You can’t have Oktoberfest without beer, bratwurst, and lederhosen. Besides being one of the official uniforms of Munich’s annual fall festival, lederhosen is also an integral part of Northern Europe’s working-class history.
The Full Outfit
Lederhosen, which is German for “leather pants,” is exactly that: knee-length breeches made from leather. When they’re part of an Oktoberfest costume, they’re usually worn with suspenders that create an “H” or “V” shape across the torso. The straps of these suspenders often feature intricate embroidery. A light-colored shirt, long socks, and black or brown shoes designed for Alpine terrain complete the outfit. The colors and styles of lederhosen vary by region, but the overall look remains the same.
The Alpine Origins of Lederhosen
Lederhosen first appeared among German and Austrian laborers in the 1700s. The knee-length breeches mimicked the silk and satin culottes that originated in France in the 1500s. Rather than adopting the softer fabrics used by the rest of Europe, the Alpine workers opted to make their pants from durable leather.
After lederhosen was adopted by the region’s peasant class, aristocrats began wearing the breeches themselves. The trend didn’t last, however, and lederhosen once again reverted to being the uniform of countryside laborers. When the denim jeans created by Bavarian expat Levi Strauss replaced lederhosen in the 1800s, it seemed that the leather garments had fallen out of favor.
Official Oktoberfest Attire
Munich’s Oktoberfest was started in 1810 as a wedding celebration designed to unite 40,000 Bavarian civilians following a quelled rebellion the year before. The occasion eventually became an annual event and featured horse races, carnival attractions, and beer tents. To promote and preserve Bavarian culture, Munich made lederhosen and the dirndl Oktoberfest’s official uniforms in 1887. These traditional costumes have been emblems of southeastern Germany ever since.
Similar to how the kilt is associated with Scotland and the kimono with Japan, lederhosen will forever be a symbol of Alpine culture. Combined with the dirndl to create the trachten. lederhosen will always be the attire of rural communities in Bavaria and its surrounding regions.