(Credit: Das verwendete Bildmaterial wurde mit freundlicher Genehmigung durch Karl Berger © Tiroler Landesmuseen/Volkskunstmuseum Innsbruck, dem Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten St. Leonhard im Pitztal und dem Umsetzungsteam der Microausstellung, Ricarda Hofer, Magdalena Beirer und Katharina Sigg, zur Veröffentlichung freigegeben.)


“We do not act as authorities who believe they know what a real traditional costume looks like and how to wear it properly. We question the ideas of originality. We also analyse the necessities for them.”

Timo Heimerdinger


“It is the tension between the possibility and impossibility of thinking about traditional costumes beyond their instrumentalisation which our research project Tiroler Trachtenpraxis im 20. und 21. Jahrhundert (Tyrolean traditional costumes in the 20th and 21st centuries) deals with.”

Reinhard Bodner,Timo Heimerdinger

Trachtenpraxis: Lechtaler Trachten

Tyrolean traditional costumes practice in the 20th and 21st centuries

This interdisciplinary research project has the goal of dealing historically and in a contemporary way with traditional costumes in today's European region Tyrol (North and East Tyrol, South Tyrol and Trentino) and of demonstrating the development of Tyrolean traditional costume practice since the end of the 19th century until today. From 1939 to 1945, under the lead of Gertrud Pesendorfer, various "traditional costume folders" were compiled at the Tyrolean Folk Art Museum. On one hand, they were to be documented and renewed in all districts of the German Reich as "traditional costumes" in the context of the Nazi ideology (Pesendorfer never finished her task). And on the other hand, Pesendorfer continued her efforts from the interwar period to design specific costumes for each Tyrolean valley.

Traditional Costumes around the epochal threshold of 1900

19th Century

Before the 19th century, everything that had to do with wearing of clothing in general was often summarised under the term "traditional costume". Connection the phrase "traditional costume" with a specific garment only became fashionable with the term "folk costume" around 1800 – indicating the colourful festive costumes of the rural population. These festive costumes had already mostly lost their former status in the 19th century.

20th Century

Before the 19th century, a traditional costume had indicated differences in class. In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, wearing traditional costumes was popularised to the entire population. Mainly the bourgeoisie supported this movement: in the cities, traditional costume associations and so-called "traditional associations" were founded, which wanted to preserve the traditional costume. They put on traditional costumes for patriotic festivities or in front of tourists. Rural societies for traditional costumes, e.g. in Brixental and in Val Gardena, propagated this practice in the countryside.


These associations often equated "traditional costumes" only with the festive costumes, which were worn on special occasions, e.g. religious processions, and thus received a special status. Sunday and working day-costumes were out of sight. Above all, the 100-year anniversary of the “Tyrolean freedom struggles” in 1909 made the traditional costume the uniform of traditional associations (marksmen's  companies, music bands). The attribution "traditional costume as holiday clothing of the peasant  population" disappeared from the common awareness.

“In 19th century Tyrol, the wearing of traditional costumes lost its everyday implicitness. The historical traditional costumes were discarded and taken to the museum. […].“ (Timo Heimerdinger)

“At the end of the 19th century, tourists on summer retreats or alpinists brought the traditional costumse back to rural regions, where the traditional costumes had not been worn as everyday life´s clothing for a long time.“ (Reinhard Bodner)

The locals reacted to this longing for a "genuine folk culture" and found economic success: "Tracht" (traditional costume) became an expression of a self-folklorization in gastronomy and so-called “Tyrolean evenings” and opened up a large financial market.

A textile quest for a "Germanity ": The "Mittelstelle Deutsche Tracht" (German Costume Centre)

Especially in the interwar period in the 1920s and early 1930s, the National Socialists appropriated "traditional costumes" in the sense of a "German folk culture". The "Mittelstelle Deutsche Tracht" (1939-1945), under the lead of Gertrud Pesendorfer (1895-1945), helped to "revive or rather redesign" traditional costumes in accordance with the political context of the time. With her ideas of a "correct" handling and a skilled production of the different styles of a "German" traditional costume, Pesendorfer worked towards the two goals of the "Mittelstelle Deutsche Tracht":

  1. The coordination the various traditional costume activities of the party organisations such as the Hitler Youth (HJ), the League of German Girls (BDM) and the Reichsnährstand (Organization to regulate food production).
  2. The documentation of traditional costumes in as many areas of the German Reich as possible and in “border and foreign German areas”, and, according to Pesendorfer’s interpretation, to renew as well.

Historical costumes were often perceived as uncomfortable, not very contemporary, and unhygienic. On the other hand, lighter, simpler and more wearable garments were to be created (renewal of traditional costumes). Historical patterns and the historical "Dirndl dress" served as models for this. However, the renewal of traditional costumes distanced itself from the dirndl fashion that had emerged in the 1930s: "traditional costume" and "fashion" were thought of opposites.

The renewal proposals were systematically developed for the entire German-speaking region. Under the assumption that there were closed traditional costume areas or valleys, the team around Pesendorfer created individual traditional costume folders. These folders ought to represent the respective "typical local" traditional costumes, their components and patterns. Thus, both on paper – inspired by Pesendorfer's handicraft courses – and in the common awareness, about 20 "traditional costume landscapes" were created in today's Tyrol and South Tyrol.

Most of these drafts also went into print. They appeared in two books by Pesendorfers from 1938 ("Neue Deutsche Bauerntrachten: Tirol") and from 1966/1982 ("Lebendige Tracht in Tirol"). Some examples of Pesendorfer's designs can be found here on our exhibition wall.

Portfolios of Gertrud Pesendorfer

Together with draughtswomen , painters, photographers, librarians, tailors, clerks and secretaries (women only!), Pesendorfer developed a series of traditional costume folders which were to contain "drafts of simplified and unified traditional costumes for every larger (South) Tyrolean valley [...]"(Bodner & Heimerdinger). In this way Pesendorfer tried to make it clear that the traditional costume was to be regarded as something that was not only to be remembered as a frozen construct, but rather as an adaptable form of expression.

The success of the Pesendorfer concept was probably to a large extent due to the cutting patterns which were easy to copy. For example, by removing uncomfortable parts from the corsage and by connecting the corsage with the skirt, these new cuts offered the same wearing comfort as the fashionable Dirndl. In addition to integrating pictorial materials, sewing instructions and patterns, she also developed practical steps for research, training, "contemporary renewal" and "enlightenment".

The ideologically coloured view, under which Pesendorfer worked (and for which she was never prosecuted!), lives on in her works and, from today's perspective, should be thematised and taken into account when examining these materials.

To this day, the image of the "traditional costume" in Tyrol is characterised by the work of Gertrud Pesendorfer. Her role in traditional costume research and the activities of the "Mittelstelle Deutsche Tracht", which was never officially dissolved, is documented in the monograph, which will be published as a result of the project. Bodner describes the goals of the research team: "The aim is to compile a comprehensive inventory of the remaining archival sources on the Mittelstelle and the traditional costume surveys of the Cultural Commission South Tyrol led by Pesendorfer. [...] Last but not least, Pesendorfer's impact after 1945 and its often uncritical reception up to the recent past is now put in perspective.

And today? What does "traditional costume practice" mean to you?

“Today the question of suitable materials and fabrics for traditional costumes in terms of aesthetics, durability, haptics and workability is still a permanent theme and motif that permeates various fields and sceneries [not only, but also] of our [...] research“. (Timo Heimerdinger)

Is there a little trachtig or trachtlerisch on you ?

Nowadays there are many opinions about what does or does not belong to a "traditional costume", as well as in which contexts are they to be worn and by whom. And: who determines this boundary/these boundaryies?

The imaginary boundary between "trachtig" (traditional costume as fashion, e.g. the Dirndl) and "trachtlerisch" (traditional costume as traditional clothing and also as a uniform for Schuhplattlers, music bands etc.) is blurred at festivals such as the Munich Oktoberfest or Almabtrieben of Tyrol (ceremonial driving down of cattle from the mountain pastures into the valley in autumn). In addition to the "Dirndl off-the-peg" also high-quality, uniform traditional costumes are shown at marches of various traditional clubs. Even at events like the annual balls of music band, marksmen's  company associations, rural youth association or Schuhplattler association the Dirndl, the traditional costume, the Lederhosen, and the Walkjanker (a special woollen cardigan) mix together.

The motives for wearing traditional costumes, dirndls or Lederhosen are as varied as their manifestations: The interaction between traditional and fashionable ideas and the associated affiliations, related to the fabric of the traditional costume, are as colourful as some dirndls. One of the project's aims is to take this diversity seriously.

Research project

Tiroler Trachtenpraxis im 20. und 21. Jahrhundert


Timo Heimerdinger, Institute of History and European Ethnology (Faculty of Philosophy and History), Herlinde Menardi, Karl C. Berger, Tyrolean Folk Art Museum, Reinhard Bodner, both institutions

Pictures: © Tiroler Landesmuseen / Tyrolean Folk Art Museum Innsbruck

This micro exhibition is part of the 350th anniversary of the University of Innsbruck.


Ricarda Hofer Institute of History and European Ethnology (Faculty of Philosophy and History)
Magdalena Beirer, Katharina Sigg, Institute of Design (Faculty of Architecture)

Project members

Julian Ascher


(Credit: Magdalena Beirer)


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