Germany: General information

Historical background

The traditional costumes, Trachten, found throughout Germany vary very much from region to region, which is not surprising as the state of Germany is a very modern political entity (ca. 140 years old). From 800 CE onwards, the history of Germany was intertwined with that of the Holy Roman Empire for roughly 900 years, which was disbanded in 1806. The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic central European complex of territories extending from the North and Baltic Sea coast down into Italy. In the 18th century, it consisted of 1,800 territories. The traditional costumes from the areas covered by this region certainly do have a degree of similarity.

Nowadays, Trachten means the traditional costume of a certain region, based on (usually) what the Tracht or folklore movement of the late 19th/early 20th century postulated as being traditional. The rural population had used different forms of Trachten throughout their lives: from christening, confirmation, wedding and mourning periods. There were many variants and especially the women used lots of colours: mainly red, blue, green and black. Despite this, there were similarities that showed the origin and marital status of the wearer. Each age group and parish had their specific characteristic clothing. In addition, the social status and the financial were shown.

King Maximilian II of Bavaria (1811 – 1864) was the first king to lay down the law as to what was considered correct folklore dress and what not. He saw the introduction of a national costume as being something which would “increase a feeling of national cohesion amongst Bavarians” enabling them to hold their heads high in the face of Prussian self-confidence. However, by the end of the 19th century this traditional form of dress was almost dying out as women tended to go with the fashions of the time.

In the 1880s, there was a revival of interest in Trachten in association with carnival (Fastnacht). The women’s Trachten carnival costumes seemed to fulfil a need to remember the “good old days” with a form of glorified memory of the imperial or free cities of the Holy Roman Empire (it had been dissolved in 1806). The baroque imperial city costumes with richly decorated bonnet (Bockelhaube), laced bodice (Schnürmieder) and special jewellery is typical of many types of German Trachten, e.g. that of Ulm. In addition, a teacher from Bayrischzell, Josef Vogl, then founded together with his friends Bavaria’s very first folklore group. Today, throughout Germany, and especially in Bavaria, such folklore groups are ensuring that the original regional costumes are kept alive.

In some areas of Germany today, traditional costumes are still used for festive occasions such as the parades for traditional fairs like the regional Schutzenfest (a fair with shooting competitions) and the world-famous Oktoberfest. In Bavaria and Austria, they are even part of normal daily wear. A revival of traditional clothing in Germany has led to what is called the Landhaus Stil or country-house style, seen throughout Germany. Nowadays, the Dirndl is considered a fashion item and is worn to formal parties, weddings, dinners and balls.

Women’s wear

The Dirndl, the female form of traditional costume used in Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, and the South Tyrol, was originally the dress worn by a maid (Dirn in Bavarian and Austrian dialects) or female servant. In the 19th century, when Germans became more nationalistic after the disbandment of the Holy Roman Empire, the middle classes as well as aristocrats, painters and writers re-discovered nature and their cultural roots. As a result they started wearing servants’ outfits during their vacations and adapted them for comfort, luxury and practicality.

Typical dirndl with waistcoast, blouse, skirt and apron
Typical southern German dirndl with bodice, blouse, skirt and apron

The Dirndl consists of a tight waistcoat or bodice (Mieder), under which a wide-sleeved blouse (Bluse) with a more or less plunging neckline is worn. The top is combined with a long, full skirt (Rock). An apron (Schurze) is worn over the skirt. The winter style Dirndl has heavy, warm skirts and aprons made of thick cotton, linen, velvet or wool, and long sleeves. The colours are usually rich and dark. The summer style is lighter and more frivolous, has short sleeves, and is often made of lightweight cotton. Often in the summer months no blouse is worn underneath a Dirndl. After their adoption by the upper classes, Dirndls were fashioned from silk and the apron, waistcoat and even blouse were heavily embroidered, while working women wore simpler forms in plain colours or a simple check.

The traditional Dirndls from the various regions of Germany vary according to the cut of the neckline, apron, embroidery or other adornment and above all the accessories like shoes, socks, headwear or jewellery. In many regions, vibrantly-coloured, hand-printed silk scarfs and silk aprons are worn. The women often wear traditional-style necklaces, earrings and brooches made of silver, the antlers of deer or even animals’ teeth.

For colder weather, heavy Dirndl coats in the same cut as the dresses are worn. They have a high neck and front buttons. They are combined with thick woollen mittens and hats.

An example of the plainer type of north German costume
An example of the plainer type of north German costume

Northern German Trachten tends to have narrower skirts than those of the southern regions. The women’s outfit usually consists of a blouse, waistcoat, skirt and apron, all of which are richly embroidered, though there are other types which are less colourful. Unlike the Southern German Dirndl, traditional northern costumes such as those from Brunswick and Hamburg have not undergone a modern fashion revival.

According to popular culture, the placement of the knot on the apron (Schurze) is an indicator of the woman’s marital status, with a knot tied on the woman’s left side indicating that she is single, a knot tied on the right meaning that she is married, engaged or otherwise “taken”, a knot tied in the front means that she is a virgin and a knot tied at the back showing that the woman is widowed.

Men’s wear

Traditional German men’s costumes consist of jacket, shirt, waistcoat, trousers, socks, shoes and hats in various materials and styles. Its style dates back to the 19th century and the popularity of the frock coat at that time.

One special type of trousers are the Lederhosen: short, wide-cut leather knee breeches which end in a cuff (Bund) just below the knee. They were worn by the men of the Alpine regions (Germany, Austria, South Tyrol and Switzerland) as the leather allowed for heavy duty work in the stables, fields and woods. The shorter variety in the form of leather trunks is a later development. Lederhosen are still worn by Bavarian and Austrian men on a daily basis. These trousers are not used for formal attire. A related form made in various materials (particularly cord), the Bundhosen, is still used by German hikers, especially those in the older generation.

In some regions of northern Germany, the men’s costume is defined by a long, white overcoat with a red lining, the Kittel. The traditional Kittel reached mid-calf and was accompanied by knee breeches (Büxen: Northern German dialect for trousers), blue stockings and black shoes.


Source(s) of information (accessed 2012) (accessed 2012) (accessed 2012) (accessed 2012) (accessed 2nd August 2015) (accessed 2nd August 2015)

Grimpe K. Tracht an! (accessed 6th August 2015)





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s