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return of livestock from high alpine summer pastures

Rural dress – Power – Cultural Identity


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Understand Bavarian costume better…

In probably no other region of Germany do customs and traditions have such a high status as in Bavaria. Common conception of foreigners but also the common Bavarian are of the opinion that it concerns with Lederhosen and Dirndl several centuries old tradition clothes. In fact, the Bavarian traditional costume is a relatively recent invention…

Originally, the term Tracht describes quite generally the wearing of clothes or the worn clothes themselves. For example, the leather pants.

Leather pants

leather pants and dirndl
Leather pants and dirndl

Leather has long been used to make pants, only they had no resemblance to leather pants as they appear now. A predecessor of leather pants was the culotte, which was worn by the nobility in the 17th century. At the time of the French Revolution, the end of the culotte was initiated among the urban population.


The word Dirndl is the diminutive form of the word “Dirn“, which simply means young girl and was also used for servants and maids in agriculture / home economics. Around 1900, the Dirndl dress was worn by the urban population as a “rural” dress and thus a common dress form, which was oriented to the ladies’ fashion of the 18th century.

“Napoleonic land consolidation”

When the kingdom was founded in 1806, Bavaria was still far from having a common identity. Then, as part of the “Napoleonic land consolidation,” many previously independent territories of widely differing traditions were incorporated: Franconia, Swabia, the Palatinate and Bavaria were united in one kingdom, regardless of their different cultural roots and linguistic and landscape differences.

What was initially difficult was able to develop into a strength over the centuries. Today, Bavaria is appreciated precisely for its diversity. The people cultivate their special character, which has grown over centuries, with devotion: customs therefore have a very special significance in Bavaria.

Original idea of the Wittelsbach dynasty

equestrian statue wittelsbacher
Equestrian statue wittelsbacher

At the first Oktoberfest in 1810, Max I Joseph had children and young people come dressed in traditional costumes – as representatives of the various landscapes that belonged to Bavaria. The first thing King Maximilian II did was to promote rural dress – even with a decree. By spreading the traditional costumes, the Wittelsbachers wanted to contribute to the “elevation of the Bavarian national feeling“.

At the time of the Wiesn, i.e. the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese on October 12, 1810, the traditional costume – as we know it today – did not exist for a long time.

Before the famous horse race took place in honor of the bride and groom, the couple and the royal family were honored in the form of a procession of 16 pairs of children dressed in the traditional costumes of the Wittelsbach dynasty, the nine Bavarian counties, and other regions. This was the first time that the traditional costume was used as a means of identification for the Kingdom of Bavaria. All other guests were not dressed in traditional costume

What many people do not know is that the costume dress was a kind of PR tool of the Wittelsbach family. The royal family wanted the people to identify with Bavaria and the best way to do that was through their clothing. From today’s perspective, this was probably one of the best PR campaigns of all time.

The royal family was close to the people by always showing itself in traditional costume. Inspiration for the men’s costume was found at that time, among other things, in the hunters with their Lederhosen. King Ludwig II was also a fan of traditional costumes, so he made sure that the nobility wore lederhosen when hunting.

But one thing should be said: With leather pants, as with few other items of clothing – quality is everything! Although leather pants made of deer, roe deer or chamois leather are significantly more expensive, they also last longer than cheaper pieces. In addition, an important fashion factor takes effect: they age “g’scheit. (“honestly aged”)

Traditional Bavarian men’s leather trousers look best with a beautiful, noble patina, which can only develop after repeated wear. Some Trachten professionals even help a new pair of pants by treating them with butter or milking greas

Not all traditional costumes are the same

elder lady in dirndl
Lady in dirndl

Throughout Bavaria there are different types of traditional costume! Each region has its own history and accordingly its own traditional costume. Not only Franconia, the Allgäu and Upper Bavaria differ in terms of their traditional costumes. Even within the individual regions, different customs and traditional costumes are sometimes cultivated.

If you think of Dirndl and Lederhosen when you think of traditional costume fashion, you think of the Upper Bavarian mountain costume, for example. But even from this there are several variants. In fact, about six different mountain costumes can be named:

For a long time, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were independent districts, and you can still see that today, for example in the traditional costumes. The chamois buck on the lederhosen, for example, is a traditional Garmisch sign, while the real Partenkirchner is recognized by the downward-pointing oak leaves on his jacket lapel.

None of these six can claim the title of “proper Bavarian costume“.

Costumes rules

With the founding of costume associations, rules also emerged. As a result, traditional costumes became a kind of uniform and ultimately showed very strong regional differences. In addition, conclusions can be drawn to this day about personal status, for example. In the case of women, this was possible above all by means of the way in which the apron with the bow was tied.

Inspiration was the cheap, pieced together work garment for peasant women and maids. It consisted of a shirt over which was worn a loose dress (“Leiblgwand”) of cotton or linen and an apron, usually made of old bedding or rags. This was practical, but visually it had almost nothing in common with what we call a dirndl today.

Inspired by the, admittedly rather shapeless dresses of the maids, the Dirndl was adapted and embellished to meet the high demands of wealthy society. Details such as the apron, darts, braids and tucks have remained. These features are due to the fact that in the past the clothes had to last a long time. Thus, if necessary, the clothes could be made tighter and wider, the hem of the skirt could be lengthened and, if necessary, the old apron could be replaced with a new one.

So the dirndl was really a summer dress for the wealthy city woman on a country vacation and also a purely leisure phenomenon.

Haute Couture and Salzburg Festival

After the horrors of the First World War, a return to old traditions begins. As early as the 1920s, dirndls and traditional costumes gained popularity in the cities as well. Those who thought something of themselves showed themselves in fashionable dirndls or traditional costumes at the Salzburg Festival.

The Salzburg Festival or the staging of the operetta “Im weißen Rößl” (In the White Riding Horse) also contributed to the fact that traditional costume manifested itself more and more and gained in popularity. In the beginning more as a disguise than as an everyday garment. A farmer would never have thought of wearing rather impractical and far too expensive leather pants to daily work.

Dirndl and traditional costume during the Nazi era

At the time of National Socialism, Hitler misused the Bavarian costume mainly for propaganda. The image of a decent, rural and homeland-loyal worker in traditional costume and certainly also the homeland association with traditional costumes probably suited the National Socialists well. Hitler posed for Hoffmann in lederhosen. It is particularly interesting that Hitler liked to be portrayed in lederhosen (photos that Hitler later had put under lock and key), which were made by the Jewish Wallach brothers in Munich. Their store in Residenzstraße was later closed just like all other Jewish stores during World War II.

However, the very fashionable and fancy dirndls of the elegant city women of the 1930s did not quite fit the image of the National Socialists. Neat blouses, neat aprons and well-behaved braided hairstyles, on the other hand, wonderfully embodied the desired down-to-earthness and “German womanhood.”

Dirndl and traditional costume may not necessarily be strictly connected with the Oktoberfest from a historical point of view, yet nowadays, somehow, they belong together. After all, Munich has managed like no other city to create a unique recognition value with its traditional costume.

“Da Summa is umma” – Viehscheid

almabtrieb with farmer in traditional costume
Return of livestock from high alpine summer pastures

Between mid-September and the beginning of October, the cows and cattle return from the lush alpine meadows back to the valley and into the home barn. An event with a long tradition that inspires.

Loud tinkling bells announce the herd. The spectators along the way are treated to a colorful sight. At the end of summer, the cattle return to the valley well fed and festively decorated. And the whole village celebrates the Almabtrieb. This long-standing tradition not only shapes the region and its inhabitants, but also offers an experience for guests, especially since farmers and their families all celebrate in traditional costume.

The traditional headdress of the leading cow, called “Fuikl“, requires about 25 – 30 hours of work in elaborate manual labor with a lot of tact. However, the cattle may only be festively decorated for the Almabtrieb if no “Unreim”, i.e. no misfortune, has occurred.

We would be happy to show you the spectacle of the “Viehscheid”, for example in Mittenwald or in Berchtesgaden at the Königssee and let you participate in the roaring celebration of the alpine farmers, who thus happily end the alpine summer.

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