The essential Dirndl (and Lederhosen) guide
Find out about Dirndl and Lederhosen styles, where to buy them and, most importantly, where to wear them.
What makes a Dirndl?
The main elements that make up a Dirndl are the wide skirt attached to a “Leiberl,” or fitted bodice, an apron (often with a hidden pocket) and a short Dirndl blouse.The skirt usually starts at the waist or a little lower. You can choose between various lengths, depending on current fashion trends. The bodice used to be a separate item, but since the 1930s it has been sewn to the skirt. It comes in many different styles: with a high or low, round or square neckline. It is fastened with buttons, hooks, or ribbons.
The Dirndl blouse accentuates the style of your Dirndl; choose between delicately hand-embroidered pieces, blouses with extravagant ruffles and lace, or simple ones with straight sleeves. Finally, there is the apron. Formerly worn to protect the dress underneath, it is now a purely decorative item. There are aprons for every-day wear, and aprons for festive occasions which are usually of a more elegant fabric than the simple linen or cotton ones. Before you tie your knot, be sure to check on which side to place it. Otherwise, you might unwittingly send out the wrong message (a knot on the left means you are single).
If all these options seem daunting at first, remember: the most important thing is to have fun with the many different colours and patterns, and to choose a Dirndl that fits your personality. To truly rock a Dirndl you have to make it your own!
What exactly are Lederhosen?
The men's traditional attire is no less fascinating than the women's: Lederhosen, or "Loden" are customary among boys and men all over the German-speaking Alpine region. They are made mostly from deer or any other soft leather that is comfortable to wear. The characteristic elements are the suspenders, braces, a flap at the crotch, and a knife pocket at the sides. Men in the Alps wore these trousers to work for centuries, decorating them with nature motifs that reflected their surroundings in the Alps. Today, Lederhosen are mostly reserved for festivities such as weddings and festivals -- but more on that later!
Where to wear your Dirndl and Lederhosen?
There are many festive events that require Dirndl and Lederhosen. If you are lucky to be in Salzburg or the Lake District at the beginning of May, you will see Dirndls in every shape and colour at the festivities around the annual raising of the Maypole. The Narzissenfest (Daffodil festival) in Bad Aussee at the beginning of June is famous for its colourful processions, such as the boat procession on lake Grundlsee. The richness of colours does not only derive from the many floral decorations, but also from the large number of women wearing gorgeous Dirndls.
Later in the year Salzburg’s St. Rupert’s Fair is a traditional country fair on the squares surrounding Salzburg Cathedral, happening every year in September. And apart from farmers’ market, fair booths and arcades, merry-go-rounds, carousels, and more spectacles for young and old, you will definitely come across many Austrians in Dirndl and Lederhose. Also in September, the Ausseer Kirtag takes place, which is a popular summer fair in rural Altaussee, where people come to meet friends, enjoy local music, dance, and show off their newest Dirndl.
One event that does not have a very long-standing tradition, but nevertheless has attained cult status in Austria, is the "Goessl Dirndlflugtag." Initiated by the Dirndl manufactory Goessl, it is a fun contest in which women of all ages - dressed in Dirndl - do high diving at a lake. A jury judges the flying women in Dirndl regarding style, sportiness, outfit, and originality.
Where to buy Dirndl and Lederhosen
Find inspiration browsing the Dirndl museum at the Goessl Gwandhaus in Salzburg, then choose your own style from the many different and innovative Dirndl next door. Goessl also features lovely wedding-Dirndl.
The company widely credited with making the Dirndl an international success during the first years of the Salzburg Festival, Lanz now features innovative modern Dirndl and has very cute designs for kids.
Salzburg’s oldest purveyor of leather goods and traditional costumes is a veritable institution. With a client list that reads like the society pages in a glamour magazine, Jahn-Markl is the place to go to order your own pair of Lederhosen.
Every Austrian province has its very own Heimatwerk, an association dedicated to collecting and preserving traditional arts, crafts, costumes, and traditions. Most notably those in Salzburg, Tirol, and Styria take great pride in their collection of historic, traditional costume designs and fashion their own collection after these templates. If you want to learn more about the Dirndl and how to “correctly” assemble an entire outfit, this is the place to go.
Located in Bad Aussee, Styria, Rastl is one of THE traditional Dirndl makers out there. They are your purveyor of choice if you like the traditional Ausseer Dirndl, which is perhaps the best example of a Dirndl style that is associated with a particular region.
The proud owner of 365 Dirndl, Gexi Tostmann is the Austrian authority on traditional Dirndl and their history. Her daughter Anna now heads the company which is known for beautiful fabrics, minute attention to detail, and simple, elegant designs. They also feature a collection of wedding and children’s Dirndl.
A regular at the Berlin Fashion Week, Lena Hoschek creates rockabilly inspired vintage fashion which beautifully accentuates the feminine silhouette. Lena is also a huge Dirndl fan. She learned how to make them from her own grandmother, and has had considerable success with her own designs that combine traditional patterns with just the right amount of 50s fashion elements.
I’ve always been proud to call myself a dressmaker rather than a designer.
Lena Hoschek: Dirndl goes High Fashion
“My favorite epoch is 1875,” Lena told us. “The feminine hourglass shape is simply the ideal silhouette. It is reflected in the fashion of the 50s and in traditional regional Austrian wear.”
Of course, 1875 happens to be when the dirndl surged in popularity with the Austrian upper class. Emperor Franz Joseph and his royal court were enamored with the dirndls and lederhosen they saw the country folks wearing in the Salzburg Lake District, and brought those styles back to Vienna.
Lena points out that American fashion in the 1940s echoed many elements of traditional Alpine costumes. The movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s have provided inspiration for Lena, who especially likes Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn. Pin-up icon Bettie Page is another big influence on Lena’s vintage style.
“I’m often asked why I’m so drawn to the 50s. Even as a child, I loved nostalgia,” says Lena, who has fond memories of watching the 50s films that were shown on Austrian TV every Sunday when she was growing up.
Whether Lena is designing an Austrian dirndl or the kind of exquisitely tailored 40s frock that Katy Perry was photographed wearing, her creative process remains the same.
“The designs are all based on the fabrics,” Lena told us. “First fabric and colour are conceived and then we do the design.”
Lena’s career trajectory has been amazing. After attending the world-renown Central Saint Martins in London, she interned with Vivienne Westwood (who also loves the dirndl and has famously said “There would be no ugliness in the world if every woman wore a dirndl.”) She returned to Graz to launch her own label at just 24, opening a small store attached to her studio. Three years later, she opened her retro-fabulous store in Vienna, where she now lives.
“I’m often asked why I don’t move to London, Paris, or Milan,” she says. “But there’s nowhere in the world where I could work as creatively as Austria. The country, the people, the food – everything that makes it so attractive as a holiday destination. Those are the perfect sources of energy for doing grand work.”