Traditional Costumes Over 100 Years Ago
Today, both the historical garments referred to as “Tracht” in the 19th century as well as the Dirndls and Lederhosen purchased at department stores to accompany their wearer to the festival tents are considered to be “Tracht”.
While historical costumes and efforts to preserve the “Tracht” culture stand for tradition, steadfastness and continuity, today's Dirndls and Lederhosen for anyone and everyone also reflect fashion trends.
Traditional costumes and fashion, however, are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as both are expressions of their time and undergo changes over time.
Traditional Costumes Today
Wearing traditional costumes is fun and the more or less uniform clothing style enhances one’s sense of belonging and being part of a community - not only in the festival tents.
However, “Tracht” is not always “Tracht” and not everyone who wears traditional costumes is considered to be a "real Trachtler” (member of a society for traditional costumes or “Tracht” society).
Appearance alone is not enough. Subtle differences draw boundaries and classify some from others.
Contrary to what we might think, the historical traditional costumes as we know them today do not represent the clothing of the rural population in the past.
They are "inventions" of the 19th century, at a time when the German nation-state was beginning to establish itself and ideal images of the educated bourgeoisie about rural life were popular.
Fun-Culture and Volksfest-Clothing
The trend toward wearing Dirndl and Lederhosen to festivals began in the mid-1980s. Bordering on dressing up for costume parties, set pieces of traditional costumes were adopted and new versions were invented, with no limits to the imagination.
Even kilts, Frisian shirts or soccer jerseys – whatever you liked, as long as it was colorful, original or funny.
Traditional costumes are becoming a playful and multifaceted form of self-expression and increasingly a fashion must-have for celebrations.
Costume groups dancing in front of the German Bundestag (September 2016)Original Source: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Volkstanz e. V.
Preservation of Historical Traditional Costumes in "Tracht" Societies
Preserving the tradition of historical traditional garments today is usually organized by “Tracht” societies. They are hubs for interaction and community.
Preserving the tradition of traditional costumes is linked to dedication to a region and to common values such as feeling connected to one’s homeland and having a down-to-nature attitude.
However, you also need to be a connoisseur and expert, both with regard to the clothing itself and to the way it is presented, for example when displaying the costume during parades or performing folk dances.
Group wearing the local costume of Asselfingen (September 1925)Landesmuseum Württemberg
The impression of unity in a closed community and uniformity of the people wearing the costume plays an important role and is displayed just as much as the costume itself.
The costume as a symbol is a medium of communication for insiders. Colors, patterns, and fabrics convey information about the wearer, e.g., marital status or wealth.
Traditional costume parades, for example at the Cannstatt Folk Festival or the “Baden-Württemberg Heimattage” (a big public festival, related to the regional and local culture and customs) are an integral part of the program and stand for continuity, stability and reliability.
Procession with local costumes at the Cannstatt Volkfest (September 1957)Original Source: Landesfilmsammlung Baden-Württemberg
Procession at the Cannstatt Volksfest, 1950s
Between Tradition and Trend
Historical traditional costumes and the fashionable traditional costumes accompanying their wearer to the festival tents seem to have little in common. Today, traditional costumes are popular for many and are also trendy as "country fashion". So what does it mean to wear traditional costumes today?
The photo shows details of a historical costume from Betzingen (South Germany). Particularly elaborate embroidery or the choice of a particular fabric make a costume an individual garment and are an expression of the fashionable taste of the wearer.
Upper Swabian Radhaube (1800–1850)Landesmuseum Württemberg
"Tracht" as Status Symbol
This finely crafted "Radhaube" (wheel-shaped headdress) identified the woman who wore it as a married and wealthy Upper Swabian. It provided information about marital status, wealth and a prosperous region.
Today it is worn only on special occasions, such as festivals, as well as for representational purposes.
Jürgen Hohl, costume expert (2020) by Jürgen HohlLandesmuseum Württemberg
"Tracht" is Family
Jürgen Hohl, an active “Tracht” society member from Weingarten, has made around 700 "Radhauben" for music bands and costume groups since 1978. For him, traditional costume is "like family". It will continue to exist in the future.
Traditional Costume Tailoring, a Profession with a Future?
Stefanie Kunert, a traditional costume seamstress in Glottertal in the Black Forest for 15 years, takes a rather critical view of her profession's future. She learned her craft from an 87-year-old seamstress, as written instructions are few and far between.
The knowledge is hidden in the nature of the costumes themselves and especially in the skills of seamstresses and tailors. Passing on the knowledge of this craft is necessary to be able to reconstruct the patterns of the traditional costumes, to tailor traditional costumes and thus to be able to wear them.
Confirmands in Luizhausen near Ulm (1910)Landesmuseum Württemberg
“Tracht” is Gender-Conforming?
Confirmation marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. Girls and boys then also received a “Tracht” for the first time.
Men exchanged the festive traditional costume for a suit much earlier than women did. It was not until the 1970s that there was a revival of the men's traditional costume in “Tracht“ societies and music clubs.
Postcard with pictures of the "Markender-Sepple" (1903) by Ernst SauterOriginal Source: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, #7778
“Tracht” - that is men in pants and women in skirts. But there are always deviations in this gender order. The sutler (“Marketendersepple”) was born in 1834 in Niederwasser in the Black Forest and also wore the female working costume in his everyday life.
“Tracht” Mirrors the Landscape
Theodor Lauxmann (1865–1920) is a painter and is considered one of the driving forces in Württemberg's "Tracht" movement at the turn of the century. The character of the surrounding landscape is reflected in them.
"There the traditional costume of the Black Forest, matching the first high fir forest, here the colorful representatives of the fertile fields of the lowlands."
Crowded beer tent at the Cannstatt Volksfest (October 2011) by Christoph DüpperOriginal Source: Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH
Trend, Imitation, Community
Historical costumes and the costumes worn at the “Wiesn” folk festival are concurrent. They are not in conflict with each other, nor is the latter a further development of the former.
People raising their glasses in a beer tent at Cannstatt Volksfest (October 2017) by Jean-Claude-WinklerOriginal Source: Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH
Whether celebrating in festival tents, during parades or folk dances, both have an important function in creating a sense of community and belonging. The uniformity of clothing thus also becomes an expression of mutual solidarity.
"Tracht" Diversity Today
Traditional costumes today stem from a variety of forms of self-expression through clothing. On the one hand, they support constructions of community and belonging, and on the other, mechanisms of exclusion and marginalization. And they also offer the possibility of changing roles in order to play with the facets of our identity.
Concept/Text: Sabine Zinn-Thomas and Angelika Merk