When Alpine peasants danced the Schuhplattler back in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were dressed in the same clothes they wore out on the farm or in the village, pursuing their various crafts. For the men, these were sturdy lederhosen that never needed washing and seldom needed repair. The leather breeches were so practical that women sometimes wore them as well, but more often women did their work in a long skirt of cotton, linen or wool, topped with a bodice, blouse and apron. In Bavarian dialects, a young women was called a “dirndl” and the dress was a "dirndlgewand," but gradually the shorter word came to be used for the traditional women's costume as well.
Kniebund lederhosen (knickers) are worn by some Schuhplatter groups, but they can be uncomfortable to dance in, especially in warm weather. More common are short lederhosen, which range from the knee length or amost-knee-length shorts favored by traditionalist groups and Oktoberfest visitors to the much shorter variety worn by the Schuhplatter Tramin, Oberbairing Kinder and other modern clubs. Although scouts have always worn lederhosen without suspenders, costume and dance groups wear either standard narrow H-bar suspenders or the wider, heavily embroidered, fancy-dress variety.
Lederhosen are usually made from cowhide or wild buck, and the colors vary from gray to green to a smooth, shiny black. Most lederhosen have a drop down front flap that buttons to the pants, but double-zippered flap-front shorts became popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s and are still sometimes seen today. Lederhosen shorts usually have cuffs and often have a waist adjustment in the back that can be let out as kids grow. Lederhosen are so expensive that as late as the 1960's many boys would get an oversized pair at the age of six or seven, wear them every day for five or six years, and then wear their next pair for another several years. Since washing usually ruins leather pants, these lederhosen were never washed in all that time!
Long-sleeved solid white shirts or red, blue or green gingham-style checkered shirts are usually worn by Schuhplattler groups. The finest shirts often have embroidered flowers down the front. Many Schuhplattler groups dance with their sleeves rolled up above their elbows.
The dirndl emerged during the 18th century as a plain but practical servant’s dress with a long skirt, bodice, blouse and apron.
In the wintertime it was made of heavy cotton, linen or wool with long sleeves, and in summer it was short-sleeved and of lighter material. In the second half of the 19th century, as the Schuh-plattler and lederhosen became fashionable amongst the nobility, dirndls evolved into stylish attire made of silk or satin for the very rich. Their popularity has risen and fallen over the years, but like lederhosen, the dirndl has had something of a resurgence in both Germany and Austria.
On Sundays and holidays, people would brush off their work clothes and wear them to church or festivals, often with a clean white shirt or blouse, a scarf or a hat, and maybe a fancier pair of stockings. If it was summer, the breeches or skirt might be shorter and the shirts of a lighter material, but a whole new wardrobe for special days, seasons or celebrations was out of reach for the common folk of Bavaria and Tyrol.
Lederhosen and dirndls were standard garb for many boys and girls in Germany and Austria through the 1960's, and continued to be popular in East Germany and Bavaria until the end of the century. They are still worn as everyday attire by adults and kids in some areas today, but they are most often seen in festivals and traditional costume clubs (Trachtevereine), of which there are thousands in the German-speaking Alps. Many scouts in Germany and Austria, and even some in France, wear lederhosen shorts with their uniform, and hikers favor them as the most practical wear in the mountains.
For the Schuhplattler, lederhosen and dirndls are a must. These range from the simple, practical styles that have been worn for generations to the finest ornate varieties that can cost a thousand dollars or more.
Making Lederhosen (from German TV)
Jackets, Vests & Hats
Janker jackets are often worn with lederhosen for special celebrations and formal occasions, but they must be taken off before dancing. They are made of lambswool, have no collars, often have wide lapels, and are typically grey, green or brown. Their buttons are made of buckhorn or plastic made to look like buckhorn. Vests are worn by some groups, as are felt hats, which may be decorated with a feather, a Gamsbart ("goat's beard"), or various pins and badges.
Socks & Shoes
Socks are knee length in solid gray, green or white. Loferl-style socks are ankle-length and have a separate band that goes around the calves. The best shoes are leather-soled and neither too light nor too heavy and cluncky. Genuine Schuhplattler Haferlschuhe are ideal, but they are expensive, are not good for everyday wear, and kids grow out of them quickly.
Lederhosen Herstellen (from German TV)
Lederhosen Maker in Bertechtesgaden
From the Website: Destination Munich
The history of using fur or animal hide for pants goes all the way back to Otzi the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy of whom was found near the Alpine Austro-Italian border in 1991. But lederhosen as we know and love it today first took shape in the 1700s. It had been reasonably common across Europe for peasants to wear leather pants for farm work, horse riding and hunting.
But it was the Bavarians who invented the drop-down flap at the front. The French even dubbed it à la bavaroise, meaning in “in the Bavarian style”. In those days Europe’s aristocracy liked to dress up as peasants for fun, and so lederhosen became popular across all strata of society. Poorer folk dyed goat or sheep skin black for their pants, which were either short or full length “Bundhosen” style. It was the nobility who started wearing the soft, brown lederhosen made from deer or chamois skin that’s the most common variety today.
Lederhosen fell out of fashion for a while in the 1800s as pants made from cotton or cloth started to take over. An upstart called Joseph Vogel led a revival in 1883, when he and his mates from the pub gathered to protest a decline of Bavarian values.
The six of them started the first Tracht preservation society and even wore their short-length lederhosen to a church service in the town of Bayerischzell. The priesthood condemned the shorts as an affront to decency and tried to have them banned. But Bavarian King Ludwig II professed he was a fan and that was that. Farmers and aristocrats alike started donning lederhosen again.
But it was another Bavarian who really dealt the death blow to lederhosen being widely worn in everyday life. His name was Levi Strauss. Strauss hailed from a town near Nuremburg in northern Bavaria (a staunchly non-lederhosen wearing area) and migrated to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. His blue “jeans” took over as the world’s most popular pant and the rest is history.