Tracht or Austrian Traditional Costumes - Part I
Once upon a time in the Alps, Emperor Charlemagne was out with a hunting party consisting of some of the noblest knights in his empire. They were all dressed in valuable clothing made of fine fabrics like silk, beautifully embroidered - only the Emperor himself wore the plain clothing of a peasant.
Charlemagne was so upset about his knight′s pretentiousness and their need to show off their wealth, that he made them ride up and down the Alps, through forests and swamps, over cliffs and mountain tops, all day long. When they finally arrived at a chateau late at night, all the noblemen were dirty, bleeding and their clothes had turned into rugs. Only the Emperor was still fine and his warm coat was unharmed - made of the local loden cloth.
People in Austria tell this story when they want to convince you that Austrian "Tracht" or traditional clothing is superior to other fashion. Historically, the rather coarse fabrics and materials that are used for tracht - whool, linen, leather and alike - were indeed mostly worn by peasants. Nobility could afford more refined cloths, but the common people had to use materials that were durable and easy to clean. Unsurprisingly, it was indeed hunting parties that were the first to copy the style of the common people: Not only Charlemagne, but also Emperor Maximilian I was keen on "local wear".
The Origins: Where Tracht is Derived from
Until well into the 19th century, when Tracht was formalised and spread throughout Austria and Bavaria, traditional clothing was very regional. The person who wore traditional dresses, trousers or coats often expressed region of origin and social background. The regulations for this were tight - in the Middle Ages, peasants were not allowed to wear colours. Craftsmen of certain guilds in Austria would wear a particular kind of clothing, and so did students, merchants, wealthy farmers. Imported cloth was usually limited to nobility and church. For example, farmers were allowed to wear laces only in 1730.
In the 18th century, legal constraints in apparel design were gradually abolished. At this time, traditional patterns, techniques to dye fabrics and other means to produce new materials in "basic fashion design" became both more sophisticated and accessible to lower classes. Valleys and villages developed their own styles in enormous diversity. The word "Tracht" is derived from "tragen" (meaning "to wear") - so it was the clothing people would wear even in daily matters.
In the early 19th century, the Age of Romanticism sparked a new interest of the nobility in folk culture. Tracht or traditional clothing suddenly became fashionable. Archduke Johann of Styria advised his tailors to include traditional styles in his coats and jackets. Once again it was hunters who learned to appreciate the rustic designs of Tracht. Johann′s nephew, Emperor Franz Joseph I, was a great hunter - and an aficionado of lederhosen and loden jacket. He loved to spend his summers in Bad Ischl, still a centre of Tracht manufacturing.
Continue with: "Tracht - Part II"
back to "background"
Heimatwerk Austria (preserves folk culture)
Ministery for Education, Culture and Science (includes folk culture)