One of the contradictory artifacts of the Communist bloc was the arena of clothing design and fashion. Indeed, one might even say that in any self-respecting socialist paradise, the entire notion of physical beauty would always be suspect: After all, visual attractiveness by definition involves itself with appearances over inner substance. But that didn’t mean that Eastern Europe was just going to cede the territory to the capitalists entirely. The Communist bloc had to compete with the West on many fronts, and one of them was the objectification of women.
The best-known fashion magazine in East Germany a.k.a. the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was called Sibylle. It was in print from 1956 until 1995, and it was named after its founder Sibylle Gerstner. The magazine was a bimonthly, appearing six times a year, and its modest run of 200,000 would regularly sell out, implying a demand among East German women for increased coverage of fashion topics.
The question naturally arises whether how a socialist version of Vogue (people at the time were aware of that exact comparison) differed from the Western original. Certainly the Sibylle covers emphasize a more natural look and eschew materialistic or otherwise illusionistic makeup and other trappings—but it could also be that we’re reading into it, a bit; it’s possible that the covers are more similar than different. The article on Sibylle in German Wikipedia features the intriguing sentence “Auf die frauenzeitschrifttypischen Ratgeberteile wurde bewusst verzichtet,” which means that the typical women’s advice columns and similar content was consciously rejected. In the socialist East German paradise, women are not to be condescended to in matters of the heart!
For some reason the lion’s share of the covers available on German eBay are from the 1960s and the early 1980s but very little in between. I’m quite taken by the latter period but I’ll also show a few from the earlier span as well.
Much more after the jump…...