What about Lederhosen and Dirndl?


Did you find these pages while trying to research Bavarian folk costume? And you expected to find Dirndls and Lederhosen? I'm sorry to say that these pages are dedicated to real Bavarian costume, and that is frequently quite different from what people - both inside and outside Bavaria - usually think it is. Unlike most people, I view Tracht (= traditional costume) from a historical angle, i.e. I acknowledge the fact that there is no one national costume, anywhere. Least of all in Germany which has never been a proper nation until, oh, maybe 60 years ago. There are regionally differing costumes which change through time. So if you look at Bavarian costumes, there are differences between the various regions within Bavaria, and within any one region, there are differences between the styles of e.g. 1760 and 1840.

The terms "Dirndl" and "Lederhosen" (often wrongly spelled 'Leiderhosen' or 'Liederhosen' in English context) are closely connected to a wrong, cliché-laden image of Bavaria. To use a universally known comparison: It's like cowboy hats for the US.

For the past 15 years or so, German newspapers have, around Oktoberfest time, participated in the construction of a certain image of so-called Bavarian costume. The journalists involved are either bought by tourist agencies or they have no idea at all...probably both. Unfortunately, both young locals and tourists now believe in the construction. Oktoberfest has become an occasion for costuming just like carnival or halloween - and every bit as gruesome as the latter.

What we nowadays call Dirndl, i.e. a dress consisting of a figure-hugging bodice, an attached wide skirt and an apron, is an invention of the modern fashion industry. The oldest picture I have found so far is in a fashion magazine dated 1915. At that time, traditional costume had already died out decades ago. Women in the 19th century did wear dresses vaguely resebmling the Dirndl, but only vaguely. Take any dress of, say, the 1840s to 1890s, even one worn in England, subtract anything that would obstruct physical work (such as mutton-leg sleeves, tiny waists, drapery, skirt supports), add an apron, and you get something like a Dirndl. Actually I believe that the everyday dress of the late 19th century farmwoman may have been the ancestress of the Dirndl.

And what about Lederhosen? Well, they really were worn. Just not necessarily the way you imagine them. Leather breeches were, in the 18th century, worn throughout Europe by riders and hunters. A mid-18th-century French book (Garsault) even has instructions for making them. They were not much different from the fabric culottes of the era. Regional costumes throughout Germany and Europe have fossilized them. The not-quite-knee-length leather breeches known from Alpine costume may actually be unique for the region, but the Alps comprise only a tiny part of Bavaria, and Bavaria hosts only a tiny part of the Alps.

Anyway, in my view neither Dirndls nor Lederhosen count as Tracht (i.e. traditional costume) the way I use the term. They are, at best, the costume of a certain small region. Since I don't want to add to existing clichés, no more of it!



Content, layout and images of this page 
and any sub-page of the domains marquise.de, contouche.de, lumieres.de, manteau.de and costumebase.org are copyright (c) 1997-2019 by Alexa Bender. All rights reserved. See Copyright Page.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.