It’s been a busy summer for the Bowmans in Bavaria. Superdude is crawling after his sister Rosebud; for her part, Rosebud is speaking more and more German (simple phrases, mostly). She’s also quite the little conversationalist in English. I’m really enjoying these two kids and feel extraordinarily lucky to have them.
A week ago Saturday, I had the opportunity to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: I went to a Trachten shop to buy myself a Dirndl.
Feeling like a proper Dirndl-clad Bavarian woman
Tracht is the word for costume (plural: Trachten). When most Americans think of Germany, they usually think of Bavaria and the traditional costume that is worn in this region of the world.
From when we first moved to Upper Bavaria, I always admired the Dirndl dresses. One of my friends asked me how often people here wear them. Not everyone wears the traditional clothing, but of those who do, I most often see it on the weekend, especially Sunday and on festival days. There are some Bavarians who also wear their traditional clothing during the week, and even some who will only wear the traditional clothing (though this seems to be mostly older people). There’s an elderly gentleman I see from time to time when we go on walks. He doesn’t wear the full Lederhosen (leather pants) outfit but he usually has on a Bavarian shirt and hat at the very least.
If you visit Munich, you will certainly see people of all ages wearing Trachten, and not just the Biergarten servers! I think wearing the traditional costume is a little more common where we live, in Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria) as well as in parts of Austria which shares a similar style of traditional dress.
Believe it or not, Trachten has its own fashion industry and from what I understand, one of the design centers is Salzburg, Austria. Each season has its colors and patterns for that year, with there being a special emphasis on Oktoberfest. I couldn’t tell you what the Dirndl trends are for this year, mind you! Traditionally, each locale has its own variant of the costume, including fabric colors and hat designs. I don’t know a lot about that, however.
I decided I wanted to get good advice and customer service in my Dirndl purchase, so I went to a shop called Trachtenstube Inge which came highly recommended to me. All of the sale associates were beautifully dressed in Trachten. I was very well attended to by a woman who took the time to explain the different types of Dirndl.
I learned that for festivals the skirts tend to be black or at least dark in color. You can even buy a special bridal Dirndl, often in ivory or white, but sometimes in different colors and made of luxurious fabrics. As I wanted a more everyday Dirndl, she directed me toward what she called the “Wasch-Dirndl” – a “wash” Dirndl, or something you can easily launder yourself. The colors tend to be brighter in these everyday dresses. The more traditional Dirndl has a long skirt, but the short skirt is especially popular for the summer and also for Oktoberfest.
The most important thing about wearing a Dirndl, I discovered, is that the bodice must be very snug. The bodice reminded me of a corset in terms of the fit, and I think that’s the secret of why a Dirndl looks and feels so nice. A lady cannot slouch very easily in a Dirndl and must keep her posture straight which, in turn, creates an elegant and poised look. As you might imagine, a Dirndl also keeps a lady’s bustline held well into place, and I quickly learned that a supportive BH is essential (that is, a Bustenhalter, or a bust-holder, if you know what I mean – yes, a bra. Bustenhalter is a German word I particularly like!)
The Dirndlbluse, or Dirndl blouse, is not a full blouse, but rather a half-blouse that is snug around the bust area. The sleeves and neckline can be lacy, plain or everything in between; the ones I tried all had three-quarter sleeves. I don’t know if that is the traditional sleeve length or if that is a modern twist on the Dirndl blouse.
I found seven or eight long-skirted Dirndl that I wanted to try on, and as the prices were better than what I had anticipated, I thought maybe I would be able to buy two for myself.
As I tried on the various Dirndl I had selected, the saleslady and I decided that the stronger colors suited me very well. The first one I tried had a green bodice and a purple skirt, a combination which I liked. Soon after that, I discovered one with a purple bodice and green skirt, with a pink and white apron, which fit me very well indeed. I immediately knew that this was my Dirndl. It reminded me of when I bought my wedding dress, actually, in that I had no doubt whatsoever that it was the Dirndl meant for me.
Side view, fuschia and olive green Dirndl
Front view, fuschia and olive green Dirndl
I tried on a few more dresses, just to be sure. One of the next ones I tried had a dark blue bodice, red checked skirt and a red flowered apron. All of a sudden, I realized this was the perfect Dirndl for an Amerikanerin – it reminds me of our flag, the stars and stripes; the red, white and blue:
My "American" Dirndl, red, white and blue!
It really was too perfect to pass up. Once I determined to buy both of these Dirndl, another beautifully dressed woman scurried over to me, with her pincushion, so she could do the fitting and pinning for a few minor alterations. She said it would take a few days before she could get to the alterations for me. All week long I was eager to get my dresses back so I could try them on again.
When I did finally pick up my Dirndl, I decided to show my neighbors the purple and green one. They were charmed by their American neighbor dressing up and looking like one of their own. I even wore my Dirndl out to dinner at the local pizza restaurant. My husband kept commenting on how cute I looked, so I think I’ll wear my Dirndl somewhat regularly since he appreciated what it did for my figure. I think that Dirndl dresses are flattering on pretty much any woman and not only that, I just feel so magically transformed when I put it on.