Germany is known the world over for its beer-guzzling fall festival. Even though it's a highly traditional event, DW's Louisa Schaefer says new fashion trends can be seen at the fun-loving celebration.
Just a few weeks ago, I was at a Cologne-based "vintage" store (modern vernacular for "second-hand" in Germany) with my 15-year-old daughter.
While rummaging through one rack, I came across a beautiful dirndl, one that busty young women traditionally wear during Oktoberfest in the southern Bavarian region of Germany while serving up massive mugs of beer to boisterous drinkers. The price tag said €25 ($27), which felt like a huge bargain, especially because it was no plasticky, gimmicky contraption, but a beautiful jewel of carefully sewn fabric and detail.
I pressed it to my daughter's chest, urging her to try it on. But she just rumpled her nose, wanting nothing of it. After all, as a half-German, half-US-American, she has grown up in Cologne, and Cologne just doesn't do dirndl much. She sees the dirndl as an outdated, cliched notion of being a German — and many people in the country would agree with her.
Nonetheless, for many people abroad, and especially Americans with German heritage, the feminine dirndl seems to be the epitome of all things German. And with it comes the traditionally male version of the Bavarian attire, aka "lederhosen."
Dirndl and lederhosen: Oktoberfest classics
You might sometimes see dirndl and lederhosen worn on the streets of Bavaria and Austria, but generally, it is festive folk wear donned on special occasions, including at Oktoberfest. The attire developed from clothing known as "Tracht." The Bavarian traditional costumes began their triumphant advance at the beginning of the 19th century, inspired by 18th-century women's fashion with tight-fitting tops, plunging necklines and wide skirts.
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Noblewomen and well-situated bourgeois women in the city wore the dresses at coffee parties and later at summer retreats in the country. Peasant women aimed to follow suit and tailored their own models. The lederhosen, on the other hand, was originally a hunter's garment that was popularized not least by Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria as well as the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I — both of whom were enthusiastic hunters.
In addition, after the founding of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1806, the Tracht as a common folk costume became a way to express and strengthen a national identity. But the costume never became entirely uniform — it would develop in all shapes and sizes.
It was, however, an expression of a person's financial standing within communities. The more fabric and buttons the costume held, the wealthier the wearer. By dressing themselves up in their best suits, people demonstrated an elevated status, a leap from peasantry. But the outfit could also signify other things. The mere shifting of a tied bow from left to right at the belt of a dirndl indicated whether a woman was still single or married, much like a wedding ring.
Fashion co-opted by the Nazis
In the first half of the 20th century, the Nazis co-opted the costume, changing its modest style along the way. The dirndl's neckline was lowered and the skirt was shortened at knee length, cinched up at the waist. This "sexier" cut has remained popular to this day. In the latter half of the 20th century, boys and men would often wear lederhosen not so much to signify tradition, but simply because the short leather overalls were considered virtually indestructible. Boys could rough around in them for years and they would not fall apart.
Dirndl styles in 2023, the 'Barbie' year
While for some people Oktoberfest may boil down to ingesting tons of beer, for others, it's about the age-old question of, "What do I wear to this party?" Every year in the run-up to Oktoberfest, designers give a few cues on the latest trends, presenting their new dirndl and Tracht looks at the so-called "Dirndl Summit."
What we may see on the Oktoberfest fashion stage this year will likely be a salute to this summer's runaway hit movie, "Barbie." The only billion-dollar blockbuster solely directed by a woman, the savvy narrative told us that "anything goes" — both in fashion and in life. That's at least what German celebrity stylist Samuel Sohebi believes. "2023 is Barbie year and pink is an absolute trend. No one could overlook that this year," he told German press agency dpa.
Sohebi, who created an Oktoberfest look for Paris Hilton in 2007, said pink is sure to top the color palette this year. On the other hand, dirndl designer Angelina Kees told Munich-based television broadcaster München TV that she has chosen black as the main color of her designs this year. She emphasized that the color "is subdued, but at the same time elegant, and still draws people's attention."
Dirndl designer Cidalia Amante-Policarpo told München TV that she has created a new take on an old tradition. For her designs this year, she chose to not include the apron that traditionally drapes over the lower part of the dirndl dress. "Women no longer stand in front of the stove in the kitchen," she pointed out. The apron does not serve a function now, but is "merely an accessory."
"The task of a designer is to advance fashion and develop it from traditions," she stressed. On the other hand, some designers feel there are clear fashion faux pas for Oktoberfest. For Sohebi, you simply can't wear jeans and a T-shirt to the Bavarian celebration. "It's a festive tradition and I think it's extremely important to go [...] in traditional costume and not in everyday clothes and jeans," he told dpa. "That's like wearing jeans to a wedding or church on Sundays."
While the majority of people who visit folk festivals across Bavaria wear the traditional Tracht, according to Tobias Appl, district local historian in the Upper Palatinate region of Bavaria, the number of people bucking the system is "increasing year by year." "Fashion fads apply here, too," Appl said. In the "Barbie" film, the protagonist ditches her high heels for a comfy pair of Birkenstock sandals, an empowering move of self-determined sexiness. That can set the tone for anyone attending Munich's Oktoberfest this year. They don't have to force themselves into some corset of conformity, but can celebrate their own tradition of body positivity.
Millions of visitors are expected at this year's Oktoberfest, which takes place at Munich's Theresienwiese fairgrounds. It kicks off on September 16 and runs through October 3, 2023.
Author Louisa Schaefer
Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier
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