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In the 202 years since Oktoberfest began as a wedding celebration for the Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, it has grown from a local party for Bavarians into the world’s biggest beer festival, attracting between six and seven million visitors from across the globe each year.
Germany’s most famous party has also remained steeped in tradition, from the servers who carry prodigious amounts of locally-brewed beer to the classic Bavarian music that can be heard in beer halls throughout the region. But one of the festival’s most iconic images -- lederhosen-clad men guzzling beer and dirndl-wearing women dancing on tables – faded over the years, as festival-goers chose to wear jeans and shirts instead of trachten (traditional German clothing).
However, in the last decade or so, the region’s beer tents and fairgrounds have become reminiscent of scenes of the past, with women sporting the hottest new dirndls (wide skirts with corsets and aprons) and men donning their best lederhosen (traditional leather shorts and suspenders).
The trend has meant big business in Germany, and according to Lola Paltinger, a designer of couture dirndls, Bavarian costumes have slowly become fashionable again largely because designers have put a modern twist on the traditional threads. But while there are a few relative newcomers to the scene — like Paltinger — Munich also has several specialists that built a reputation long before trachten came back into style.
Angermaier — a clothing store specialising in dirndls and lederhosen for the last 65 years, with locations throughout Germany — has experienced a 500% increase in the sale of dirndls in the last decade, while doubling their sale in lederhosen. Their competition has also grown, with department stores and costume shops selling traditional clothes.
“Lots of shops … sell dirndl and lederhosen during Oktoberfest. These clothes are very cheap, but of bad quality,” said Nina Munz, a spokeswoman for Angermaier. “Quality is very important. A lederhose, for example, made of deerskin, you have your whole life.”
From its roots as working clothes for farmers and servants in south Germany and Austria, trachten has evolved over the years to become leisure wear at festivals and celebrations. As demand has grown, the fashion — especially for dirndls — has also evolved.
While dirndls still give a nod to tradition with wide skirts, corsets and aprons, designers have given the outfit a modern twist with brighter colours, fresh design and a little extra room in the corset to allow for plenty of beer drinking.
“In some way it was very important to interpret the traditional style in a modern and younger way. [There were] women who never were interested in dirndls because they were too traditional and old fashioned,” Paltinger said. “Also men love to see this extremely feminine style on their women, and so time after time our Oktoberfest visitors all started to wear dirndls, to be really a part of the fest community.”
When Paltinger started her business in 2000, she sold about 20 dirndls a year. Now she sells about 1,000 for up to 2,500 euros each, at Munich stores like Angermaier and Lodenfrey, as well as custom-made dirndls to order.
Of course, dirndls can be found much cheaper elsewhere, with the least expensive starting at about 50 or 60 euros. Lederhosen are more expensive, starting at about 120 euros each, but those looking for high-quality items should expect to reach deeper into their pockets.
There is also a huge second-hand market for lederhosen, but unfortunately, the older the outfit, the more expensive it is. Lederhosen made of leather were designed to be easily cleaned and last a lifetime, so it is not uncommon to find traditional trousers more than a century old.
Herbert Joseph Lipah, who claims to have the largest collection of used lederhosen in the world, sells items from 200 to 2,000 euros at his shop, Lederhosenwahnsinn. The 2,500 pairs of lederhosen hang from the wall along with less-refined swag (like postcards of naked women and men’s underwear), and those who want to try on a pair better not be shy as there is no dressing room.