Chic Quattro

According to the Chicago Tribune, drying your razor blades out after use makes them last an average of 122% longer than leaving them wet. This appears to be the case because blades become dull primarily due to the edges becoming oxidized, rather than due to repeated abrasion against your skin. Storing the blades in mineral oil, as the article also suggests, achieves a similar result by protecting the blades from oxidation. My particular interest in this matter came during a conversation I had recently where I noticed that I hadn’t changed my Schick Quattro blade for about two and a half years, even though I use no special technique for keeping the blade sharp.

Contrary to the content of the last paragraph, this post actually has nothing to do with razor blades. It does have to do with the word “Schick,” however. Apparently, during World War II, the German clothing industry was overhauled in order to raise its status in the world. Since France was more or less the world capital of Fashion, and Germany hated France’s guts, a huge part of the overhaul involved cleansing the industry of all vestiges of French influence. Germany had a reputation of homely, portly and decidedly unfashionable hausfraus, whereas France was essentially the center of the fashion universe, known for its slim, childless and exceptionally chic young women.

Needless to say, this made Germany angry. Germany had been angry about this issue for quite some time, in fact; as early as 1628, Germans had circulated a satirical pamphlet aimed at stopping the scourge of fashion, with its vanity and loose morals. In 1653 a German poet opined that “fashion, only fashion, allows the devil to come within.” The Napoleonic occupation and the Franco-Prussian war both had their share of fashion-related confrontations. By the time the inter-war period rolled around, not only did France have a humongous thumb in the world’s fashion pie, but they were taking every opportunity to declare their superiority over Germany by publishing cartoons depicting dumpy, saggy German women wearing hideous and ridiculous outfits. Germany had had about enough.

So, during World War II, they launched an aggressive and multi-faceted campaign to rid Germany of the tyranny of French fashion and elevate German fashion onto the world stage. Predictably, this manifested in vast amounts of propaganda encouraging women to buy domestic products, to banish treasonous French outfits from their wardrobes, and to take pride in their German nationality and heritage. What the French saw as dumpy homebodies, the Germans elevated to strong, capable, culturally rich and morally fortitudinous patriots. According to Irene Guenther,

It was time that German women cleansed themselves of harmful French influences. It was time that Germany stopped imitating and, instead, start creating its own “German fashion.” The nation would benefit both culturally and economically, and pride in German products would be restored.

So, like anyone else would do in their position, they promptly wiped out all French words from the German language. Confection became Konfektion. Silhouette became Silhuette. Bleu became bläulich. And, of course, chic became schick.

In hindsight, the German campaign had little lasting effect. Although Germany did produce the dirndl during this period, which enjoyed a short-lived burst of popularity even outside of Germany, France remains to this day a leader in the global fashion world. Germany still carries the dumpy homebody stereotype. The German versions of French words were never borrowed into any other languages. And heck, the Germans lost the war anyway.

Thus, an uneducated and historically ignorant person like myself could make the claim that “schick” is the single most long-lasting remnant of that propaganda campaign. But there’s a curious twist:  linguists have been unable to decide if the word it was derived from, chic, originated from the French word chicanerie, or if it was actually borrowed into French from the German word–that’s right–schick, for “skill” or “fitness.” Considering that the propagandists of the Third Reich may have just switched the word back into its original German form, after the French spent years embarassingly using it to describe their own fashion prowess, schick is truly a word that Germany can, and should, be proud of.

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One response to “Chic Quattro

  1. Very interesting…I always love learning about little things that were building up during WWII, and fashion is definitely not something I learned in school. I enjoyed the read. 🙂

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