Okay, so I'm going to do what I can to be moderate! That might mean that I only make a handful of Wiesn visits, we shall see. Regardless, I have a new Dirndl and I'm excited to get to wear it.
One of the most important parts of the Oktoberfest experience is dressing the part. For men, this means Lederhosen or at the very least a checked shirt. For women, this means Dirndl. If you are traveling to Munich from any other part of the world, it’s doubtful that you’ve had a chance to do any Dirndl shopping in preparation (although German traditional clothing is apparently making its way around the world). So the best thing to do is to arrive in Munich a day or two early, and plan to do some shopping.
Okay, so I know your first question is do you really have to go out and invest in a new wardrobe? Well, unless you have a local friend who is willing to loan you a Dirndl (always the best option!), the answer is yes. You could roll up to Oktoberfest wearing something else, but you’d be missing out on a big part of the experience and you definitely wouldn’t have the proper photos to document your visit to the Wiesn. And for those of you that protest and say, “but I visited Oktoberfest in 1980 or 1990 and there weren’t that many people wearing Lederhosen”, well it’s a different world now. German traditional dress has made a major comeback in Bavaria (in particular Munich) in the last decade, and now probably 90% of the people in the tents are dressed in Tracht, and certainly all the locals. I often joke that I wear my Dirndl more often than any cocktail or formal dress that I have – there are so many beer-related events in Munich that it gets an airing several times a year, and in fact, my Dirndl wardrobe has now expanded so that I have options. This is both practical (beer spillage is a real danger at such festivals and it’s good to have a back-up ready to go for the next day) and indulgent (like all clothing, a girl gets tired of wearing the same thing all the time, not to mention in every single photo).
But if you’re a tourist, you just need one dress. However, I’m guessing that even the prospect of buying one dress could be a little intimidating when you don’t know where to go to find one, what to look for, or how much it should cost. The good news is that there are Dirndl shops on practically every street corner in Munich, including several pop-up shops during the Wiesn. The bad news is that there are things you really should know in advance, because you probably don’t want to spend too much money and you’ll want to buy something somewhat authentic rather than costumey (and also, I'm sorry, the lines for the dressing rooms are unfortunately going to be long for last minute shopping). As to the first point – expense – boys, I’m not going to advise you to buy Lederhosen unless you actually live in Germany, because they are expensive. You’d be better served wearing a nice shirt (preferably blue or white checked – if you don’t have one you can pick one up once you arrive in Munich). Another option for the boys would be to wear a football jersey – either of the German National Team or Bayern Munich. People would dig that and you would probably make automatic friends. But girls – you have no excuse (or decent alternative)! There’s a huge range of Dirndl shopping possibilities in Munich, and here are some suggested places to get you started (and where you won't break the bank).
But first, a couple of small and important pointers… Dirndl are traditionally worn knee-length, mid-calf, or floor length. Please please do not buy something that barely covers your ass. While movies and Halloween costume catalogues may portray a German Frau in a teeny-tiny skirt and cleavage-baring top, the only part that’s true is the cleavage. A Dirndl is not properly fitted if it doesn’t give you some serious cleavage. And on that point, you may want to pack your best push-up bra. Dirndl have corset tops, but they are still meant to be worn with bras. What else? You will have to buy three parts – the dress, a blouse, and an apron. And probably the laces for the corset, and any matching jewelry you might want. The appropriate shoes are either low-mid height heels or flats (I usually go for ballet slippers. Some people would say that only heels are appropriate, but you have to wear something that you’re comfortable in for 8+ hours, not to mention wearing to dance on beer-slicked benches, and possibly walk a couple of kilometers home at the end of the night). Also, the weather can be nippy in September, so it’s wise to at least bring a jacket or sweater (the latter is more traditional with a Dirndl, unless you’re going all-out and wearing a Bavarian-style felt blazer). But don’t bring anything you wouldn’t want to have beer spilled on (e.g. leave your nice coats and leather handbags at home) – it happens.
So, where do you find these Dirndl? Like I said before, everywhere, but before you wander into a store and see a 400 Euro price tag that sends you hightailing it out of there, saying, “screw it, who needs a Dirndl anyway”, here are some places to check:
This is the German mass chain store that can be found all over the country – I’d compare it to H&M or Old Navy in prices and style (with a German edge of course). During Oktoberfest, the stores in Munich stock a huge supply of Dirndl. They’re cheap and mass-produced, but there are lots of options and if you’re never going to wear it again anyway, this is a really good option.
This place is one of the biggest, most well-known stores in Munich. There are several branches and they have everything you could possibly need, with a huge range of different options. The sales people can help you put together a nice ensemble and will fix you up with everything you need. And if you are on a budget, you should be able to find a whole set for under 100 Euros. Sometimes they even have a selection of used Dirndl.
This is my personal favorite store for Dirndl because you can find good deals on previous season's designs. Lodenfrey is one of the most well-known, quality department stores for Tracht in Munich, and the full price dresses can be quite expensive. The outlet is a little outside downtown near the Olympia-Einkaufszentrum.
There are quite a lot of secondhand shops around Munich selling Dirndl. I know of at least two on my street - Augustenstraße - and I've seen secondhand shops in other parts of town. This can be a really good, affordable option because Dirndl are special dress, and therefore probably only worn a few times before being donated to the shop.
If you want to get something really fashionable and original, you might want to check out some of the boutique shops specializing in Dirndl. They are all over town, and found in greatest density in Schwabing, Maxvorstadt, and the Glockenbach. Be prepared to pay more money for these dresses though, particularly at Oktoberfest time. During other times of year, you might be able to snag a deal.
Small Town Shops
My German friends who are really into their Dirndl wardrobes leave the City in search of good designs. They go to the mountain towns of Bavaria, and into Austria, in search of handmade, original Dirndl. This ensures that none of the other girls at the Fest shows up in the same dress. This is perhaps an extreme shopping measure, but if you're wandering through any small Bavarian towns before heading to the Fest, why not check out their stores?
Of course, there are lots of places that I haven’t listed, such as Karstadt, Angermaier, Moser Trachten, Trachten Redl... everyone has their favorite stores. But if you are just visiting for a few days and don't know where to start, this should help you! Just make sure to actually go into a store and try on a few Dirndl. They all fit differently and can run a bit small (those tight corsets), so you need to try them on to see what works best on you.