Can I Wear a Traditional Dirndl if I’m Not German?
Not too long ago someone posted on the Rare Dirndl Facebook page and asked this question: "Is anyone offended if a non-German wears a dirndl? I shared a link to Rare Dirndl in a fashion group earlier and it brought up the question of "cultural appropriation." So can anyone wear a German dirndl? Is it offensive if you're NOT German? Are there times that it's okay, like Oktoberfest, when ‘everyone's German’???”
My immediate thoughts were that anyone and everyone can wear a dirndl! Anytime! (and not just because I make them haha!) I'm not offended at all. In fact, I think it's kind of cool that people are drawn to the look and feel of traditional clothing.
But it did bring up an interesting conversation about cultural appropriation. As with other cultures, there is a lot of history behind the German dirndl. It dates back to when women wore them as their everyday attire in the rural parts of Bavaria. Its origins are deeply connected to the culture and tradition in this area, so it's understandable why some people would be concerned about cultural appropriation.
So just to be sure that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, I asked this question in the Rare Dirndl Facebook Group.
People brought up a lot of great points such as:
- If the dirndl is authentic and the event is appropriate then absolutely... you wear that dirndl (appropriate meaning not to outshine the host or hostess).
- If you were to be invited to attend the festivities that celebrated another culture would you wear their traditional dress? Most likely not unless it was required and you were doing it respectfully.
- Wearing a dirndl is more for an event within the German community and not likely appropriate for other events.
The general and overall theme of this Facebook conversation was centered around respect. If you are not German, there is no reason you can’t wear a dirndl! Traditional dirndl dresses have this magical effect on people: they can make you feel elegant, confident, and flirty. They are fitted in a way that shapes the body and many styles can also have details that reflect your own personality.
If you are looking to add a traditional dirndl to your wardrobe, please do! Just wear it with respect. And if you want more information on the proper way to wear a dirndl, check out our blog post How To Wear A Dirndl.
Traditional and regionally specific tracht tends to hold a lot more meaning than your average dirndl dresses and so those who are from that region are much more protective of those garments. But who are they to judge where you are from if you’re wearing it?
For example, I’m of Donauschwaben descent… and if I see someone who I know is not a Danube Swabian wearing a tracht, do I get mad? No. If they are doing something super stupid to the point where they are embarrassing the culture while wearing the tracht, that’s different. It really is all about respect. When you are wearing a dirndl or a traditional cultural dress, you are representing those who came before you (see the Deeper Meaning Behind Wearing a Dirndl for my full article on this topic and its history).
So when is wearing a dirndl NOT OK? When it is done without taste. Any dirndl that is so short it requires bloomers just to walk: Not OK. A “dirndl” that was purchased at Party City: Not OK. A “dirndl” that comes in a plastic bag labeled “Beer Wench”: Not OK. The minute it becomes a joke, you’ve crossed a line. Though it can be worn as one, a dirndl is not just a costume. Wearing one without respect and understanding of the culture behind it reduces its meaning significantly.
Why is wearing a “Sexy German Beer Girl” costume not OK? #1 - Because it’s not a dirndl and #2 - Because it looks like you’re making fun of us. It’s like you’re insulting the entire population of Germans and German-Americans (especially those from Northern Germany who don’t wear dirndl dresses to begin with).
It's also disheartening because it implies that a woman are nothing more than objects to be ogled. I know, it’s fun. But think twice before you put it on. That’s all I ask. If you want to wear the costume for Halloween or to role-play in the bedroom… you go you, girl! But don’t show up to a Festival, Folk Festival, Bavarian Blast, or Oktoberfest in that sexy outfit. It’s not only inappropriate, but it will also make people uncomfortable.
When wearing a dirndl, make sure you are doing it with class and respect. If you aren’t certain if the event calls for one, give whoever is hosting/organizing a call or email to ask what the dress code is. There’s nothing wrong with being curious and wanting to learn more about traditions and culture. And who knows, it could be your favorite thing ever!
There are so many possibilities when it comes to wearing a dirndl, so go out and explore them. Have fun, dress up, and enjoy the beauty of tradition. Just remember to do it with respect and you’ll be sure to make an impression!
Nowadays, German dirndl dresses come in nearly endless shapes, sizes, and styles… something for everyone! They can cross cultures, be a bridesmaid dress, Bridal dirndl, and even show homage to your favorite sports team.
But those ridiculous costumes you know the ones I’m talking about… with the pigtails, thigh-high socks, and that stupid teeny tiny dirndl apron attached to the crazy short skirt length - and don't even get me started on the low cut dirndl blouse.
Those are nothing, but an American-designed outfit (made in China) for Halloween NOT for a fest where people wear actual dirndl dresses. Please leave them in the past. If you're looking for where to buy dirndls in the U.S. check out this blog.
Wearing a dirndl is an opportunity to be creative and express yourself as a woman, while still looking beautiful, elegant, confident, and flirty! So don't forget: wear it with respect.
So if you're looking to add a unique and rare dirndl (see what I did there?) to your wardrobe, please do! Just wear it with respect. And check out all our blog posts to learn more about the heritage, dirndl style, and how to wear one!
Again… it’s all about respect. If you are of Italian descent and you are wearing a gorgeous German dirndl to a German club picnic, I am not offended in the slightest (and no one should be…).
What matters is that you are respecting the culture, not appropriating it. Dressing in a way that celebrates a culture is fun! Wearing a dirndl makes you feel like you belong to something greater than yourself. So the next time you are going to an event and think to yourself, “I’m not German… should I wear this dirndl?” The answer is “Hell Yeah you should!”
So what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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As always, ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. - Erika
Very thoughtful words! I second all your words, especially “Why is wearing a “Sexy German Beer Girl” costume not OK? #1 – Because it’s not a dirndl and #2 – Because it looks like you’re making fun of us.” There is always a difference between mocking someone’s culture and embracing it. Thanks for the write up.