In Praise of the Dirndl

Oktoberfest 2014 is descending upon us, so get your ‘Tracht’ out of the closet, dust it down and get ready to party!


If you don’t have a tracht (traditional costume) then it is high time you got one, after all millions of other non-natives don the costume every year and it is a great way of feeling part of the festival and getting acquainted with beer and pretzel in traditional dress!

This is a dedication to the Dirndl, a dress with a legacy going back 140 years. Having stood the test of time, it is still worn today by hundreds of women across Bavaria, Austria, the Alps and beyond.

If the dirndl could get herself a plaque on the Hollywood hall of fame and press her bodice into the clay, then I would take her there and do it!

Dirndl, a term for “young girl,” and the name given to the dress, originated as a simplified form of a servant’s or maid’s dress and was made of plain colors or simple check, denoting regional and social background. Back then, the dirndl was colored using vegetable dyes, giving it a much softer look than the colors we see today, which are richer and brighter. The dirndl was adopted by the upper echelons of society in the late 1800s, when it was fashionable to emulate the simple life of the peasants, and they were made in expensive, embroidered fabrics of velvet, silk, satin and fine cottons.

The two basic styles of the dress are Trachtendirndl, which consists of a blouse, tailored bodice, a full skirt and an apron and the Landhausmode (country house style), which is a dirndl-like dress and skirt that is more informal. You can still see women wearing this “softer” version, the landhausmode, on a daily basis.

The dirndl is still worn by many women for traditional and cultural events and at weddings, to show their regional pride. And lets face it, when you have an outfit that is so flattering, there won’t be many cries of, “I’ve got nothing to wear!?” The dirndl has a pride and pertinence to it lacking in the expensive and “samey” fashion labels on the market.

The Oktoberfest Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the best places to see every region of Bavaria’s trachten, displayed throughout the festivities in spectacular style. There are many variations and styles of these exquisitely embroidered dresses, bodices and aprons—often accessorized with hats, feathers, bust adorning roses, brightly colored silk shawls, handcrafted jewelry, medallions and beads for the neck and waist. The exquisite attention to detail in the costumes discloses regional, social and historic status. Farmers would often show their wealth by displaying it on their wives’ dirndl, and it was common for a woman to show her dowry in the same way.


But what makes the dirndl SO fine for our Frauleins? The secret, my friends, lies in the BODICE. And since the upper part of the body is the main focal point of a person, the dirndl creates a natural platform for adornment and enhancement of this area. So get this right and the rest will follow!

The dirndl is also in my hall of fame because it fits all shapes, sizes, heights and statures, ticking all the boxes for fit and flattery. It is the ultimate “IT” dress! If you are not blessed with a bosom, the dirndl will give you some va va voom, and if you are blessed, then be prepared for rubber necking from admirers who just can’t help themselves.

Underneath the bodice is a cotton blouse, cut just under the bust to avoid any excess material, cleverly veiling any excess flesh, perfect for older ladies who want to cover their upper arms (the loathed under arm flesh). The blouses come in plain cotton for a few euros or several hundred for exotic versions in organza, linen, lace and crystal embroidery. The hochziet or wedding tracht are really something else!

Below are some tips for buying a dirndl. Even though some may seem obvious, you want to be happy with your choice. Despite the myths out there—Newsflash! —there are some women who don’t  like shopping! It can be a minefield with many choices and little help, not always as enjoyable as it should be. This should eliminate the complexity a bit, making it easier and more fun.


Tips on buying a dirndl

#1 Make sure the bodice fits you. Look for the same size as a fitted top you already own when trying it on. The bodice is the only part that needs to fit you well.

#2 When trying on your dirndl, always try on the blouse that goes underneath, even if it is not the one you want to get, and lace the bodice up. This will give you a true fit. It should be snug but not tight; you need room for dancing and saying, “Prost!”

#3 If you are a teenager, you can get away with wearing the mini-length dirndl. If you are older, wear the mid-length or the traditional length. Trust me, no one will be looking at your legs!

#4 There are many good second hand shops around, and with a bit of time, you can really make a dirndl your own by choosing from a huge selection of dresses, blouses and aprons for around 100 euros for the complete outfit. Scores of Oktoberfest revelers turn in their dirndls after the party is over, before heading back to their Motherlands, so there are plenty of bargains to be had.

#5 Here is a color guide to help you get the most out of your dirndl. It will help bring out the best in your natural coloring and features. Then just wait to collect the “oohs and ahhs” from friends and colleagues!

• If you are a redhead – Look for bronze and golden shades, burnt orange and reds.

• If you are blonde – Look for yellows, rose and brown, blues and golden shades.

• If you are brunette – Look for purples, reds, dark green, black and plum shades.

• If you have black hair – Look for black, purple, charcoal and royal blue.

• If you have grey hair – Look for cool (blue based) colors, preferably with some contrast, also grey, dark navy, teal and spruce, and keep makeup light and subtle.

#6 How you tie the apron bow on the dirndl indicates your marital status:

• If you are engaged or married – tie it on the right side.

• If you are young, free and single – tie it on the left side.

• If you are widowed – tie it at the back.

Have fun and enjoy wearing your dirndl. If you are one of those with the apron bow tied to the left, then get ready to take on your suitors!

See you at the Oktoberfest and Auf Wiedersehen!