Dirndl and Lederhosen are a popular type of southern German dress originating from Bavaria. A Dirndl is a colourful flared dress with a corset and an apron and Lederhosen are brown leather pants with or without matching leather suspenders. There are many kinds of Trachten (traditional dress) all over Germany, but Dirndl and Lederhosen are the type of Trachten that people usually associate with Oktoberfest and Germany in general.
I have been curious about getting a Dirndl for myself for some time now, especially since Trachten are becoming increasingly widespread here in Baden-Württemberg. Since my husband is from Bavaria, I was surprised to learn that he had never worn a pair of Lederhosen. Every time we have gone to a German festival like the Cannstatter Wasen or the Stuttgart Spring Festival, I have always felt a little left out watching everyone else dressed up in their festive Dirndl and Lederhosen. Most Germans only wear Trachten a few times a year for festivals like Oktoberfest, so when festival season rolls around, they will gladly dust off their Dirndl and Lederhosen to celebrate in style.
With a little sweet cajoling, I convinced my husband that it would be fun to have our own Dirndl and Lederhosen for the upcoming festival season in German which kicks off in early summer and lasts until early autumn.
When we were in Bavaria last weekend visiting my husband’s parents, we took the opportunity to go Trachten shopping as well. While there are many shops in Baden-Württemberg that sell Dirndl and Lederhosen, we thought it might be less expensive to buy them in Bavaria.
Today’s post covers my tips for buying and wearing a Dirndl. (In the next week or so, I’ll write an accompanying post for buying and wearing Lederhosen).
How to Buy and Wear a Dirndl
1. Set a budget
Trachten can be incredibly expensive and the price tag was the main reason why I waited so long to buy a Dirndl. Dirndl can range anywhere from about 60 – 300 Euros; I actually spotted a nice Dirndl in a high-end department store last month for 800 Euros! You can certainly find less expensive Dirndls at regular department stores (like K&L), but then you’re quite likely to run into other women wearing the same style around town. If that doesn’t bother you, then buying a Dirndl this way can save you quite a bit of money.
For a more one of a kind Dirndl, I recommend visiting a specialty Trachten shop. They’ll carry loads of different styles for you to choose from and likely many at different price points.
2. Try on a few different styles and colours
I had no idea what style of Dirndl I was looking for at first and the selection was overwhelming. There are many styles of Dirndl ranging from more plain and simple to elaborate and ornate. Dirndls come in every conceivable colour and pattern – checkered, flowered, embroidered, you name it. Dirndl lengths range from mini to above-the-knee to below-the-knee to ankle-length. Most styles I saw in the stores were medium-fancy and knee-length and this was the style I ended up buying for myself. I would suggest trying on a few different styles to see what you like and what flatters your figure. The staff are also very knowledgeable and can make suggestions for you based on your colouring and your figure.
3. Try on a few different blouse styles
There seem to be just as many blouse types as there are Dirndls so I would also recommend trying on a few different blouse styles to see what you like. Most are white (though I saw a few black ones) and all are cropped (think Princess Jasmine from Aladdin). They can be on the shoulder, off the shoulder or with shoulder cutouts and they can have either long sleeves or short sleeves. The blouses can be plain, with lace, with ruffles – you name it. Though you feel pretty exposed trying on the blouse by itself in the dressing room, don’t worry because you’ll be completely covered once you put the Dirndl on over top.
Very important: make sure the blouse is comfortable. I found that some lace and ruffles can get itchy at the back of the neck. If you try on a style with elasticized sleeves (and you probably will at some point because most styles are like that), please make sure to check that it doesn’t cut off your arm circulation – I could barely wear that style for more than a few minutes so watch out!
I ended up buying my blouse from K&L because it was less expensive than any blouse I tried on at the Trachten shops. Mine is a pretty modest, on-the-shoulder style with a lace trim on the sleeves. I made sure to try it on with my Dirndl to check that they went well together before purchasing the blouse.
4. Be prepared to be a little bare!
Even though the Dirndl covers the exposed part of your stomach uncovered by the cropped blouse, the entire dress and blouse combo is designed to show off your, ahem, assets. I am a pretty modest dresser, so this aspect left me feeling pretty awkward. More than one salesperson at each shop suggested I get a special bra to better fill out the Dirndl. If you’re after a curvaceous look, Trachten shops usually carry push-up bras (called Büstenhalter (often abbreviated to just BHs)).
5. Ask for help trying on a Dirndl for the first time
I tried on 3 dresses in the first shop and learned the hard way that a Dirndl can be surprisingly tricky to put on! Each dress had its zipper in a different spot: up the back, up the side and up the middle. The dress with the zipper up the middle took me forever to get on since I had to untie the apron, loosen the corset, undo the zipper up the front and then wiggle my way into the dress. The female staff member offered to assist me when she heard my mumbled frustrations through the dressing room curtain but by then I had managed to wrangle the dress onto my body. I should have just asked for help (or at least asked her to explain how to put it on first)!
6. Be careful where you tie your apron
A Dirndl comes with an apron, usually in a contrasting colour to the skirt. The apron will have a small loop on the inside at the waist and the skirt will have a button at the same spot; the two stay buttoned together. In addition, there are two long ties to the apron that you have to wrap around the back and tie in a bow at the front to complete the look.
The position where the bow is tied is important because it signals the wearer’s marital status:
On the right: married, engaged or in a relationship
On the left: single (and ready to mingle)
At the back: a widow or a waitress
Now here comes the tricky part: one of the sales staff at the Trachten shop told me that you tie the bow on the same side as where you wear your wedding ring. In Germany, married couples wear their wedding rings on their right hands (hence the bow being tied on the right side if you’re a married woman). However, my husband and I wear our wedding rings on our left hands (the North American way). This begs the question: where am I supposed to tie my bow?! I think I’ll stick with the right side when I wear my Dirndl in Germany…
Though not required, many women accessorize their Dirndls with a cross-body heart-shaped purse with a sweet message on it (similar to the gingerbread cookies sold at German festivals), a matching charm necklace, high heeled shoes (though flats are also popular) and a braided hairdo.
As a gift, the manager at the Trachten shop where I bought my Dirndle threw in a charm necklace for free so even though I wasn’t planning to accessorize my dress, I now have a lovely matching necklace that goes with it!
By popular demand, I have now included a photo of the Dirndl and blouse that I purchased. I can’t wait to wear it!
I hope you found this Dirndl buying and wearing guide useful! Here are two excellent Dirndl guides from fellow expats in Germany:
Do you have a Dirndl? How was your Dirndl shopping experience? If you don’t have one, would you ever wear one? Let me know in the comments below!