Apron, bell skirt and white bodice: the “dirndl”, the Alpine landmark, has experienced a new upswing in recent years in Austria, Switzerland and southern Germany.
“The dirndl has been reinvented over and over again and has flourished again in recent years. It is to Austria what the kilt is to Scotland or the kimono to Japan, ”says Thekla Weissengruber, curator of a new exhibition in Bad Ischl (Central Austria) that traces the surprising history of this alpine dress. In this region, the cotton dress, which is also worn in Bavaria and Tyrol, has developed into a trend.
Practical and inexpensive, it was first worn by young peasant women and maids. Derived from the local dialects, “dirndl” can be translated as “girl”. At the end of the 19th century, this dress was worn by the court ladies on vacation, who later made it socially acceptable in the city. They flocked in in the summer and enjoyed romping around in the water or romping about on the surrounding alpine pastures. “In Vienna everything was very corsetted,” explains Weissengruber. “You freed yourself with these lighter, more colorful cuts on vacation.”
In the vicinity of the Marmorschlössl, a small castle that Emperor Franz Josef gave to his wife Sissi, visitors to the exhibition will discover around fifty models that have been reinterpreted according to the zeitgeist. The dirndl quickly developed from a no-frills leisure garment to ceremonial clothing for wealthy customers who were looking for an audience in the imperial villa.
“My grandfather always dressed these guests,” says Angelika Schauer, who runs a family business from 1895 together with her husband. “When he was taking measurements, he was very controlled because certain gestures were forbidden,” says the tailor’s descendant.
At the foot of the romantic mountains, artists such as the painter Gustav Klimt and numerous actors and academics from Vienna have fallen in love with the travel destination. Even today, “women wear the ‘dirndl’ on many occasions,” while men do not hesitate to take out their lederhosen, Schauer emphasizes.
The costume experienced a climax with the First World War, when the Nazis banned the word “dirndl” because, in their opinion, it was too closely related to the Jewish clothing industry. Instead, they encouraged women to sew clothes themselves that looked like him.
But it never really disappeared, rather it was popularized by the social classes at the Salzburg Festival of 1920 and by a Broadway musical from 1936. “Every time she visited, Marlene Dietrich dressed at Lanz Trachten, which had 400 branches in the United States,” recalls the exhibition curator.
More recently, dirndls have come back into fashion at beer festivals. “In the last ten years, traditional costume fashion has become very popular with young people and designers from all over the world have picked it up. Although many cheap polyester dirndls are made in China today, the Austrian clothing sector is growing rapidly. It was worth 844 million euros in 2020 and is worn, among other things, by dirndls and mountain and outdoor clothing.
At the height of the time
According to the Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKÖ), exports make up 70 percent of sales. This underlines the dirndl’s reputation for overcoming boundaries. In times of the climate crisis and the search for authenticity, “its sustainability is up to date”, says Johannes Topizopoulos, husband of Angelika Schauer, who praises the timeless local craftsmanship.
It “has to underline the personality of the wearer”, summarizes the shop owner. “Any length, any fabric” is carefully selected here. A tailor-made product that has its price: You have to spend between 650 and 1,000 euros for a handmade model – or much more for a ‘Haute Couture Dirndl’. The fashion house of Britain’s most punk woman, Vivienne Westwood, also has its own dirndl. “Ugliness would be a thing of the past if every woman wore something like this,” the designer is quoted as saying in the exhibition. (AFP)
This article was previously published on FashionUnited.fr. Translation and editing: Barbara Russ