show - Bill Grundy" ITV. December 1976. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ [3]
  5. ^ "Steve Priest | The Sweet". Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  6. ^ "Punk and the Svastika". Archived from the original on 21 March 2007. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  7. ^ Lundmark, Thomas (15 August 2012). "Charting the Divide Between Common and Civil Law". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 13 October 2018 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "UCL Laws : Institute of Global Law". Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Lawrence Journal-World - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  10. ^ "ACLU Takes Up Case of Student Forced to Remove Hitler Shirt". Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  11. ^ Goodchild, Sophie (2007-04-15). "Bryan Ferry's Nazi Gaffe". The Independent.
  12. ^ "damage case". Russian MOTÖRHEAD Home page. Archived from the original on 26 May 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  13. ^ "Auschwitz Souvenir T-shirt". Metzitzah B’peh. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  14. ^ "Auschwitz t-shirts for sale?". 12 June 2006. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  15. ^ "Online Retailer Removes Auschwitz T-Shirts After ADL Voices Concern". Archived from the original on 17 December 2006. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  16. ^ "My Grandparents Went to Auschwitz and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!". Metzitzah B’peh. 31 May 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  17. ^ Harry says sorry for Nazi costume BBC News, January 13, 2005
  18. ^ Harry public apology 'not needed' BBC News, January 14, 2005
  19. ^ The Past, the Present, and the Odd Future Huffington Post, January 11, 2011
  20. ^ Hope Allwood, Emma (October 31, 2016). "The most controversial tracks of all time". Dazed. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  21. ^ Le Nazi chic, la nouvelle mode qui fascine de jeunes Chinois (french)
  22. ^ MacIntyre, Donald (2000-06-05). ""They Dressed Well" A troubling fascination with Third Reich regalia elevates the Nazi look to what's chic in South Korea". Time Asia. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
  23. ^ Nazi-themed café in Indonesia reopens — keeping the swastikas and images of Hitler it pledged to remove The Independent 22 June 2014
  24. ^ Revenge (8 October 2009). "Revolt NS: George Burdi interview". Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  25. ^ Helena Smith (29 March 2005). "Mein Kampf sales soar in Turkey". The Guardian. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  26. ^ "Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' sells 50,000 copies in Turkey in three months". The Daily Star via Agence France Presse. March 18, 2005. Retrieved February 20, 2011.