Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Gulag Gurls

World War I POWs

Cassidy wrote, "Quick question. I, from time to time see on your blog and others WWI and WWII POWs dressed as women (femulating) and performing for other inmates. I always wondered where they got the clothing to do so. Could you offer an answer?"

I had the same question when I discovered all the photos of POW femulations.

I wondered if the Geneva Convention required every POW facility to be stocked with the latest in female clothing, wigs, makeup, etc., to permit the prisoners to dress en femme?

Did the POW camp commander ring up his favorite dress shop and order some frocks for the prisoners whenever they wanted to put on a show?

I asked those questions (with tongue in cheek), but I was curious because it seemed to me that these "girls" were not wearing homemade outfits put together from scraps of material that they scrounged up in camp. Rather they were dressed as fashionable women of the day would dress in outfits that came off the rack of women's clothier.

What's the real story? 

With nothing but time on their hands, the POWs would make their costumes using whatever scraps of material they could find, repurpose or barter from the prison guards. They even made high heel shoes! If you ever saw the film The Great Escape, it shows the prisoners making civilian clothing and Nazi uniforms (for their escape) the same way.

(Reminds me of the time before I had the courage to shop for women's clothing in person that I made a red satin micro-miniskirt from a scrap of material that my mother had left over from a sewing project.)

As they say, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

On the other hand, there were POWs who performed as female impersonators for the troops before imprisonment and brought their makeup and gowns along with them into captivity. Since wigs were a scarce commodity, some of the "girls" were permitted to grow their hair out!

(Sources: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Prisoners of War in the Second World War by Midge Gilles; Cultural Heritage and Prisoners of War: Creativity Behind Barbed Wire by Gilly Carr and Harold Mytum)

Source: Bebe
Wearing Bebe (Source: Bebe)

Arthur Butler AKA Gloria d'Earie
British World War II POW Arthur Butler AKA Gloria d'Earie brought his female impersonator garb along with him to a Japanese prison camp.


  1. AnonymousJune 26, 2018

    A POW bringing clothes, make-up etc into a Prison Camp? I doubt it But creativity was there as the prisoners made uniforms and clothes in which to try escaping. I believe at least one POW tried to get out of Colditz dressed as a lady, but I think was stopped and betrayed as much as anything by (her) voice.

    1. You may doubt it, but my research indicates otherwise. You can look it up.

  2. Stana
    Have you read the 1963 novel King Rat about WW11 prison camp .
    It covers this - with a person in novet names SEAN.

    1. Thank you for the heads-up, Diane. I will check it out. I wonder if the film version of the novel also covers it.

  3. AnonymousJune 26, 2018

    The Colditz incident is true, I have come across it in books written by people who were there
    Normally costumes were improvised out of what ever POWs could lay their hands on by fair means or foul (thieving)

  4. Here's another thought on the pow femulations, if the germans did supply the womens clothing, could it have come from the death camps?