Bavaria Stories and Tips

Bavarian Dirndl

Bavarian dirndls Photo, Munich, Germany

For many foreign visitors, especially the ones from overseas who do Europe in five days, Germany shrinks to Bavaria, Bavaria shrinks to Munich. Munich means Oktoberfest, Mad King Ludwig and Hitler. If they do come in October and take the visitors of the Oktoberfest for typical Germans, they may return home believing that Germans wear lederhosen and German women dirndl. What an insult to the rest of the population.

Dirndl is the diminutive Bavarian dialect form of ‘girl’. The thing you put on should be called a ‘dirndl dress’, but over time the second word has got lost and today a dirndl can wear a dirndl. What nowadays seems the typical dress for women in Bavaria, Austria, Liechtenstein and Italian South Tyrol wase the traditional, everyday dress of servants in the 19th century. If they had to go to town, they didn’t wear it, it looked too cheap to them. In the 1870s the Austrian upper classes adopted the dirndl as high fashion when they were holidaying in the countryside copying the peasant’s way of dressing.

Dirndl and Oktoberfest only met in the 1960s when Munich applied for the Olympic Games in 1972. The young women working in the PR business and the hostesses wear clad in dirndl (‘dirndl’ is also the plural form) to represent a Bavarian custom which hadn’t existed before. The German Silvia Sommerlath looked so attractive in her dirndl that she conquered the Swedish Crown Prince and is now Queen of Sweden. Many young women thought that if wearing a dirndl could have such a consequence, they’d also wear one.

The media are responsible for the combination of folkloristic costumes, dirndl, lederhosen and Oktoberfest, suddenly everyone thought it had always been like that, people had always visited the Oktoberfest dressed up. According to a survey half of the visitors of the Oktoberfest have put on dirndl and lederhosen since 2004. Some visitors even think that you’re only allowed to enter if you wear a costume. The ultimate victory of advertising!

And the dirndl wearers are not all Bavarians! What I find utterly shocking is that the dirndl is spreading like pestilence through Germany. When the Oktoberfest began this year, I saw dirndl and lederhosen on offer in the Kaufhof (a chain store to be found all over Germany) in the Swabian town near Stuttgart where I live. All Kaufhof stores from the Alps to the Baltic sea offer these fashion items now. The mind boggles! What has happened to my countrypeople? Soon foreign tourists claiming Germans wear dirndl and lederhosen won’t insult the non-Bavarian population any more. To make you understand the absurdity imagine the kilt leaving the confines of the Scottish highlands and moving south. Men from the Isle of Wight would be seen in kilts during Cowes Week watching the regatta.

A psychologist may find an explanation, I can’t, but I know that I hate everything folkloristic, rustic and Bavarian with all my heart, have always done so and will always do.
I’d rather been seen dead hanging over a fence than be seen in a dirndl. When I’m in the coffin, I can be shrouded in a dirndl, it won’t bother me then.

Imagine putting on a blouse with a deep cleavage, then pressing your chest into a bodice laced so tight that your boobs are under your chin and nearly fall out (Surely, after some beer and swaying from side to side or when dancing on the tables in the beer tents boobs do fall out occasionally). I must concede that there is a positive aspect: the hunger hooks we see on catwalks have no chance in dirndl land. The more wood you’ve got in front of your house (as the Germans say), the better. It's not a question of looking fat but of emphasising the shape of the female body. The wide, pleated skirt can have any length the wearer likes from not reaching the knee up to ankle length. Over the skirt an apron is worn. It’s always as long as the skirt, i.e., long skirt = long apron. A handmade individual dirndl made in Germany or Austria of expensive material like linen, silk and velvet can cost more than 2000 Euro, a polyester dirndl made in Turkey or Bangladesh can be got for less than 50 Euro.

A folklorist has researched the phenomenon and has come to the conclusion that dirndl and lederhosen are symbols for an identification process. Place and time may disintegrate, speed increase, but dirndl and lederhosen root the wearers in a community and a precise location, they have a home. Well, well.

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