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The cultural evolution of the Dirndl

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Who ever said tradition couldn’t be trendy? Known as Tracht, the folk clothing of Austria and Bavaria is usually considered to be old-fashioned. However, in recent years, the Tracht worn by women - the dirndl - has seen a worldwide resurgence in popularity, with companies branching out and getting creative with this classic alpine attire. Originally intended to symbolise a connection to the countryside and homeland, dirndls are now becoming more and more personal, with a plethora of colours and fabrics to choose from to represent the wearer.

The traditional Dirndl. Photo: Oktoberfest Dülmen via Facebook

The dirndl, deriving from the dialectal diminutive Dirne meaning young girl, has its origins as a uniform for young maids working in Austrian and Bavarian courts, which can be seen in the durable fabric and apron often made of bed linen. After making its way into use by female agricultural workers it eventually headed to the cities with dirndls now commonplace at weddings or parties. For the 100th anniversary of the Oktoberfest in 1910, the Wallach Brothers organized and funded a traditional costume parade, an event that showcased the beauty and versatility of the dirndl to the world. The parade caused the popularity of the dirndl to skyrocket, even in high society. The Wallach brothers themselves instantly became suppliers to the European aristocracy, with one such client being Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt, whose luxury hand-sewn dirndl created much excitement at a Parisian ball.

The dirndl has made its way into the haute couture world with renowned British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood stating that she is a big fan of its unique features, using the signature shape as inspiration in her own designs.

In recent years, the dirndl has acclimatised accordingly to increasing cultural diversity in Bavaria and Austria. This symbol of countryside conservatism has been transformed into an article of clothing that truly represents modern society. Dirndls have been designed with the traditional colours and fabrics of places other than their land of origin, such as Sari fabric to represent Bavaria’s expanding Indian population.

The internationalisation of the dirndl is something that has been embraced by many around the world. Munich-based fashion company NOH NEE was founded by sisters Marie Darouiche and Rahmée Wetterich, originally from Cameroon.

Dirndls by NOH NEE. Photo: NOH NEE Dirndl à l'Africaine via Facebook

They design and construct dirndls featuring traditional Cameroonian waxed cotton with bold patterns and bright colours. This Cameroonian dirndl is referred to on NOH NEE’s website as the dirndl à l’Africaine and showcases intricate shell detailing on the bodice instead of the original German and Austrian antler decoration.

Photo: NOH NEE Dirndl à l'Africaine via Facebook

Rahmée believes that this sharing of cultures demonstrated through their garments “will play a major role in the future” as the world becomes ever more globalised and diversity is celebrated. NOH NEE is just one of the many companies showcasing the beauty of an open-minded, progressive world through an article of clothing that some believe has always represented the opposite


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