When in Austria, Look for Dirndls

Photos courtesy Austrian Tourist Board

What is a Dirndl? If you have seen the movie “The Sound of Music,” you already know the basic elements that make up a Dirndl: skirt, bodice, apron and blouse. Simple, right? Far from it!

There is a veritable science to Dirndl cuts, fabric patterns, colors and embroidery.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 is 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.


An important element is the Dirndl blouse. It is generally very short (ends above the waist), with long, short or puffed sleeves. It can have many different necklines and is usually made of white cotton or linen. 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 the knot—be sure to check on which side to place it—otherwise you might unwittingly send out the wrong message.

Different combinations of these elements make up the traditional Dirndl. There are different Dirndl styles for different occasions, even Dirndl styles that tell which region in Austria the wearer is from. With the recent “Dirndl Renaissance,” there are countless downright “unorthodox” styles that experiment with different fabrics, cross cultural references and punk elements.

If all these options seem daunting at first, remember: the most important thing is to have fun with the many different colors and patterns, and to choose a Dirndl that fits your personality.

The Dirndl has evolved from its humble origins centuries past as the work garb of peasants to a modern-day fashion superstar. With its feminine silhouette, its versatility and simple elegance, the Dirndl is a fashion “evergreen.” But where does it come from, and how did it get so popular?

Allegedly, the short Dirndl blouse we know today was originally a long shirt. Way back when, the shirt was actually one of the “basics” in the contemporary wardrobe of the rural population. Women wore a bodice, or even just a tightly wound cloth as an undergarment for warmth and support. Aprons were tied around the shirt to protect it from stains and dust. When people came home from the fields, the apron was simply switched to a different one for house work, or one for festive occasions.


Eventually, for reasons of practicality and perhaps vanity, the shirt was sometimes worn underneath the bodice and so the Dirndl was born. For a long time it was the garb of women in the countryside, and different styles developed for different regions.

Finally, in the middle of the 19th century, Emperor Franz Joseph and his court used to vacation in the Salzburg Lake district. The emperor took to wearing Lederhosen during his hunting exhibitions there, and a fashion trend was born. Suddenly, the Dirndl was all the rage and the Viennese aristocracy wore Dirndls and Lederhosen during their stay in the country.

Photo courtesy Ernst Licht German Imports

In the 1920s, the founders of the Salzburg Festival contributed to the popularity of the Dirndl by making it acceptable to wear during performances and society events. The Salzburger Dirndl manufacturer Lanz and the world-wide success of the operetta “Weisses Roessl” made the Dirndl an international hit.

Since then the Dirndl has conquered the international fashion world. In the last 10-15 years, the Dirndl and traditional costumes in general have experienced another huge surge in popularity, even outside of the regions in Austria where it has been an everyday item for generations.

With so many different styles to choose from, where do you start your own quest for the perfect Dirndl? Where to find authentic, traditional styles, and which Dirndl designers are known for fun and tasteful modern versions?

The best place to buy your Dirndl, of course, is at the “source.” The “real” Maria von Trapp used to mainly wear Dirndls and ordered new outfits with her favorite Dirndl tailor whenever she went back to her native Salzburg. Today, with Dirndls and Lederhosen in high demand, there are enough Dirndl manufacturers and stores to make your head spin.

For more info, go to www.austria.info/us

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