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Woman wearing dirndl with laced waist and green apron.
Seated women wearing modern dirndls.

A dirndl (German: [ˈdɪʁndl̩] (About this soundlisten), is the name of a feminine dress worn in southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Alpine regions of Italy. The dirndl is a folk costume (in German Tracht), and today is generally regarded as traditional dress for women and girls in the Alps. It developed during the 19th century, based on the traditional clothing of Alpine peasants.[1][2][3]

Today the term "dirndl" refers to a dress with a tight bodice, featuring an often deep rectangular or round neckline (decolletage), a wide high-waisted skirt (whose length changes with prevailing fashions) and an apron.[1] It exists both as a traditional folk costume (with particular designs associated with different regions) and as a fashion style without specific regional associations. Designs vary from simple off-the-shelf styles to exquisitely crafted, very expensive models.[1]


Dirndl is a diminutive of Dirn(e). Originally Dirne meant 'young woman', although in current German, this word is now mostly used to mean 'prostitute'.[4] In Bavaria and Austria, Dirndl can mean either a young woman or the dress. The dress can for clarity be called Dirndlkleid (literally 'young woman's dress') or Dirndlgewand ('young woman's clothing').[5][2]

Dirndl is the form of the word in Standard German. In the Bavarian and Austrian dialects of German (Bairisch), the word is Diandl.[6][circular reference]

The dirndl is a variety of Tracht, a German word properly referring to traditional folk costume. Nevertheless, German-speakers describe the dirndl interchangeably as "Dirndl" or "Tracht", regardless of whether the design is traditional or modern.[7] The usual masculine tracht counterpart of the dirndl is Lederhosen.


Basic design[edit]

The dirndl consists of a bodice, skirt, blouse, and apron.[1][2][8]

The bodice (in German Mieder or Leiberl) is sewn onto the skirt, although before the 1930s the two were separate.[8] Both are made from coloured or printed material, usually cotton, linen, velvet or silk. The bodice is typically made in a single piece, with the join in the front centre, secured by lacing, buttons or a hook-and-eye closure or a zip. A zip can also be on the back or the side. The neckline (Ausschnitt) of the bodice is commonly high, V-shaped, round, balconette or heart-shaped. The bodice often has embroidered decoration, especially when worn for public events.[1][2][7][9]

The skirt (Rock) is full, with folds gathered in at the waist. Originally the skirt was long, but in more modern designs it is typically mid-length. Miniskirt versions also exist.[2] Traditionally, the skirt has a pocket on the side or in front, which is hidden under the apron.[1][9]

The blouse (Bluse) accentuates the style of the dirndl; different styles include delicately hand-embroidered pieces, blouses with extravagant ruffles and lace, or simple ones with straight sleeves.[8] It is short in length, reaching to just below the bust.[2] Most blouses are white; typical materials are cambric, linen or lace. Short puff sleeves are most popular, although narrow sleeves (short or long) are also common. The neckline may be high, V-shaped, balconette or heart-shaped.[2][9]

The apron (Schürze) was traditionally a single colour (although sometimes with a floral pattern) and varied according to local tradition; in modern designs, it is more elaborate.[2][8]

The winter style dirndl has heavy, warm skirts, long sleeves and aprons made of thick cotton, linen, velvet or wool. The colours are usually deep green or dark blue.[2]

Traditional dirndls[edit]

Different colour variations can depend on the origin of the woman wearing a dirndl.

Traditional dirndls vary in design between regions and even villages. The different details may indicate the place of origin and social status of the wearer.[10] As with other folk costumes, traditional dirndls often come in two forms: one for everyday occasions, the other for traditional festivals and formal wear. Dirndls worn in everyday use are rural domestic clothing, made from grey or coloured linen, sometimes with leather bodice and trim. Dirndls used on formal occasions are usually made with materials, designs, colours and embroidery specific to the region. In the 19th and earlier 20th centuries, the blouse worn on formal occasions often featured an elaborate lace collar draped over the shoulders and breast.[9][11]


Accessories may include a long apron tied round the waist, a waistcoat or a woollen shawl. In ceremonies of the Catholic church, women often wear a hat or bonnet with the dirndl.[12] In many regions, especially the Ausseerland in the Austrian Salzkammergut, vibrantly coloured, hand-printed silk scarfs and silk aprons are worn. Women often wear necklaces, earrings and brooches made of silver, the antlers of deer or even animals' teeth. For colder weather there are heavy dirndl coats in the same cut as the dresses, with a high neck and front buttons, thick mittens and wool hats.


A dirndl skirt generally describes a wide skirt, gathered into folds at the waist.[13]

Dresses that are loosely based on the dirndl are known as Landhausmode (literally "country house style") dresses.

In recent decades, fashion designers have been creating their own interpretations of the dirndl. While appearing to be simple and plain, a properly made modern dirndl may be quite expensive as it is tailored, and sometimes cut from costly hand-printed or silk fabrics.[14]


Origins of folk costume[edit]

Painting by Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885), Dirndl und Jäger im Gebirge (Young woman and hunter in the mountains), 1870

The dirndl originated as a more hardy form of the costume worn today. Similar dresses, featuring skirts with bodices, cooking aprons and blouses were commonplace in Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries. By the 18th century, the basic design of the dirndl had spread from the eastern regions of the Swiss Alps to Austria and Bavaria. As well as Alpine peasant attire, it had become female Austrian servants' work clothes by that time. The design was also influenced by the women´s fashions of the royal court in the 18th century, which featured a tight bodice, lower neckline and wide skirt. In time, these features made their way into fashions of urban and rural classes.[15]

At the beginning of the 19th century, enthusiasm for describing the different costumes of the rural population developed at the royal courts of Bavaria and Austria. The first extensive description of traditional tracht in the different regions was given by the Bavarian official Joseph von Hazzi (1768–1845).[16]

In 1895, the Bavarian novelist Maximilian Schmidt organized a parade of traditional costume at Oktoberfest, with 1,400 participants in 150 traditional costume groups.[17]

Evolution as a fashion style[edit]

Painting by Emil Rau (1858-1937), Lesendes Mädchen (Girl reading)

Beginning in the late 18th century, the trend developed amongst the aristocracy to withdraw from the rigid etiquette of the court when on their country estates. The clothing worn by upper-class women in this context oriented itself to the traditional dress of the peasants, interpreted in a Romantic manner.[15] Followers of this court trend included Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria; she liked to wear a rustic dress called a 'Sissi', based on peasant costume.

As a fashion, the dirndl spread as a fashion through the summer holiday resorts of Austria and Bavaria, which were patronised by royalty, the aristocracy and increasingly by the middle classes during the 19th century. From around the 1870s or 1880s, the dirndl became established amongst the more well-off patrons of the Alpine resort towns as a typical "country" dress. An important influence was German Romantic literature, which contrasted the allegedly natural, unspoilt and unpolluted people of the countryside with the artificiality and depravity of urban society.[15] Both upper and middle classes wore clothing based on folk costume when hunting and in other social events. As a result, the traditional costume worn by country people was also raised in perceived status.[7]

A decisive influence in this development came from the Jewish brothers Julius (1874-1965) and Moritz Wallach (1879-1963),[18] originally from Bielefeld in north-western Germany. After they moved to Munich with their family in 1890, they became interested in and began promoting Alpine tracht. They employed seamstresses, who industriously produced the first elegant dirndls from colourful printed fabrics, predominantly silk. The dresses were exhibited by models from the firm in the Alpine resorts.[19][20][21] A major breakthrough for the Wallach brothers came in 1910, when they organized and paid for the traditional costume parade for the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Oktoberfest.[19][20][21] The Wallach brothers also became suppliers to the European aristocracy with their unique hand-sewn creations; they designed a dirndl for Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt, which is said to have created a sensation at a ball in Paris.[19][21]

In the hard economic times following the First World War, the dirndl became a big-seller; as a simple summer dress, it was an affordable alternative to the often expensive and elaborately worked historic women's costumes.[22] Between 1920 and 1926, the Wallach brothers operated the Münchner Volkskunsthaus ("Munich house of folk art"). In 1926, Moritz Wallach founded the Wallach-haus (Wallach House), a specialist supplier of tracht and folk art, which became well-known outside the borders of Germany.[20]

In Austria, the wearing of folk costume was promoted by Viktor von Geramb (1884-1958), professor of folk culture at the universities of Graz and Vienna. He saw folk costume as a means of rejuvenating Austrian identity after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy during the First World War. Previously, popular prejudices had been in favour of home-made tracht, but von Geramb was convinced that this attitude did not match the realities of the 20th century. He therefore began to work with commercial firms on finding material and designs that would allow the production of folk costume in large quantities. Alpine tracht thus came to be identified with Austrian national identity; as a result, the dirndl became increasingly worn by women in eastern Austria, where it had not been part of the traditional clothing culture.[7][23]

In 1930, the Wallach brothers supplied the stage costumes for the operetta The White Horse Inn (Im weißen Rössl). The romantic comedy presented an idyllic picture of the Austrian Alps and had long runs in cities like Berlin, Vienna, Munich, London, Paris and New York. Inspired by the lively innkeeper heroine, the dirndl became an international fashion phenomenon, always with an apron and usually with deep décolletage.[2][19][21][24] This widespread adoption was helped along by a general 1930s trend to a silhouette which matched the folk costume: full skirts, higher hemlines, broader shoulders and tailored waists.[25][26]

The dirndl was also promoted through the Trapp Family Singers, who wore dirndls during their performance at the Salzburg Festival (1936), and later on their worldwide tours.[27] In addition, the film Heidi, with Shirley Temple in the lead role, became a hit in 1937. By that year, the dirndl was considered a 'must' in the wardrobe of every fashionable American woman.[25][26]

Nazi period (1933 - 1945)[edit]

Propaganda photo from the Office of Racial Politics of the Nazi Party, 1933. It depicts a young German girl in dirndl watching boys playing.

German traditional costume, including the dirndl, was instrumentalized by the Nazis as a symbol of pan-German identity in the countries under Nazi rule (Germany from 1933, Austria from 1938).[7] The dirndl was used to promote the Nazi ideal of the German woman as hard-working and fertile.[28][26] For example, a propaganda photo released by the (Nazi Party) Office of Racial Politics (right) showed a young blonde girl wearing a dirndl, watching over small boys playing. A similar theme appeared in a photograph by Erich Bieber on the front cover of the May 1937 issue of the magazine Volk und Welt ('People and world'), approved by the Nazi government. The image depicts an attractive young woman clad in a simple dirndl, gazing down maternally at her blond son.[29]

Jews were forbidden to use "folk culture", even though they had played such a prominent role in documenting and promoting it.[30] In 1938, the Wallach brothers were forced to sell their business under cost. Moritz Wallach emigrated to the United States, followed shortly after by Julius.[19][20][21]

Viktor von Geramb, who had promoted the dirndl in Austria, lost his position at the University of Vienna in 1938 because of his public opposition to Nazi racial theory. He was especially criticized for his strong attachment to Christian ideas of human worth. He was restored to his position at the university only after the defeat of the Nazi régime in 1945.[23][31]

The National Socialist Women's League established the office of the "Reich Commissioner for German costume" under the leadership of Gertrud Pesendorfer (1895–1982).[32][33][34] In 1938, she published new dirndl designs by Gretel Karasek, which Pesendorfer described as "renewed costume".[35] The new designs used traditional designs as a basis but modernized and eroticized them. The dress was made more fitted, with a slimmer waist, emphasised by tighter lacing and buttons. The skirt (traditionally full length) was reduced to mid length and the neckline of the blouse was lowered. The overall effect accentuated the female form and especially the breasts. Karasek's designs have continued to influence contemporary dirndl design.[33][36][32]

Gertrud Pesendorfer described the new style as "de-catholicised" (entkatholisiert). She said her goal was to free the costume of "overburdening by church, industrialization and fashionable cries" and "foreign influences" and to let the "rogue sub-culture" back again. According to culture historian Elsbeth Wallnöfer, Pesendorfer`s purpose was to work against the heritage of European Christian civilization, which (in line with Nazi ideology) she blamed for taking "fun and thirst and passion" from the German people.[33][34][36]

After the Second World War (1945 - present)[edit]

The Second World War (1939-1945) began a downturn in the popularity of the dirndl. After Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, American and British consumers began rejecting all things German. In turn, new fashion influences appeared in popular culture, such as the film Gone With the Wind, which premiered less than three months after the fall of Warsaw. By 1941, the dirndl had been replaced as an American fashion craze by the wasp waist.[26]

In Germany and Austria, the dirndl declined in popularity, especially in the cities.[26][37] Its image had been tarred by association with the Nazis, like other Germanic traditions, such as beer-drinking and sausages.[38] Nevertheless, the dirndl continued to be traditional dress in the countryside, and came to be regarded by many as rustic dress only.[37]

There was a minor revival of interest after the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Led by Silvia Sommerlath (now Queen Silvia of Sweden), the hostesses wore sky-blue dirndls as a promotion of Bavarian identity.[39][26][40] In the 1980s, there was a further revival of interest in the dirndl, as traditional clothing became associated with the environmental and anti-nuclear movements.[40]

Today the dirndl is traditionally worn at public events in rural areas, such as annual markets and church anniversaries. Dirndls are also common at folk festivals (Volksfeste) in southern Germany and Alpine regions, such as Oktoberfest and the Cannstatter Volksfest. While the wearing of traditional clothing at Volksfeste was still not widespread in the 1970s, since the 1990s it has become very strong. Some commentators speak of a "dirndl Renaissance". A major contributing factor was the increasing confidence in German identity after the 2006 FIFA World Cup.[7][37][39][26]

Since the 2000s, increasing numbers of fashion houses have become involved in designing and selling high-end versions.[37][41]

Recent customs by country[edit]


Traditional costume of the Volks- and Schuhplattlergruppe from Faakersee in Carinthia, Austria.

In Austria, dirndls continue to be worn on public occasions, even by younger women. The dirndl is considered an important part of Alpine folk culture. Other aspects of folk culture are Lederhosen for men, traditional sports (e.g. shooting, music, crossbow), skills (e.g. embroidery) and musical traditions (e.g. singing Christmas carols and Schuhplattler dance groups).[42] The folk culture is promoted by and protected by local folk culture associations, which are affiliated with the Bund der Österreichischen Trachten- und Heimatverbände (Federation of Austrian folk costume and homeland associations).[43]

The Catholic church has played an important role in promoting the dirndl in Austria; traditional dress is worn for worship services, especially the major church holidays (e.g. Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi) and saints´ feast days. The Tyrol has a tradition of the heiligen Tracht (holy folk costume), which is not to be worn on secular occasions marked by drinking.[7]

Folk costume also continues to be worn for most weddings and festivals. Old traditions are carefully maintained among inhabitants of Alpine areas, even though this is seldom obvious to the visitor: many people are members of cultural associations where the Alpine folk culture is cultivated. At cultural events, the traditional dirndl is the expected dress for women. Visitors can get a glimpse of the rich customs of the Alps at public Volksfeste. Even when large events feature only a little folk culture, all participants take part with gusto. Good opportunities to see local people celebrating the traditional culture occur at the many fairs, wine festivals and firefighting festivals which fill weekends in the Austrian countryside from spring to autumn. Only in the region surrounding Vienna is the traditional folk culture not a regular part of daily life.[42]

Some regions are particularly known for their strong dirndl traditions, such as the Tyrol, the Salzkammergut and the Wachau region of Lower Austria.[10][7]

In Austria, the dirndl is a symbol of national identity, seen in Austria as a national symbol.[44] In tourist settings, staff in offices, restaurants, wineries and shops often wear dirndls as a work uniform; this is also the case in the non-Alpine regions in the east of Austria.[7] Even in everyday life, many Austrian women wear dirndls as an alternative to other fashions.[7][8]

Festivals at which dirndls are expected dress include festivities for raising the Maypole on the 1st May, the Narzissenfest (daffodil festival) during May in Bad Aussee,[45] the Salzburg Festival and the Ausseer Kirtag in September.[8] Styles are both less extravagant and show less décolletage than at Oktoberfest.[7]

In Austria, and other parts of south central Europe, there are literally splashy events known as Dirndlspringen, in which attractive young women, are judged by how well they dive from a diving board into a lake or a swimming pool while wearing the dirndl, using it as a swimdress.[8]


Historically derived children's dirndl at a Volksfestumzug in Vilshofen an der Donau (Bavaria) in 2012
Women in festival dirndls (Wiesentrachten) at Oktoberfest.

In Germany, the dirndl is traditionally worn only in the Alpine regions of Bavaria, where it is deeply integrated in the traditional culture.[7][46][47] For instance, dirndls are traditionally worn by women attending formal ceremonies of the Catholic church. In many Bavarian villages, processions to honour St George and St Leonard are special occasions for wearing Alpine tracht.[48] The traditional dirndl is also the normal attire of women attending events associated with Alpine folk culture.[7] Volksfeste often feature events at which traditional dirndls from regions are worn, as illustrated in the photo on the right. In all of these activities, the dirndls normally worn are the traditional local designs, considered most suitable for formal occasions. The traditional designs are promoted by and protected by local folk culture associations affiliated with the Bayerische Trachtenverband (Bavarian folk costume association). Modern commercially designed dirndls are worn on less formal occasions.

The dirndl is regarded as a symbol of Bavaria. It is often worn by women working in businesses related to tourism or traditional culture, including Volksmusik, restaurants and beer gardens.[14]

In recent decades, Germans from other regions have shown increasing interest in dirndls. This is especially evident in changing fashions at Oktoberfest, the world´s largest Volksfest. Until the 1970s, most visitors to Oktoberfest did not wear traditional tracht; it was common to wear jeans. Since the late 1990s dirndls and Lederhosen have come to be regarded as obligatory wear at the festival.[22][26][38][39][40][49] The name Wiesentracht is given to Oktoberfest dirndls, referring to the Theresienwiese, where the Oktoberfest events occur. Oktoberfest dirndls tend to be more colourful and revealing. Skirts are often above the knee, and deep décolletage is almost universal.[7][49]

In the past few years, "Oktoberfest" celebrations have developed in parts of Germany remote from Bavaria, such as Münster in Westphalia. Dirndls and lederhosen are now considered an intrinsic part of such events.[50] Further evidence of increasing acceptance of the dirndl is the increasing willingness of high-end German fashion houses to design and sell their own versions.[26][41]

Cultural commentators have described this change in fashions as a sign of a healthy self-confidence in German identity, indicating that Germans are able to celebrate their past while being open to the world.[22][26][38]


In Switzerland, the dirndl is the official outfit for certain representations, events, cultural shows and singing old folk songs often involving yodeling.[51]

United States[edit]

Germans, Austrian, Swiss and Scandinavian people migrated to North America in the 19th century. Germans made a strong contribution to the gene pool of Montana, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Missouri, Wisconsin, New York City[52] and Chicago. The German American ethnic group (German: Deutschamerikaner) are their descendants in north America.[53][54] Beginning in 1920 and especially after World War II, many Danube Swabians migrated to the United States, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Austria, Australia, and Argentina.[55]

Across the United States there are dozens of German-American cultural or heritage clubs, such as the Donauschwaben[56] heritage clubs.[52] In these clubs, members host events and festivals to preserve and/or celebrate their heritage with the surrounding communities. During these festivals, participants often dress in traditional outfits such as dirndls and lederhosen.

Dressing etiquette[edit]

Because the appeal of the dirndl is its rustic look, plastic dirndls with flashy ornaments are looked down upon.[26] Style experts recommend staying away from cheap outfits that one can buy on the street corner; it is better to spend a little more to get an outfit.[49] The dirndl should be tightly fitted to look right.[26]

It is an absolute faux-pas to wear a dirndl without a blouse.[26] Most kinds of dress shoes, boots and sandals are acceptable, but sports shoes and flip´flops should not be worn.[49]

There is an urban legend that claims the placement of the knot on the apron is an indicator of the woman's marital status.[2] In this story, which is not based in tradition, tying the sash on the woman's left side indicates that she is single, and a knot tied on the right means that she is married, engaged or otherwise not interested in dating.[8][49]

Dirndls in popular culture[edit]

Musical mentions of dirndls[edit]

The dirndl is mentioned in the song "Turn Around", composed in 1959 by Harry Belafonte, Alan Greene and Malvina Reynolds. "Dirndls and petticoats, where have you gone?" This song was originally recorded by the Kingston Trio.

Films featuring women in dirndl costumes[edit]

See also[edit]


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  • Egger, Simone: Phänomen Wiesntracht. Identitätspraxen einer urbanen Gesellschaft. Dirndl und Lederhosen, München und das Oktoberfest (= Münchner ethnographische Schriften. 2). Herbert Utz, Munich 2008. ISBN 978-3-8316-0831-7
  • Guenther, Irene: Nazi chic?: Fashioning women in the Third Reich. Berg, Oxford 2010. ISBN 978-1-8597-3400-1 [in English]
  • Hollmer, Heide and Kathrin Hollmer: Dirndl. Trends, Traditionen, Philosophie, Pop, Stil, Styling. Edition Ebersbach, Berlin 2011. ISBN 978-3-86915-043-7 [in German]
  • Lipp, Franz C., Elisabeth Längle, Gexi Tostmann, Franz Hubmann (eds.): Tracht in Österreich. Geschichte und Gegenwart. Brandstätter, Vienna, 1984, ISBN 3-85447-028-2. (in German)
  • Müller, Daniela and Susanne Trettenbrein: Alles Dirndl. Anton Pustet Verlag, Salzburg 2013. ISBN 978-3-7025-0693-3. [in German]
  • Ständecke, Monika: Dirndl, Truhen, Edelweiss: die Volkskunst der Brüder Wallach / Dirndls, Trunks, and Edelweiss. The Folk Art of the Wallach Brothers. Jüdisches Museum, Munich 2007. ISBN 978-3-9388-3220-2 [in German, with English translation]]
  • Tostmann, Gexi: The dirndl: With instructions. Panorama, Vienna 1990. ISBN 978-3-8505-7001-5 [in English]
  • Tostmann, Gexi: Das alpenländische Dirndl. Tradition und Mode. Christian Brandstätter, Vienna, 1998. ISBN 978-3-8544-7781-5 [in German]
  • Wallnöfer, Elsbeth: Geraubte Tradition. Wie die Nazis unsere Kultur verfälschten. Sankt Ulrich-Verlag, Augsburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-8674-4194-0. [in German]
  • Weber, Christianne and Renate Moller. Mode und Modeschmuck 1920-1970 / Fashion and Jewelry 1920-1970. Arnoldsche Verlagsanstalt, 1999. ISBN 978-3-9253-6923-0. [in German, with English translation]

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