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Almost every country in Europe has its own traditional dress: the Dutch have clogs and white hats, Spaniards have red and black flamenco outfits and Bulgarians has elaborately embroidered vests. One national costume, however, stands above all others – as this legendary performance at Eurovision 2014 shows, few garments flatter a woman’s body (and ignite fresh-faced farmers’ daughter fantasies) so universally like traditional Bavarian dirndls.
The dirndl (also the world for girl in the Bavarian/Alpine dialect) is an uncomplicated outfit modeled on the the clothes farmers’ wives and daughters wore to do their work in much of Europe. In the early 19th century, when many farm ladies moved to the city to get jobs in factories, traditional work clothes fell out of fashion; in the second half of the century, though, the upper classes went through an intense folk music and culture phase on the idea of the noble savage that included music, clothing and hard-core dining out.
As horrifying as that may sound to the lit crit crowd, this fetishisation was responsible for rescuing the dirndl (and lederhosen) from obscurity. Wealthy women in Bavaria and throughout the Alps had dirndls made of silk and other fine materials and wore them to church, weddings, funerals and other community events to show how in touch with the common people they were. Unwittingly, these appropriating ladies saved one of the most flattering garments ever constructed.
The outfit consists of a long full skirt, long apron, loose white blouse with an elasticated scoop neck, boobies-boosting bodice and sometimes a hat. While most dresses are designed to be their best for small-waisted wearers. the dirndl is all about décolleté. Happily for us who just can’t do life without Doritos, waist size is a tertiary concern.
The full skirt give ladies who are slight of hip or full of bosom (or both!) an hourglass shape, the long skirt makes short women look taller, and the natural blousing of the shirt and bodice amplify women with not too much up top. Even sturdy farm ladies who can do Turkish get ups till the cows come home will find their hard edges softened by the airy material.
As for comfort, the dirndl is basically the yoga pants of years gone by. Intended to be worn for difficult labour, the outfit was often made with easily washable and breathable material like cotton, and without a corset or hoops.
In the last 10 years, the dirndl has undergone a sort of renaissance. It is not uncommon in Bavaria to see young women wearing one on the weekend, to a wedding or to family birthday party. Modern material and patterns and a whole slew of new, young dirndl designers are breathing new life into the garment yet again.