October 31


The traditional costume – a brilliant PR tool from the Wittelsbach family

By Frank

October 31, 2023

In probably no other region in Germany are customs and traditions as important as in Bavaria. The common perception among foreigners and also common Bavarians is that lederhosen and dirndls are traditional clothing that is several centuries old. The Bavarian costume is a relatively recent invention...

Originally, the term traditional costume generally describes the wearing of clothing or the clothing worn itself. For example, lederhosen.

AHA, cool...

leather pants with patena

Leather pants with patina

leather pants

Leather had long been used to make trousers, but they bore no resemblance to the leather trousers as they appear now. A predecessor of the lederhosen was the culotte , worn by the nobility in the 17th century. The culotte was knee-length trousers made of velvet, silk or leather for the nobility . This was tight fitting and ended just below the knee. The trouser legs had small slits closed with buttons to make them easier to get into. It was closed at the front either with a button fly or with a hip-to-hip bib tied tightly to the waistband.

At the court of Louis the The French Revolution brought the end of aristocratic supremacy, but also the end of culottes for the urban population.

The Parisian proletarian revolutionaries, small craftsmen, workers and traders wore long trousers and were therefore soon nicknamed “sans (without) culottes”. The rural population continued to work in breeches, mostly made of leather from sheep or goats from their own farm, because hunting for deer and deer was reserved for the nobility . At the time of the French Revolution, the end of culottes among the city population began.

The lederhosen were part of the hunter's attire . Hunting, however, was reserved for the nobility . This also makes lederhosen an expensive piece of clothing for noble nobility.
This means that what we love today - the fashion of the rich - is based on the clothing of the rural population, but is packaged in a higher quality and much less suitable for work.

"The Crash Leaders"

The term “Krachlederne” usually describes the short version of traditional lederhosen . This is worn, among other things, by the Schuhplattlers because it provides the necessary legroom . During "Platteln" - a Bavarian dance that is mainly practiced by men - you hit your thighs hard with your hands so that it really crashes . Hence the term “Krachlederne”. Today this name has also been established for general traditional trousers.

"Work of Satan"

In 1913, the bishop of Freising even condemned lederhosen as the work of Satan. Their wearers would cultivate lust with their bare legs , the man of God raged. The Trachtlers became goitered with anger at this accusation, and Ludwig Thoma wrote: "Experience teaches that most people sin without trousers."


The word dirndl is the diminutive of the word dirn , which simply means young girl and was also used for servants and maids in agriculture/housekeeping. Around 1900, the dirndl dress was worn by the city population as a “ rural” dress and was therefore a common dress form that was based on women's fashion of the 18th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century , wealthier women had summer dresses tailored for their summer vacation at Tegernsee. Just like the Wittelsbachers, based on the rural costume, but of course adapted to fashion and class. And this is where our dirndl celebrates its birth – among rich city dwellers.

Dirndl with beautiful woman

Beauty in a dirndl


Napoleonian land consolidation

When the kingdom was founded in 1806, Bavaria was still far from having a common identity. Then, as part of the “Napoleonic land consolidation”, many previously independent territories with a wide variety of traditions were incorporated: Franconia, Swabia, Palatinate and Bavaria were united in one kingdom, regardless of their different cultural roots and linguistic and geographical differences.

What was initially difficult could develop into a strength over the centuries. Today Bavaria is valued precisely for its diversity. The people cultivate their special character, which has developed over centuries, with dedication: customs therefore have a very special status in Bavaria.

The Wittelsbach family's own idea

Raising Bavarian national feeling

Wittelsbach equestrian statue made of stone

Wittelsbach equestrian statue

At the time of the Oktoberfest, ie the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese on October 12th, 1810, the traditional costume as we know it today was far from being in existence.

Before the well-known horse race took place in honor of the bride and groom, the couple and the royal family were paid homage in the form of a procession of 16 pairs of children who were dressed in the traditional costumes of the Wittelsbach family, the nine Bavarian districts and other regions. This was the first time that the traditional costume was used as a means of identification for the Kingdom of Bavaria . All other guests were not dressed in traditional costume

At the first Oktoberfest in 1810, Max I. Joseph had children and young people come in traditional costumes - as representatives of the various landscapes that belonged to Bavaria. The first thing King Maximilian II did was to promote rural clothing - even with a decree. By spreading the traditional costumes, the Wittelsbachers wanted to contribute to “ elevating Bavarian national feeling ”.

Brilliant marketing from the Wittelsbachers

What many people don't know is that the traditional clothing was a kind of PR tool for the Wittelsbach family . The royal family wanted the people to identify with Bavaria , and the best way to do this was through their clothing. From today's perspective, this was probably one of the best PR campaigns of all time.

The royal family appeared to be close to the people by always showing off in traditional costume. At that time , inspiration for men's costumes was found, among other things, in hunters with their lederhosen. King Ludwig II was also a fan of traditional costumes and so he ensured that the nobility wore lederhosen when hunting .

But one thing should be said: With leather trousers, as with few other items of clothing, quality is everything! Although lederhosen made of deer, deer or chamois leather are significantly more expensive, they also last longer than cheaper pieces. There is also an important fashion factor: you age smartly.

Traditional Bavarian men's lederhosen look best with a beautiful, elegant patina that can only develop after being worn several times. Some traditional costume professionals even help with new trousers by applying butter or milk fat to them.

Appearance of today's lederhosen

We owe the appearance of today's lederhosen to the Bavarian teacher Josef Vogl , who, together with friends, founded the first mountain costume preservation association in Bayrischzell in 1883. Based on their designs, a new edition of what they believe to be the “ancient” costume is commissioned. However, the garment was made by a “ Säckler ”, a craftsman for the production of leather clothing, and was initially not well received by the population. The porters are mocked and the church even forbids them from taking part in processions. Vogl turns to the Bavarian king, the art-loving Ludwig II . This instructs all district offices to set up associations to preserve traditional costumes .

What's exciting to see

Not all traditional costumes are the same

There are different types of traditional costumes all over Bavaria! Each region has its own history and, accordingly, its own traditional costume. It's not just Franconia, the Allgäu and Upper Bavaria that differ in their traditional costumes. Even within the individual regions , different customs and costumes are maintained.

Viehscheid cows with farmers in traditional costume

Farmers in traditional costume at the Viehscheid

If you think of dirndls and lederhosen when you think of traditional costumes, you think of the Upper Bavarian mountain costume, for example. But there are several variants of this too. In fact, around six different mountain costumes can be named:

  • Berchtesgaden costume
  • Chiemgau costume
  • Inntal costume
  • Isarwinkler Tracht
  • Miesbach traditional costume
  • Werdenfels costume

Amazing example of Werdenfels traditional costume in Garmisch-Partenkirchen:

Traditional costume in Garmisch with drummers

Traditional costume in Garmisch with drummers

For a long time, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were independent districts, and you can still see that today, for example in the traditional costumes. The chamois on the lederhosen is a traditional Garmisch symbol, while the real Partenkirchner can be recognized by the downward-facing oak leaves on his jacket lapel.

None of these six can claim the title of “real Bavarian traditional costume”.

Costume rules

With the founding of traditional costume clubs, rules also emerged. With the result that traditional costumes became a kind of uniform and ultimately showed very strong regional differences. In addition, conclusions can still be drawn today about, for example, civil status. For women, this was possible primarily by means of the way in which the apron was tied with the bow .

  • Bow tied on the left means: untied and single
  • If the bow is tied on the right: married
  • you can see the bow in the middle: virginity
  • Bow tied at back: widowed

The inspiration was the cheap, pieced-together work clothes for farmers' wives and maids. It consisted of a shirt over which a loose dress (“Leiblgwand”) made of cotton or linen and an apron, usually made from old bed linen or rags, were worn. It was practical, but visually it had almost nothing in common with what we now call a dirndl.

Inspired by the maids', admittedly rather shapeless, dresses, the dirndl was adapted and embellished to meet the high demands of wealthy society . Details such as the apron, darts, trims and tucks remain. These features are due to the fact that clothing used to have to last a long time . If necessary, the clothing could be made tighter and wider, the hem of the skirt could be lengthened and, if necessary, the old apron could be replaced with a new one.

The dirndl was actually a summer dress for the wealthy city dweller on a country vacation and also a purely leisure phenomenon.

Haute Couture and Salzburg Festival

Festival_Jedermann-Salzburg_Scene at the big table


After the horrors of the First World War, a return to old traditions begins. As early as the 1920s, dirndls and traditional costumes became increasingly popular in the cities. Those who were self-respecting showed up at the Salzburg Festival in fashionable dirndls or traditional costumes.

The Salzburg Festival and the production of the operetta “Im weissen Rößl” also contributed to the fact that traditional costume became more and more popular and became increasingly popular. At first more as a disguise than as everyday clothing. A farmer would never have thought of wearing rather impractical and far too expensive lederhosen to his daily work.

Dirndl and traditional costume during the Nazi era

During the Nazi era , Hitler misused the Bavarian costume primarily for propaganda purposes. The image of a decent, rural worker loyal to his homeland in traditional costume and certainly also the association with his homeland with traditional costumes probably suited the National Socialists well.

Hitler posed for Hoffmann in Lederhosen . What is particularly interesting here is that Hitler liked to have himself depicted wearing lederhosen (photos that Hitler later had sealed quite quickly), which were made by the Jewish Wallach brothers in Munich. Their shop on Residenzstrasse was later closed, like all other Jewish shops, during the Second World War.

However, the very fashionable and unusual dirndls of the elegant city dwellers of the 1930s did not quite fit into the image of the National Socialists. Neat blouses, neat aprons and neat braided hairstyles wonderfully embodied the desired down-to-earthness and “ German womanhood ”.

Dirndl and traditional costume may not necessarily be strictly linked to Oktoberfest from a historical perspective, but today they somehow belong together. After all, Munich has managed to create a unique recognition value with its traditional costume like no other city.

About the author

It is more valuable to experience a place in detail than many small impressions of an incomprehensible whole.

Genius Loci - discovering, capturing and experiencing the spirit of a place. Perceive - understand - enjoy!

As a graduate industrial engineer with an additional MBA degree from a renowned university in England (EMBA, EQUIS and AACSB accredited), I have been showing other, often surprising, paths to success for more than 30 years at C-Level (Head of Marketing and Sales worldwide).

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