Last year some friends and I planned a trip to Munich, to go to Oktoberfest. We had a lot of questions while planning the trip, most of which were answered through the services of Google, Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forum, and the incredibly helpful but oddly named ToyTown Germany Forum. Honestly, if you are planning a trip to Germany, or even better, if you’re moving there, that website is incredibly helpful. It’s an English-language site maintained by expats living in the country and it’s an absolute goldmine for visitors.
Still, despite all of our research and excellently well-laid plans, I never felt like I had the answer to one of my most burning questions: To wear a dirndl or not wear a dirndl??
If you don’t know what a dirndl is, it’s a traditional Bavarian costume, based on historical Alpine apparel that is now largely worn in Germany during festivals and celebrations, such as Oktoberfest. You can find that out easily enough through a simple Google search, and you can find out much more about all the beautiful varieties you can buy in Munich, how expensive they are, and see pictures of attractive German girls all decked out. But what about the American girls? Would it be obnoxious to show up all Bavarian-ed out when I’m not Bavarian at all?
I was traveling with two guys and two girls and the different sexes took different approaches to this question. The males decided to go for t-shirts with suspenders silkscreened on like these, and the girls decided to wait it out and try our luck in Munich.
Based on what I had heard, there was a dangerous chance that we were going to get to Munich, find all of the trachten shops completely cleared out, and 500 euro dirndls as our only option (which would not have been an option at all considering our budgets). What we found instead was an abundance of shops selling dirndls of all colors, styles, and a huge range in quality and price.
We had set our budget at around $150, which ended up being spot on because there were a lot of 99€ specials going on for Oktoberfest. We were there opening weekend and had no problem finding a great deal of variety in all the stores we stopped at. Most of the smaller specialty stores had dirndls of higher quality, more intricate styles, and more “designer” trachten (think punk-rock dirndls, etc), but at 400€ plus for a complete look, those were way out of our price range.
The goldmine for us ended up being the department store C&A. It’s a chain that can be found around Europe and is similar to an American Sears or JCPenney. They have a huge trachten department with specials from 49€ up, with most prices hovering around 79€ or 99€. I picked up a red gingham knee-length number with a red apron (pictured below in the middle on the bottom row), and my two companions opted for the slightly cheaper mini dirndls in light blue and a natural tan color. The selection is great and it seems like THE place to go for tourists looking for an affordable outfit, but the quality is just not going to compare to what you can find in the specialty trachten shops. They had great options for men around the same price point, and my friend, whose silkscreened T ended up being too small for him, found a great button up shirt with fabric suspenders sewn right onto the shirt! Bottom line, go to a place like C&A if you’re looking for an Oktoberfest outfit that won’t break the bank but will also be similar to a higher-end polyester Halloween costume. If you really want a beautiful, hand-made dirndl to bring home, be ready to drop some coin. Also if you expect to spend less than $50 on a complete outfit, it may be best to get something online before you leave, and to start shopping now before prices get inflated for the Weisn.
So we had found our dirndls. Great. Now, was it cool to wear them? We had our question answered pretty much as soon as we left the house on the first day of the festival. ABSOLUTELY! An incredible majority of people are fully decked out for Oktoberfest, and it’s not just limited to the festival grounds. You see lederhosen in restaurants, dirndls at the grocery store, and all kinds of trachten-accessories all around the city at this time (I assume you don’t see it other times of the year, but I have nothing to base that on!). I felt much more involved in the festivities because I was wearing a dirndl, and I never once felt silly for deciding to don one, even though I wasn’t German. Everyone is so happy and positive and celebratory that they could care less that you’re not German. I would highly recommend wearing whatever degree of dirndl you can get your hands on for this experience. It makes it so much more unique and wonderful and it’s a really great accessory to bring back. Pictured below are some styles you can find at C&A, some you can find online, and in the top right corner, an example of a non-polyester, high quality piece. Accessories for these getups also abound, so if a full-on dirndl isn’t in your price range, there are always other options out there, like a crazy hat or super flattering leather shorts!