This weekend marks the final days of Oktoberfest 2016. Who hasn’t heard of this annual German festival, with its beer and bratwurst, its oom-pah bands and fest tents, its dirndl-clad women and lederhosen-clad men performing traditional Bavarian dances?
When we were in Germany, we never did go to the “big Oktoberfest” in Munich. What many folks may not realize is that Oktoberfest also takes place in small towns and villages throughout Bavaria, and we found these smaller festivals to be more appealing to those who – like us – really don’t care for the crush of a huge, drunken crowd.
Another thing that many folks may not realize about traditional Alpine garb: there is Die Tracht, and then there is Trachtenmoden.
Trachtenmoden is an Alpine fashion statement which has some things in common with our own traditional garb of the American West: it is rooted in history, and in the countryside; it can be gaudy; it can be very expensive; and to the uninitiated city-slicker, it can be regarded as somewhat hickish, despite its indisputably high-quality materials and workmanship.
Do people really wear it? Yes, yes, they do, and not only for festivals! Take the Tyrolean hats, for example. You won’t see them so much in Frankfurt or Berlin or Dusseldorf, any more than one would see a cowboy hat in Manhattan very often; you do see them a little more in Munich, just as we see our cowboy hats and boots in Dallas or Houston. But get out into the small Bavarian and Austrian towns, and you will see them again and again as everyday wear. The same goes for sweaters, shirts and jackets, and you will find the rare man who actually wears lederhosen (the knee-length kind) daily. Otherwise, admittedly, the full “costume” is usually seen on holidays and in restaurants or hotels.
Lila’s first purchase of Trachtenmoden was an expensive but apparently indestructible overcoat which she is still wearing and getting compliments on, over twenty years later. A hat soon followed, and that still gets compliments too. Then Lila discovered that Trachtenmoden (also called Landhausmode, or “country estate fashion”) can be had in German thrift shops and at flea markets… Sonder-Angebote!! … and the rest is history. Let me tell you, a nice boiled-wool jacket with that hat is the perfect thing for cold, gloomy weather, and it always looks great. Even when most of it is literally decades old now.
Trachtenmoden is just fashion, however, and while it has its roots in tradition, it does change and evolve over the years, just like our Western clothing. Die Tracht is different: it IS the tradition. Every town has its own costume for both men and women, which is very, very rigidly prescribed in every detail and changes very little over time. All of the women will have the same color dirndl, the same color apron, the same accessories. All of the men will have the same embroidery on their jackets, the same lederhosen. Small details like the color of a man’s stockings or of a woman’s hat can indicate, for instance, whether they are married. It is essentially a town uniform, and a high-quality Tracht will last a lifetime. Native residents of the German and Austrian Alps know these historic costumes at a glance, and they are an object of great regional and cultural pride. Some examples:
If you find yourself in Germany for Oktoberfest and yearn to wear some Bavarian garb for the occasion, there are some definite dos and don’ts.
DO NOT wear the Tracht of any particular town. You don’t belong there; it is not yours to wear. Those to whom Die Tracht belongs will take great offense at this.
DON’T wear the kitschy cheap stuff. You won’t be well regarded in a cheap mini-dirndl with a see-through blouse and nylon stockings. You might as well wear a plastic cowboy hat in Dallas if you’re going for that effect.
DO wear some high-quality Trachtenmoden (or Landhausmode). Real felted or boiled wool, real linen, real leather, real gold and silver jewelry, and conservative styles are always in favor. If you don’t want to hunt through the sales racks or thrift shops, and don’t want to pay the big bucks for a real Bavarian jacket or hat, just skip the trachtenmoden and go with a Bavarian-themed choice that you can even wear at home without feeling too embarrassed – check out the cap at right, knitted in the pattern of the flag of the Free State of Bavaria.
Want to see more? Check out a few of these online shops just for fun, or click the trachtenmoden images above for their original sites.