Traditional German clothing dates back centuries and varies greatly from region to region.
The German word Tracht today describes traditional, historical or regional fashion including clothing, hairstyle, accessories and jewelry as well as symbols and insignia.
What can look like strange costumes to the uninitiated follows a more or less strict tradition and code. Here are examples of the best traditional German clothing.
- Tracht: A brief history of traditional German clothing
- Traditional clothing in Germany: highlights and regions
- Carnival costumes
Tracht: A brief history of traditional German clothing
Tracht in the original German signifies what is worn and the way it is worn, that is a style of clothing and how it is worn or accessorized.
Very often these clothes originated as workwear and showed that the wearer belonged to a certain group of people such as officials, workers, a guild, order or a certain city or region.
Up and down the country, the Trachten was used to show affiliation to a class, a religion or an ethnic or professional group.
Yet, traditional clothing in Germany used to highlight differences just as much as belonging: the dress code prohibited farmers from dressing like nobility and Germans dressed a certain way to look different from the French.
In the 18th century, traditional clothing became part of folklore to create a sense of German unity and nationality. In the 19th century, the idea of uniform workwear further developed into clothing that despite being simple and traditional was worn in a fine and splendid version to festive events.
Traditional clothing in Germany: highlights and regions
Men’s Clothing: Lederhosen
If you’ve ever seen pictures of the German Oktoberfest, you’ve likely seen a German wearing Lederhosen.
This Bavarian classic outfit for men is worn at all kinds of festivities. It consists of leather pants, a shirt, knitted stockings and leather shoes, traditionally worn with a hat and other accessories.
Lederhosen can be short, only reaching the thigh, be of a knickerbocker style or go all the way to the ankles. They feature a bib with deer horn buttons and are worn with H-shaped suspenders over the shirt.
The outfit originated in the mountain regions of Bavaria from where it spread to the lowlands as well. There are at least six main regional variations with further minor variations and local styles.
Women’s Clothing: the Dirndl
The Dirndl is a traditional outfit for women also originating from Bavaria’s Alpine region, but many variations exist. Other Alpine countries such as Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Italy all have local variations and traditions.
The traditional Dirndl consists of a dress with a tight bodice and a deep round or rectangular neckline. An apron is worn over a wide skirt with a high waist and varying lengths. Local and generic variations exist as well as simple and exquisite, expensive designs.
Schuhplattler: Dancing in Dirndl and Lederhosen
The Schuhplattler is actually not a Tracht but a traditional Bavarian folk dance for which the dancers wear Lederhosen and Dirndl.
The male performers stomp their feet and slap the soles of their shoes as well as their thighs and knees, producing a signature sound. The women spin around, creating a counterbalance through colorful dresses and graceful movements.
Black Forest Bollenhut
Bollenhut literally means bulbous hat, and that’s exactly what it is: a flat straw hat adorned with 14 bulbs of various sizes. It’s part of traditional clothing worn by evangelical women.
Unmarried women wear red bulbs, married women black bulbs. The handmade hats can weigh up to two kilos! Part of the outfit is a black dress with a bodice and wide skirt and a white, puffy blouse.
Although the Bollenhut is only part of the folk tradition in the three towns of Gutach, Kirnbach and Hornberg-Reichenbach, it came to be a symbol for the entire Black Forest region.
The state of Hesse has some of Germany’s oldest Trachten, though they’re commonly no longer worn. Women wore black traditional clothing with colorful applications.
A 1772 dress code demanded that all clothing should be made from regional materials, but traditional clothing slowly changed over time with the French settling in the region.
In the state of Lower Saxony, many regions have developed traditional clothing of their own.
The Trachten here are highly individual and different, but contrasts of back and white, floral patterns and natural colors are prevalent and play an important role.
Women’s wedding dresses are particularly elaborate and include traditional headwear decorated with many little flowers.
Traditional German clothing in that region originated in the 18th century, combining traditional and popular elements of the time.
Peasants began to take on fashionable forms and French influences. Women wore bodices, scarves and wide, puffy petticoats. Male outfits included a button vest, justacorps and knee-breeches.
Particularly noteworthy is the tricorn hat: though it has long since fallen out of style, it continues to live on in the German folk song “Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken” (“My hat has three corners”).
Carnival is celebrated in many regions of Germany as well as in Switzerland and Austria with widely varying traditions.
However, while the clothing worn for the occasion is often regional and steeped in local customs and beliefs, these are actual costumes and not traditional clothing based on workwear or affiliation with historic groups.
Want to know what other traditions exist in Germany apart from traditional German clothing? Find out what German traditions you may not know about!
Jakob is a freelance writer in Barcelona, Spain, and his favorite books have pages all empty. As an expert storyteller, he publishes creative fiction in English and German and helps other authors shape their manuscripts into compelling stories. Thanks to an expertise in a wide range of topics such as writing, literature and productivity to marketing, travel, and technology, he produces engaging content for his clients. Apart from the escape that books offer, Jakob enjoys traveling digital nomad style and stays active with climbing and hiking. Find out more about him on his website, Twitter or on Goodreads.