Die deutsche Uniform
Zu allererst einmal (first things first): I have to enttäuschen, to disappoint all those readers who did a Google search and thought they would find information on German military uniforms here. This posting is not about the different models of Wehrmacht Feldblusen, whether “M36,” “M43,” or M whatever. It is also not about Imperial German Pickelhauben, nor is it about the Prussian blue uniforms of Friedrich der Große. It is not even about Bundeswehr Flecktarn camouflage. Rather, I would like to deal with the alleged and sometimes very real uniformity of today’s deutsche civilian fashion.
As this seems to be another year without a summer, I would like to start with Oberbekleidung, more specifically coats, jackets, and the like. Whether it’s a Mantel or a Jacke, the favorite color shades of Germans seem to be any sort of—dark. Looking at, and judging from, people on a highly frequented street in a German university town, most will wear black jackets, with some more daring contemporaries donning a navy blue coat. That is not to say that there are not sprinkles of more bold colors such as yellow or red at times (and more than some foreign-born critics would think). But most Deutsche like their dark-colored coats, preferably a Multifunktionsjacke, an all-purpose jacket from any outdoorsy company—North Face, Jack Wolfskin (this name is so bad and sounds so anglicized, it must be as German as a Handy), et al. You never know what type of bad weather conditions might occur all of a sudden, so it seems Germans like to be prepared for the worst—which perfectly fits their character and attitudes, as they are alte Schwarzseher, constantly expecting the most hideous things to happen, or at least ranting about how schlecht everything is.
Strip away the the layers of Jacken and Mäntel (traditional overcoats are fashionable again) as well as the ubiquitous Schal worn by both sexes during the winter months (men’s scarves are either tied with a schoolboy or a more fashionable knot while women’s scarves are usually wrapped around their necks twenty times—they are always cold) and see what they wear beneath. Younger folks, but not solely, like their sweaters, from knit to the athletic type, especially hooded sweaters (Kapuzenpulli). While some prefer their clothes pretty plain, others have to show off brand logos—either because they want to or because the logos are just there. Der Deutsche an sich, Germans in general, is very Marken bewußt. Translating this literarlly as “label conscious” sounds a bit odd, so let me explain: a Marke, or Label, usually denotes something. For some, it is lifestyle (this might be the original intent of designers and fashion managers: convey a certain image to sell lots clothes). For others, it is to show off they can afford it—or that they scuff certain labels because they are too cheap. While some Germans are geizig and like to sparen (thrifty), others like to spend money on clothes. This is reflected in pricing: a pair of Levi’s denim jeans costs at least 70 Euros. American readers might find this amusing—I myself am currently wearing a pair of Levi Strauß subcontracted jeans that were made for large U.S. retailer Target that cost me about 25 Dollars … It just does not have a big Levi’s leather patch on the back (but the rivets [Nieten—some older Deutsche will therefore call a pair of jeans Nietenhosen] and construction are the same). The same goes for brands like Dickie’s and Carharrtt which are streetwear fashion brands in Germany but mostly known for worker’s clothing in the States.
The Markenbewußtsein can also be quite discriminating, especially for kids in school. Imagine all your friends wearing Nike and Adidas Turnschuhe (trainers, sneakers, tennis shoes—however you wanna call ’em) while you yourself only wear a pair of “no-name” sports shoes from cheap shoe retailer Deichmann … Kinder können so grausam sein (kids can be so cruel), and then they will start to mobben, hänseln, to pick you because your parents do not want to, or cannot, afford 100 Euro sneakers for two hours of Schulsport each week. In the early 1990s, stories told that kids were mugged for their Chevignon sweaters and jackets because that brand was in at the time—and quite expensive.
Of course businessmen and -women (and every else who needs to dress up) wear suits, blazers, and the like. If you want to see die größte Ansammlung, the biggest accumulation, of suits Germany, you have to go Frankfurt am Main, to some the Bankenhauptstadt (capital of banks)—for others, like the Occupy movement, it is the capital of capitalism. Or you could just go to your nearest Sparkasse bank to watch some Anzugträger. Although “the suits” here in Germany have not im Geringsten, not at all the stylishness of Italians (I suggest visiting Milano, or Mailand). Especially in altehrwürdige Universitätsstädte—really old traditional university towns like Heidelberg or Tübingen—you will see another German uniform, namely that of Verbindungsstudenten, student fraternity members. It is most akin to the American “preppy” look of Ivy League schools: Timberland boat shoes, chino or cord trousers, a dress shirt (preferably with turned-up collar, hochgestellter Kragen), Tommy Hilfiger sweater, and the ubiquitous British Barbour waxed jacket. But this could also be business casual clothing or that of law and economics students.
Many a wearer of rather formal clothing feels uncomfortable in this Verkleidung (dress up), may it be because they wear off-the-rack clothing (just because it’s a 400 Euro Hugo Boss Anzug it doesn’t mean it’s nice to wear all day) or because it is, well, their work clothing. And so, just like a Müllmann (garbage disposal worker) does with his orange coveralls, many Germans shed their Arbeitskleidung as soon as they enter their homes when they have Feierabend, when they are done for the workday, only to switch one uniform for another: die Jogginghose—sweatpants. Almost everyone seems to own at least one pair. The appeal? They are bequem—comfortable. Some wear their Jogginghose when they actually go Joggen (running) or attend the Fitnessstudio (gym), but most Deutsche simply wear their sweatpants in front of the TV. It gives them the Gefühl of Bequemlichkeit, a comfy feeling that reminds of Feierabend, of lazy Sundays, of having nothing to do. Vorbei die Zeiten, over are the times when sweatpants had the stigma of being associated with Arbeitslose (the unemployed) and Unterschichten (lower classes). But unlike some Americans, most Germans will not wear sweatpants (or even pyjama pants—come on, U.S. college students!) in public, unless they are indeed joggen. Just ask some of your German friends if they own Jogginghosen if you do not believe me. But do not ask me—I have none because I do not like them. Too casual and sloppy … (As you should have found out by now if you are regular reader, I am not always the [stereotypical] German.) The last pair I owned stems from the time when I wore cheap sneakers to school sport …