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The exciting history of lederhosen

Oktoberfest without lederhosen: hardly imaginable. But how come they found their way to the Bavarian folk festival?

It’s hardly imaginable that a Bavarian fair, a flag blessing ceremony or any other traditional festivity would take place without them – and least of all the Munich Oktoberfest. There is no doubt that lederhosen are considered as real Bavarian cultural assets – even though their origin isn’t technically speaking Bavarian, well, not even German.


In reality, the French culotte, courtly knickerbockers mostly made of velvet or silk, are regarded as the ancestor of lederhosen that are these days described as the traditional folk costume. In the last decades of the 18th century, the peasant population of the Alps area had taken a shine on the fine twine of the gentry. Step by step, the culotte displaced the heavy harem pants and bloomers of the peasants. As the trousers had to resist different pressures in a barn or on the field than at a noble banquet at the court, the ordinary people started to manufacture “their” culottes out of hard-wearing leather. Lederhosen were born!


The way to Oktoberfest was long


There was still a long way to go before the leather trousers became what they are known today: a national costume trend beyond beer tents and music for wind. And, it’s no surprise that lederhosen owe their triumph to a person nicknamed Sepp. Joseph Vogel and his brothers from the regulars’ table decided to protest against the decline of tradition and especially against the appearance of loden trousers across Germany. That’s why they had traditional, short leather dungarees made by a tailor. Six men in lederhosen of course weren’t enough to kick off a fashion revolution. This is when the gentlemen quickly founded the first traditional costume association.


However, when the six founder members entered the church in their racy pantaloons on a Sunday in Bayerischzell, the community treated them with nothing but scorn. The reaction of the church, which considered the short trousers as an offense against morality, was even worse. A scandal! Sepp and his friends were lucky that the then ruling king, Ludwig II., was a big fan of traditional folk costumes and thrilled by their idea. In the next few years, more and more noblemen, townsmen and intellectuals started to wear the former peasant working clothes which triggered a real lederhosen boom. 


The diversity of lederhosen at Oktoberfest


If nothing else, this boom is the reason why we can see an immense diversity of lederhosen at the Munich Wiesn (this is what the locals call the Oktoberfest). There you’ll find almost everything from short to knee-length or ankle-length: decorated and embroidered Bavarian lederhosen, unembellished, tight trousers that are worn while performing the traditional folk dance called Schuhplattler, boot leather trousers with fitting trouser legs and, in the meantime, even multicoloured lederhosen. But there is one thing that’s sure: Even if it seems that these days there are no limits concerning the design of lederhosen, the young chaps and fine figures of men still look the best in genuine deer lederhosen.