Costumes of the Bregenzerwald

    According to legend, the women of the Bregenzerwald marched bravely towards their attackers. When they saw the women approaching in their white clothes, the attackers turned and ran; they took the women to be angels. Since then, the women of Bregenzerwald wear dark skirts to avoid being mistaken for otherworldly beings.

    That was in the year 1647, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, when the women drove out marauding Swedish soldiers. Since the 16th century, Vorarlberg men from the Bregenzerwald region were sought after as specialist craftsmen and master builders on all the major construction sites of Europe. The region's women were just as central to the cultural life of this Alpine idyll.

    As the men were often away from home for long periods, the women took the day-to-day concerns of their lives – including defence – into their own hands. When the men then returned home to the Bregenzerwald, as proof of their affections they brought with them exotic delights from every sovereign country: furs, ribbons, gold-smithing work, and special fabrics. These were incorporated into 'Sunday best' clothing like pieces of jewellery. Thus, the costume known as the “Juppe” worn by Bregenzerwald women – comprising a tightly-pleated, high skirt, bodice, sleeves, apron and decorative belt – is simultaneously one of the oldest women’s costumes found in the Alpine region, and interlaced with elements of styles drawn from Madrid to Moscow.

    The name, along with the shape of the skirt, derives from the French word “jupe” or skirt. The black colour and the wide-brimmed straw hat can be traced back to Spanish influences, while the fur-trimmed cap draws on Russian models. From 1560 onwards, a head covering was a mandatory requirement when leaving the house – and the Bregenzerwald women complied, pairing their majestic outfits with hats of many different styles. Angelika Kauffmann, the famous artist and treasured friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, provided the model: she painted a portrait in 1781 of herself wearing the “Juppe” and a seductive hat of her time, pitched at a rakish angle. These head accessories added fashionable flair to the Bregenzerwald women's elaborate, heavy costumes, complementing their lavish sleeves and broad, decorated chest coverings.

    Today, the “Juppe” is still being manufactured in one workshop in Riefensberg; it is always custom-made to fit the individual wearer, and is a one-off piece. This workshop is simultaneously a model works and museum. On a guided tour, visitors learn about the individual stages in beautifying the skirt, from adding pleating to achieving its notable shimmer. In the show rooms, visitors appreciate the courtly elegance of the Bregenzerwald “Juppe”, which is proudly worn at festivals to showcase the Bregenzerwald women's feminine nobility and rich beauty.