The Dirndl is a type of German traditional dress for women which (in my opinion) is suited and incredibly flattering to all women whatever your shape, size or age. Previously worn as everyday working clothes by the women of Austria and southern Germany (mainly Bavaria) the modern Dirndl still retains a traditional silhouette but styles and choices have increased at an astronomical rate as the Dirndl has morphed into the outfit of choice for visitors to plenty more festivals than just Oktoberfest.
As working clothes (some people do still wear them for working) you might also see them advertised as ‘Landhausmode’ or Country fashion because that’s what they are. Apart from in Bavaria where your Dirndl is worn for special occasions like weddings, graduation, Friday night 😉 etc you won’t see many women wearing one on an everyday basis, besides those who work in traditional German restaurants, however, when festival season arrives, you just can’t miss them.
The Dirndl is a dress consisting of a fitted bodice, full skirt and matching removable apron, the blouse that accompanies the Dirndl is almost always white, though black is generally available too. Every Dirndl will have these basic parts, but the cut and fit will vary from design to design. The bodice is the most important part of the Dirndl with regards to fit, it is meant to be tight, not cutting off your circulation tight, but since the material rarely has any stretch to it, you might feel a little constricted at first.
The bodice will vary in terms of coverage, some are relatively high cut showing little or no cleavage and some are cut underneath the bust. Don’t worry though, your blouse will ensure you are as covered or uncovered as you’d like. Bodice fastenings include zips, buttons and hooks which are placed front and centre (see above), zips also appear under the arm or at the back. For this reason I’d recommend that you have a friend with you if your decide to go Dirndl shopping, and there’s always the trick with the wire coat hanger if you’re home alone.
Your blouse can be as individual as your Dirndl, if you are buying the one separates try to choose your Dirndl first, it is the biggest investment and blouses can be picked up relatively cheaply later. If you buy a set (which includes the blouse) you can always pick up a different blouse later, no need for it to be expensive, unless you want it to be. As I said earlier, white is the most common, but that, and the prevalence of a puff sleeve are the only themes. After that you can choose from frills, lace, high neck, low cut, cap sleeve, three quarter sleeve, off the shoulder, plain, fancy and everything in-between.
A Dirndl generally comes in three distinct lengths (obviously this is relative to how tall or short you are), the mini, the midi and the long (lang). So, there are a lot of differing opinions over which lengths are appropriate for whom. For a Volksfest a mini is usually the choice of younger women and teenagers, make sure you wear your big undies or even shorts because clambering up and down and dancing on beer benches is prime flashing territory. A midi can range from knee length to calf length and are the most common choice at Volkfest and for special occasions, like weddings, in most shops you will find the most options in this length. A long Dirndl is usually worn by a waitress, a wearer of a more traditional Dirndl or a woman over thirty, it is rare to find a younger woman wearing this length.
Wear whichever length you feel comfortable in, your choice of Dirndl is very personal to you. No matter the length of your Dirndl there will always be different styles and colours available, you can go as fancy or as frill free as you want. A secret surprise common to (most) Dirndl is a pocket on the skirt seam, some even zip up making it the perfect place to carry your 50cents for the loo. I didn’t find my pocket for at least a year and I got pretty darn excited when I found it. Ahh it’s the small things.
The majority of traditional styles of Dirndl are made from cotton but manmade fabrics are increasingly popular, if you are going to be wearing your Dirndl in the summertime consider the breathability of the fabric or wear a pretty petticoat to save your legs from sweaty polyester. The colour of your Dirndl does not have to signify anything, pick a colour which suits your skin tone and it is easy to update with a different blouse or apron combination if you want a change but don’t want to fork out for the whole outfit.
The one rule that comes along with your Dirndl is that of where you tie your apron. Get this wrong and you could receive some unwanted attention and generally stick out as a tourist. By tying you apron to the right you will usually get an undisturbed night, whilst tying to the left is considered more of an invitation, so expect some attention. You’ll only usually find children tied front and centre. It’s worth saying that the apron is usually attached to the Dirndl by way of a button and threaded loops, a double bow always stays tied.
So that’s the lowdown, exactly what I wanted to know before I went on my first Dirndl shopping mission, if you are looking for a reasonable priced Dirndl (or lederhosen) check out my post on budget shopping for some inspiration. I hope that this has convinced you that every woman should try a Dirndl at least once (even just in a shop) and that you won’t be the only one wearing a Dirndl at Volkfest, ever. I’ll be there in mine!
I have a whole post on accessories coming up, look out for it if you are wondering what to wear with your Dirndl or looking for an alternative.