You’ve seen them in Charlie’s Angles, Heidi, Saint Pauli Girl, the Sound of Music, and your friends’ Oktoberfest IG stories.
The dress worn at beer festivals all over the world during the months of September and October is actually from Austria, South Tyrol, and Bavaria. It is called the Dirndl in its native language. The word once meaning “girl” in Bavarian German now refers to both the girl and the dress that she wears, demonstrating the importance of this outfit in Bavarian culture.
Contrary to the status of the modern Dirndl wearer – usually a young and beautiful partygoer – the outfit is based on traditional garb of the Alps peasants. The 19th-century sister dresses were slightly different, in the most important ways. They were plain, and they lacked the identifying characteristic of today’s Dirndl – the cleavage. Styles ranged with their geographic origin. Towns, cities and regions often produced their Dirndls with their respective colors or even emblems. They changed with the season as well, adding layers and depth in the winter and shedding them in the warmer months.
Since then, the Dirndl has made a comeback at a few events - one of the most important being the Gallery of Beauties - a collection of 26 portraits of the most beautiful women of the noble and middle classes of Munich between 1827 and 1850 – many which included women in Dirndls. The most famous one is a portrait of a shoemaker’s daughter - Helene Sedlmayr, who was considered the epitome of Munich beauty.
In the late 19th century noble women began to put an aristocratic spin on the Dirndl, and it turns out it is a highly adaptable piece of fashion. It has continued to adapt to modern taste with its popularity has surging over the last few yeas. Its not considered a “frock for country bumpkins,” as German trend researcher Antje Schünemann puts it. Rather, the Dirndl is for the “urban, fashion-conscious types.”
The modern Dirndl is most often in the style of the Landhausmod: country-inspired fashion. It is made up of a bodice, a blouse, a skirt and an apron. The blouse is almost always white, and is low-cut and worn with a special bra to accentuate the bust. The knot serves the purpose of tightening the apron, but is also communicating the availability of its inhabitant. Tied left indicates she is single, right is for taken. Front means she is a virgin and back means she is a widow.
Popups appear around Dirndl season and the price point and quality of the Dirndl range from the $70, American Halloween costume pre-packaged type, to custom Dirndls that you get from appointment-only designers such as Nathalie Bault. Nathalie’s dresses are made from high-quality fabrics such as silk, and priced around $2,000 USD.
FKK of Hamburg sells a much more muted, “understated fashion” version of the Dirndl. The apron is not present, and the blouse is integrated into the design. “We’ve brought the Dirndl to date,” says fashion designer Tobias Jopp. Jopp says FKK’s version of the Dirndl is casual enough that it can be worn to dinner or even to work.
Today fashion designers from Munich are continuing the evolution of the Dirndl. Lola Paltinger’s couture line, dubbed "Heidi goes to Hollywood" by the German press, uses only materials from her own creation: luxurious, partly hand-painted fabrics, combined with magnificent embroidery, buttons and flower applications.
Her dresses come with a substantial price tag, and have been worn by stars such as Paris Hilton and Salma Hayek.