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How Partying Saved Lederhosen & Dirndls

Sep 17 2019

It just isn’t an Oktoberfest party without attendees wearing dirndls and lederhosen. And like everything, this traditional German garb has an origin story. We are going to tell it to you, but first we have to go back, back to the 16th century.

The popularity of French culottes were spreading across Europe like wild fire, it was only a matter of time before this current fashion trend reached the German Alps and countryside. When it did, the German peasantry made their culottes out of leather, their preferred material. These “leather breeches” or lederhosen would eventually find their way in the wardrobes of the German upper class, thus becoming the defining clothing of the country. Unfortunately, lederhosen fell out of favor among the upper class by the 19th century, and the lower class weren’t wearing them either due to urbanization. But the lederhosen would be saved from its impending extinction by becoming an Oktoberfest costume in the 1880’s as part of an effort to preserve German cultural heritage.

As for the lederhosen’s female counterpart, the dirndl? It is a similar story, down to its humble beginnings as dresses worn by maids for house and farm workers. The German nobility would coopt the dirndl in the 18th century, but a rich women’s dirndl was made out of expensive fabrics like silk and satin instead of the affordable wools used by the lower class. As the dirndl was on its way out, it was resurrected as a party costume for Oktoberfest in the 1880’s by the same cultural preservation effort that saved the lederhosen. The lederhosen worn today is very authentic to what was worn in the long long ago, but the dirndls aren’t. Modern dirndls are clean, bright, and often have shorter skirts, unlike the original dirndl that was made from poor rag-like materials. The way a dirndl is knotted is also a modern update, single ladies knot their dirndls to the left, taken ladies knot theirs to the right.

But whether you are donning a pair of lederhosen or a dirndl during Oktoberfest, chances are you have an “alpine hat” or Tyrolean hat to go along with it. This headwear originated sometime between 1828 and 1831 in the Alps of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. The Tyrolean hat became popular when Edward VIII frequently wore one in Austrian Styria after his abdication, this is to spite that the hat didn’t originate there. Now a days it is common to have a collection of pewter pins on a Tyrolean hat, these pins can hold a variety of different meaning to its wearer. They can be representative of a town they have visited, a school they went to, a hobby they have, or just something they find funny.

And so, that’s our story. Rich people decided they want to wear poor people cloths, inadvertently making them German fashion. And after the cloths fell out of favor, partying at Oktoberfest saved them from being erased from culture. You think about that when you sing Ein Prosit.

From the Blogmeister at Bull Falls Brewery