Reader Question: Oktoberfest Attire

September 26th, 2009 § 12 comments

Prost! Maifest 2005, originally uploaded by academichic.

I have received several reader questions about whether I would be attending Oktoberfest in Munich upon my arrival. One particular reader, well acquainted with German culture, noted:

My lasting impression of Oktoberfest, beyond the Gem├╝tlichkeit, was how native Germans wore traditional Bavarian costumes — and it was the tourists who stuck out in their plainclothes. Getting off the U-Bahn at Theresienwiese and seeing a throng of people in lederhosen and dirndls tickled me to no end. And it was people of all ages, from little kids to teens to grannies!

It is true that one way to pass for a native at festivals such as Oktoberfest or Maifest is to wear the traditional dress of a Dirndl or Lederhose. Bavarians and Austrians in particular seem to celebrate their regional identities and their heritage by sporting Tracht for special occasions (more so than northern Germans). But unfortunately, If I do make it to Oktoberfest before it ends, I will not be sporting my Salzburger Dirndl because it was far to heavy and bulky of an item to make my very strict packing cut.

Maifest 2005, originally uploaded by academichic.

I do own a Dirndl, as many a fanatic German studies major does, purchased at a second hand store in Salzburg while I was studying abroad in Austria. Original Tracht is very pricey and purchasing it second hand is one way to get an authentic Dirndl or Lederhose without breaking the bank. I love my Dirndl and have worn it to several festivities in Austria and for several more Halloweens in the US.

Austrian Tracht, originally uploaded by academichic.

As a languages scholar, I am irresistibly drawn into the culture whose language I am studying. It is impossible to separate language from the geographical and historical culture of a given area. Traditional dress used to be the way people distinguished their regional and class identities; these garments are intricately woven (text)iles representing the communities and places of their origin. I love my Salzburger Dirndl because it represents a place and culture I have come to fondly know and appreciate since my two year sojourn there.

Similarly, I have a Romanian folk dress that is representative of the Transylvania area of the country, which is where I grew up. Pictures of my grandparents as children show them wearing the traditional dress as their daily outfits, as children of farmers often did. While members of German departments tend to be (understandably) weary of the ubiquitous Lederhose-wearing beer-slinging caricature, I appreciate the actual wearing of Tracht for its symbolic and celebratory function that aims to commemorate a given place and people in text as well as in textile. S.

Romanian Traditional Dress, originally uploaded by academichic.

PS: You can also check out the lovely Vera from Deep in Vogue sporting a traditional Bulgarian folk dress in a recent post of hers here. Do you own a traditional folk dress? If so, we’d love to see it and feature it in our Monthly Roundtable!

§ 12 Responses to Reader Question: Oktoberfest Attire"

  1. Tizzle-T says:

    You look great in your outfits! What regional attire have you noticed during your travels in the US?

  2. Nadine says:

    You look gorgeous! I LOVE dirndls. (I think it’s the Sound of Music – don’t get me started on how much I adore every single costume in that movie . . )

    I do not own, but have borrowed and worn Croatian costumes for dancing the kolo. My own dancing students wear a very-much simplified version for their performances.

    PS – I’m not actually Croatian . .

  3. Erin says:

    Thanks for addressing this topic, S. Well done! Of course you have a dirndl. :D And how lovely you look in it, too.

    Safe travels and merry studies to you! I am excited to read about your style inspirations and observations in Muenchen.

    Auf wiedersehen! Tschuess!


  4. Sharon says:

    I hate regional dresses. I might have one hidden somewhere, but I rather not wear it, since it doesn’t really represent my heritage or the area I grew up. It was just a generic national costume.

  5. Maeghan says:

    Love this post! You’re totally adorable, and wow, being a languages scholar sounds awesome! So fun!

  6. Luinae says:

    That looks like so much fun!

    I agree that you can’t seperate culture from language. I study French and it is impossible to seperate the people from the words.

  7. Franca says:

    I never knew that everyone wore tracht at the oktoberfest, I thought it was just the waitresses and hardcare tradionalists.

    Part of my family is from Bavaria (‘m from Luxembourg), and as a little girl I used to be obsessed with dirndls (and also, oddly, kimonos). I grew out it though as I grew older, and have come to associate Tracht with Bavarian convervatism, which I find a little scvary at times.

    I’m generally ambivalent about folk costumes. I think its great when you have one and it represents your culture and by wearing it you are showing that proud of your country. But all too often traditional dress really just represents a stereotype of a country, and is used in quite a patronising way by/for people who are not actually from there when they go and ‘meet the natives’. I suppose what I’m thinking more is situations where there are unequal power relations and the traditional dress represents those with less power. I realise this is sounding like I think that you can only wear folk costume if its ‘your’ culture, which I don’t mean at all. Its just that often situations where (some) people dress up in traditional dress leave me feeling uncomfortable. I guess I need to think this through properly, so thanks for challenging my brain so early in the morning (it’s 9 am where I am)!

  8. admin says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    Franca – you make some great points, things I’ve thought about myself when writing this post and thinking about traditional dress in general. I agree that there is a risk of being simplistic and reducing a given culture to a certain stereotypical image/icon ( to which the folk dress lends itself only all too well) and in that case it does more harm than good.

    I also know what you mean about a dominant culture coming in and appropriating a given item of another culture and making it their own in once again reductionist way.

    Your points are all too accurate and I hope that in my post I was able to convey how I appreciate folk dress in ways that are not reductionist or simplistic (at least that’s what I was aiming for!)

    Great thought-provoking comments! Thank you! S.

  9. Dawn says:

    Oh wow, you look great in a drindl! Ireland doesn’t really have any folk costumes apart from the Irish dancing dresses which are quite cute but completely unwearable.

  10. Dottie says:

    Those are beautiful clothes with such interesting histories. My heritage is so crowded with different nationalities, even though Irish is dominant, I don’t have a strong cultural connection to any. Wish I did!

  11. hanabi says:

    Steht Dir gut, das Dirndl! ;)

  12. Mona says:

    Great blog and comments! When I went to Munich a few years ago I was tempted to get a Dirndl at a thrift store. I really like they way they look and wore one when I went to visit my relatives there when I was little. But since I was born in Berlin and grew up there, it would feel weird for me to dress up in one, since I am clearly not a Bavarian and there’s quite a lot of North/South animosity (well, mostly in a playful way). Now I live in the US and I am trying to avoid the clichee Lederhosen look, so no Dirndl here. Maybe I’d wear one if I’d live in Bavaria for a while…

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