This post presents the history of the dirndl, bunad, and lederhosen. It addresses the difference between a dirndl and bunad, when people wear them today, and how to style a bunad, dirndl or lederhosen. Learn about these Alpine and Norwegian costumes, and when you have a chance to see them on your trip to Europe.
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Most people associate the iconic lederhosen and dirndls with Bavaria or Germany, and bunads with Norway. However, dirndls and lederhosen exist all over the German speaking European Alps, i.e. Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland, and Tyrol in Italy. Furthermore, lederhosen are a traditional garment also in Norway.
These traditional Alpine and Norwegian costumes differ by region. Experts can tell from the details like trims, embroidery, buttons, brooches, and the cuts the region of origin.
Today locals wear lederhosen, bunads, and dirndls on holidays, at traditional weddings, religious occasions, as well as as work uniform in many restaurants and hotels. Sometimes women wear their dirndl/bunads with a modest blouse to the office. The best way to see a dirndl or bunad in public is the Oktoberfest in München (Munich) and on Norway’s Constitution Day on May 17, respectively.
Lederhosen actually means leather breeches.
Originally, lederhosen were the farmers’, laborers’ and other peasants’ work pants for centuries because leather from cow hides has high endurance. Furthermore, leather is easier to clean than any fabric. More on the advantages/disadvantages of leather clothing..
In the 18th, the culottes style was adopted for lederhosen in the Alpine region. The culottes style goes back to French aristocrats wearing fabric culottes (aka breeches) in the 16th century, which over the next 200 years became fashion in Europe. In the 18th century, German aristocrats and Rich adopted the trend and wore (the more expensive) deer-hide lederhosen for hunting, riding, and other leisure.
When in the 19th century the nobility and upper class jumped the bandwagon on a new pants-cut, the lederhosen became work gear again.
The history of the Dirndl
The word dirndl goes back to the word “dienen” meaning to serve. The history of the dirndl is tied to Sumptuary Laws. The garment served as the assigned clothing of female peasants. The fabric was linen, later cotton for summer, wool for winter. Underneath the garment was a half blouse. An apron protected the dress.
In the 18th century, dirndls became in fashion for female European Nobility and Rich. Like with the lederhosen, they abandoned the style when a new trend evolved. Consequently, dirndls became the peasants’ work clothes again.
“Bunad” means encompassing. The term bunad in reference to the traditional dresses and suits occurs the first time in the early 20th century within the romantic movement to national identity that started in the 19th century. In 1814, Norway became independent from Denmark.
Some designs of the bunad go back to the 14th century. In the 18th and 19th century, the garment was the attire of the people in rural areas.
Brooches serve to close the Norwegian blouses and bodice, while the Alpine blouses have mother-of-pearl, fabric covered or wood buttons. The Alpine bodice closes with coin or wood buttons.
All of the Alpine and most of the Norwegian dresses have a tight bodice with a full skirt. Bunads also exist with Empire waist with a full skirt. Norwegian dresses are typically wool, and often have elaborated floral embroidery on the lower skirt and the bodice as well as on the matching bag worn at the waist.
The Alpine style dress uses pin-dot, solid color or striped fabrics. The bodice has a trim typically from the same fabric as the apron. Winter versions may have a tweed bodice with loden skirt. Aprons have vertical stripes with a paisley or floral print in the stripes.
In case of lederhosen, the major differences are the suspenders style and embroidery. The front of Alpine suspenders often has Edelweiß or deer-head decorations carved in deer horn. In Norway, braided suspenders are more common than straight leather straps, while the opposite is true for the Alpine region.
The outerwear of the Alpine and Norwegian traditional costumes are a janker and lice jacket, respectively. More on the fashion history of the Janker and its design. Alternatively, a loden jacket or leather jacket in a traditional cut are worn in Norway and the Alpine region, respectively. More on the traditional design, origin, and fashion history of the Lice Jacket.
In the Alpine region, married and single women tie the apron bow to the right and left respectively, because in the German speaking area people wear their wedding bands on the right ring finger. Women pin a charivari (chain with coins) on their apron, while men button the charivari with the hosentürle (meaning literally trousers’ door, but actually it is a double fly) of their pants.
All genders wear a felt hat with the Alpine Tracht for Sunday’s Best. The finishing touch of the men’s bunad is a wool felt boater style hat. Some regional Norwegian costumes have a hat piece that has its roots in the bonnet style. More on the history of hats. It looks similar to Dutch headpieces, but without the iconic curve. More on Dutch Traditional Clothes.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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