Cracking the Dress Code

The Extreme Gone Mainstream, by Cynthia Miller-IdrissPicture a right-wing extremist and what comes to mind? Do you think of a shaved head, a bomber jacket, tight jeans, and Dr. Martens boots with white laces? In The Extreme Gone Mainstream, Cynthia-Miller Idriss reveals that this image of a burly skinhead is becoming outdated. Instead, a new generation of clothing companies is marketing stylish and contemporary leisurewear laced with coded far-right symbology to youth in Germany and elsewhere. Miller-Idriss’s interviews with apprentice scaffold-builders from Berlin demonstrate that although these young workers could not always articulate the coded meanings of these symbols, they frequently associated the clothing with the far-right thanks to other contextual clues. Part of the intention of this coding is to evade stringent anti-Nazi dress codes in German public institutions while still signaling to other members of right-wing extremist subcultures. But what do these symbols look like? Would you recognize them if you saw them?

Numeric codes can substitute numbers for the corresponding letters of the alphabet, so that 1 stands for A, 2 for B and so on. The use of the combinations 18 (AH, for Adolf Hitler) and 88 (HH, for Heil Hitler) is sufficiently common that these numbers are prohibited on vanity license plates in Germany (p. 59). Other numbers conceal more arcane references—14 often appears as a substitute for the fourteen words in a quotation from American white supremacist David Lane. 168:1 compares the death toll in the Oklahoma City bombing to the execution of the bomber Timothy McVeigh. These codes can be used in combination—a t-shirt bearing the number 1488 does not necessarily commemorate the year of a historic event.

Graphics can similarly convey covert references. Images of palm trees or desert foxes hint at the North African military campaigns of the German Afrika Korps during the Second World War, under the generalship of Erwin Rommel, nicknamed “the Desert Fox.” References to polar expeditions or images of Antartica play on the idea of “the white continent.” Meanwhile images of Vikings or figures from Norse mythology draw on the Nordic heritage often claimed by white supremacists. The same may be true of script in the runic letters of early Scandinavian languages or symbols such as the Celtic cross.

Interestingly, the lexicon of right-wing extremist symbols sometimes stretches to encompass images traditionally associated with the left—the communist revolutionary Che Guevara, for instance, or the Palestinian keffiyeh, long associated with the Palestinian liberation movement – because of their rebellious associations. Mainstream brands can also find themselves co-opted by right-wing extremists, again allowing these extremists to signal to those in the know while passing undetected in daily life. Wearing clothing from Ansgar Aryan may be unambiguous, but what about a preference for New Balance shoes? (The N logo is used to suggest Nazi.) T-shirts from the British sportswear brand Lonsdale are favored because, worn under a half-zipped bomber jacket, the partially obscured logo reads ”NSDA”, lacking only the P from the German acronym of the Nazi party, NSDAP.

With this kind of deliberate ambiguity and game-playing prevalent, it’s easy to see why Miller-Idriss’s respondents struggled to explain the right-wing iconography of the clothing. It’s clear too that the less overt messaging and updated style of the new brands is reaching a market beyond extremist subcultures. Thor Steinar, perhaps the most successful, has high-street outlets in several European cities and can be found on the sites of online retailers including Amazon. Key reading toward understanding the global resurgence of the far right, The Extreme Gone Mainstream draws on numerous interviews with young people and thousands of historical and contemporary images to reveal exactly how the seemingly benign guise of everyday consumption is allowing extremist ideologies to enter mainstream German culture.

Browse Our New Sociology 2017 Catalog

Our new Sociology catalog includes an essential guide to social science research in the digital age, an inside look at blue-collar trades turned hipster crafts, and an examination of the commercialization of far right culture in Germany.

If you’ll be at ASA 2017 in Montreal, please join us for wine and light refreshments:

Booth 721
Sunday, August 13th

Or stop by any time to see our full range of sociology titles and more.

Digital technology has the potential to revolutionize social research, data gathering, and analysis. In Bit by Bit, Matthew J. Salganik presents a comprehensive guide to the principles of social research in the digital age. Essential reading for anyone hoping to master the new techniques enabled by fast-developing digital technologies.

Bit by Bit, by Matthew J. Salganik

Richard E. Ocejo draws on multiple years of participant-observation in a fascinating look at four blue-collar trades that have acquired a new cachet in the modern urban economy: bartending, distilling, barbering, and butchering. Join him as he delves deep into the lives and culture of these Masters of Craft.


Recent years have seen a resurgence of far right politics in Europe, manifesting in the increasing presence of clothing and other products displaying overt or coded anti-Semitic, racist, and nationalist symbology. Cynthia Miller-Idriss examines the normalization and commercialization of far right ideology in The Extreme Gone Mainstream.