• Tracht: The Traditional Bavarian Costume

    Origins, Myths, and Oktoberfest

    Lederhosen and Dirndl – these two items of clothing are just as Bavarian as the Weißwurst sausage, the ‘Schuhplatteln’ traditional folk dance or the German beer purity law. But where did the custom around the festive folk costume called Tracht originate? Was it really worn by simple farmers? And how does it fit into the image of the modern Oktoberfest? We went looking for clues and made some remarkable discoveries.

Bavarian Costume – Newer Than You Might Think

It may come as a surprise, but the Bavarian traditional costume as we know it is only about 200 years old. It all began on October 12, 1810, with the wedding between Ludwig I and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Because they wanted to strengthen the sense of community in the Kingdom of Bavaria, which was only four years old at the time, Ludwig’s father – King Max Joseph I – had arranged for a traditional costume parade. At the fashion show, children from all areas of the kingdom appeared in clothing typical for their region. In the following years, a uniform Bavarian costume was developed in an elaborate process based in part on these models. To this day, there are minor regional differences in design, but overall, the goal was achieved. For example, no respectable traditional costume store offers a dirndl without a matching apron, whether you are shopping in the Allgäu, Regensburg or Munich. Haferl shoes with Lederhosen are also a must, as is men covering their calves with loferl or stockings.

Trachten bei Ed Meier ⁄ Foto Christian Kasper

© München Tourismus – C. Kasper

Biergarten München Brotzeit ⁄ Foto Christian Kasper

 © München Tourismus – C. Kasper

The Myth of “Dirndl and Lederhosen in Bavaria”

Nevertheless, it took a long time before the “Bavarian Tracht” was a household name. Over several generations, a considerable “PR effort” was necessary to sufficiently establish a sense of unity in the Free State of Bavaria. A dragging development, due to the fact that the so-called traditional costume was initially prescribed by the ruling class and did not develop organically from the people, as is sometimes claimed. The clothing does not even seem particularly suitable for everyday wear. Real leather pants make you sweat very quickly, while they dry terribly slowly when wet. It is therefore extremely unlikely that farmers often worked the fields in them. It seems more plausible that the aristocracy itself later made the Bavarian costume suitable for the masses. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, members of the urban high society liked to have a fancy dirndl or a pair of tight lederhosen tailored for their summer vacation in the country. These garments were then worn on hunts, wine tastings or cross-country trips in hackney carriages. The new fashion likely appealed to the country folk, who then replicated the trend and made the traditional costume their holiday attire.

Bavarian Tracht and Oktoberfest

The question remains as to why seemingly everyone attends the Oktoberfest in traditional costume. To answer it, let’s jump back in time again: For the wedding celebration between Ludwig I and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, all restraint was thrown overboard. Thus, the 42-hectare Theresienwiese (at that time still located at the gates of Munich) served as the event location for the five days of festivities. No expense or effort was spared for the entertainment either. Among other things, a horse race was held in the huge area, which turned out to be such a great success with 40,000 spectators that it was repeated in the years to come. The catering and the sideshow also grew from year to year, as did the number of marquees, and the organization became more professional. In short, over the course of the next hundred years, the Oktoberfest became an annual highlight for the people that merited wearing the most festive attire

Lebkuchenherzenstand auf der Wiesn ⁄ Foto Christian Kasper

© München Tourismus – C. Kasper

Nr. 1978s Oktoberfest bei Nacht 2 Foto Tommy Loesch

Titelbild: © München Tourismus – T. Loesch

The Modern Oktoberfest and Traditional Costume

Still, the continued existence of the Trachten tradition at the Wiesn (how people from Munich call the Oktoberfest) is not to be taken for granted: In the 1980s and ’90s, few dirndls or lederhosen were seen in Munich even during the Oktoberfest season. Only within the last twenty years has the custom came back to life, and so today Oktoberfest guests from all corners of the globe wear Bavarian-inspired traditional costume. And why not? It is convenient: Whether you are at the airport, the train station or the discount grocery store, you can buy inexpensive traditional costumes anywhere in Munich from mid-September to early October. In terms of pattern, color and skirt length of the dirndls, there are no limits to the imagination. Traditionalists might no longer speak of “Bavarian” traditional costume in many of these cases, but if this throwback has taught you one thing, it is that even full-blown traditions start out on shaky ground.



Always up to date