Lords of the Lederhosen

by Leoni Schwandt

After my latest discovery of the Lederhosen-inspired pre-collection by Chanel I started out to search for the definitive original, unchanged Bavarian Lederhosen.

In the heart of Munich, I found myself surrounded by several stores offering Lederhosen and Dirndl[1] in all possible versions. Driven by the pursuit of tradition, I entered the store that looked the oldest with an ominous narrow, creaking wooden door. Inside, after being ignored for about ten minutes, I managed to capture the attention of a middle-aged woman working in the shop.

I happily announced my enterprise of discovering the very foundations of my own Bavarian culture and finding out why my fellow countrymen dressed the way they did. She replied rather disinterested that she knew nothing about the Lederhosen’s history and that I would be better off using Google. Slightly irritated, I left and tried my luck in a fellow shop called Almenrausch. I posed my question to a shop assistant my age, and a customer from East Germany. Neither claimed to know the real story behind the Bavarian leather pants but both quickly agreed that it must have been a working gown back in the old days.

According to the shop assistant, Almenrausch, located on one of Munich’s biggest shopping miles, opened its doors in 1989 to supply primarily tourist with ‘a touch of Bavaria’; the Dirndl’s sold are brighter in colour, the skirts shorter and the necklines lower. If I wanted to find something perceived more traditional than that, I would have to go to the countryside.

After the customer had left, the shop assistant began prattling about the most entertaining stories of tourists wearing Bavarian clothing ‘their’ way. She said she didn’t have a problem with this, but in her view it was not the right way either. Rather, in today’s globalised times she said, “Bavaria is everywhere. The Lederhosen and Dirndl don’t belong to us anymore and it’s exciting to see what other people will make of it”. Maybe central Munich, inhabited by more tourists than locals, is not the best place to search for tradition. However, what the young lady did tell me wasn’t any less decisive for the contemporary Lederhosen.

I also followed the first woman’s advice to unearth Google lists results about the Lederhosen; from Wikipedia to a virtual Lederhosen-Museum, they all told differing stories. If one believes the sophisticated source Wikipedia, the Bavarian Lederhosen was primarily worn for farm work but lost its popularity over the course of 19th century. If it had not been for the unbreakable patriotism of one ordinary teacher- Josef Vogl in the 1880s, avouching what he assumed to be an ancient tradition by founding the first traditional costume club, presumably the Lederhosen would have disappeared long ago. With the support of monarch King Luis these clubs propagated all over Bavaria and parts of modern-day Austria. Interestingly, until the King’s command, Vogl faced immense resilience from his fellow Bavarians who regarded the pants as an outdated thing of the past.

But what struck me most is that both the shop assistant and I, being of the same age, born and raised in the same region and speaking with the same Bavarian accent, had no one answer as to the true origin of such traditional clothing; neither did the woman in the first shop. Although both sell Bavaria’s traditions, we claim it to be ‘ours’ despite the historical inadequacies.

How traditional is a tradition if the ones who allegedly created and preserved it don’t know about it. Tradition, and so the clothing it pertains, is a fluid concept often consciously introduced to strengthen the shared identity of a certain group or nation. Similar to the Scottish kilt as outlined by historian Trevor-Roper, the Lederhosen seem to be less ancient and not as traditional as many like to think. Secondly, is it really desirable or even possible to conserve a tradition that clearly lacks importance for its ‘owners’ to actually make themselves aware of its history?

Furthermore, isn’t it inevitable for a garment to spread and adjust to its time and circumstances to be kept alive? Supermarket chains, H&M and now Chanel have made themselves narrators of the story line of the Bavarian Lederhosen. I wonder; are they assigned to the prerogative of telling tales about Bavarian tradition. But if so, why shouldn’t they?

[1] Traditional Bavarian dress, equivalent to the Lederhosen for women.

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3 thoughts on “Lords of the Lederhosen

  1. Fascinating! It’s a really interesting question to ponder whether something is a tradition when no one really knows why they’re doing it… or is that actually the modern definition of tradition? There are many things we do that, when asked why, many people just shrug and say “It’s traditional” (eg wedding customs). I guess I’m just surprised that Bavarian dress is one of them.

  2. It’s really very good article and clear information about lederhosen and history about that, Leoni thanks for sharing useful information with us

  3. Pingback: Lords of the Lederhosen | globecouture

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