Dressing the Modern Jewish Communist Girl in Interwar Paris

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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On 24 March 1935, Naye prese, the Yiddish-language daily newspaper of the Jewish section of the French Communist Party (PCF), ran a small ad for a women’s tailor on 10, rue des Filles du Calvaire in Paris’ tenth arrondissement that reads, “Working women, do you want inexpensive clothing with the latest fashion and the best production and measurements?”*1 An image of a woman accompanies the ad. She is tall and slender with short hair, and she wears a cloche hat—a fitted, bell-shaped hat, typically made of felt, that was popular during the 1920s and 30s.2 Her jacket and skirt are tailored slimly. The position of her feet suggests that she is wearing heels. According to the Modern Girl Around the World Research Group, “Modern Girls [were portrayed in print media] with carefully made up faces, bobbed hair, exposed arms and backs, and bodies clad in the latest fashions.”3 These modern girls were the same “working women” featured in the tailor’s advertisement in Naye prese. Given the newspaper’s political and ethnic affiliation, we can read this interwar Modern Girl as more than just a workingwoman. She is a conscious worker aware of her class stature and trying to do something about it by engaging in contemporary bourgeois Parisian culture and lifestyle. More precisely, she dressed to subvert traditional Eastern European Jewish gender constructs that eschewed women’s economic contributions to the family. Her outfits—as promoted by the ad—embodied tensions that marked her community. Why, for example, did Naye prese—a Communist newspaper—present such bourgeois imagery within their ad copy? Even more, what role, if any, did these images play in helping immigrant Jews understand Paris and France’s interwar cultural and social context?