When many of us think of Bavaria images of Oktoberfest spring to mind, dirndl clad ladies serving steins of beer and oompah bands set the tone for the stereotypical perception of traditional Alpine culture. But beyond the tourist track, a tradition of craftsmanship and quality permeates the region. Those who are willing to dig a little deeper will discover a vibrant culture where old world quality meets a more modern aesthetic. This combination of contemporary style and tradition is exemplified by Bavarian clothing.
The beloved wool fabrics of Bavarian clothing, like loden, were developed centuries ago with one purpose: to keep the alpine herdsmen warm and dry through winter. The sheared fibers from their sheep were loosely woven and then rigorously worked in an extensive wet-finishing process resulting in a dense, durable and impermeable fabric. This traditional technique, called walken in German (pronounced ‘valken’), connects contemporary Bavarian fashion trends to an era when necessity determined ones wardrobe.
Bavarian wool fabrics can loosely be categorized by whether the fabric was knit or woven, before undergoing the walkenprocess. Finished woven fabrics are called lodenwhere as knit fabrics are simply called walk (pronounced ‘valk’)coming from walken. Loden is a bit tougher and used more for coats. A traditional walk jacke or jankerwould be considered a boiled wool sweater or cardigan in English lexicon. In the Bavarian and more broadly Alpine region, every type of garment had a specific occasion it would be worn for, whether hard work in the forest, guiding the herd down the mountain or attending a Hochzeit,(wedding).
Probably the most recognizable jacket in this style is the Styrian jacket, which many Americans won't know by name, but would surely recognize. This classic look for men was originally worn by peasants in the Austrian province of Styria and was popularized by the Archduke Johann in the early 19th century. The clean and classic jacket was also worn by Christopher Plummer in his role as Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music. The Styrian jacket has seen a resurgence of popularity across Europe in the last several years, being paired with everything from formal wear to denim.
Traditionally, traditional clothing of the Alpine region follows strict mores dictated by the dress code of the local community. Each principality or province typically had or has its own distinct style. Differentiation points could be the stitching on the collar, the type of buttons, trim or fabric, (among many). Because of the need for so many different styles for each community, production of traditional clothing has to be done in small quantities.
This has kept the production largely local, since outsourcing production to far away factories for such small quantities is not practical. This has kept traditional craftsmanship alive in an era where these skills are disappearing around the world, being replaced by large industry.
In contrast to the strictly traditional clothing, there is another genre of Alpine fashion not beholden to local sartorial mores. Commonly referred to as ‘trachten mode’, it includes all types of Bavarian clothing like dirndl and lederhosen as well as outerwear.
A couple examples of this trend are the Robert W. Stolz Edelmann janker(German for short jacket) and the Steiner 1888 double Meriono wool top coat pictured below. Compared with the traditional Braumeister janker, with its horn buttons and green trim, the Edelmann janker, has a blue collar and metal buttons. In trachten fashion metal buttons are reserved for formal attire, and since a jankeris traditionally worn over short lederhosen, you would never find a janker with metal buttons, let alone a blue collar or worn with jeans, as is trendy today.
The Robert W. Stolz Edelmann Jacket
The Manfred topcoat, pictured below is made with an exquisitely soft Merino wool double, which means two fabrics are actually sewn together to make an especially warm coat. However the cut of the coat is a bit of a mix between contemporary and traditional, the type of edgy style gaining ground today.
The Loden Steiner & Robert W. Stolz Loden Topcoat Manfred
Here in lies the vision of Robert W. Stolz, to preserve the essence of the Alpine fashion by using an exquisite Loden fabric from the Loden Steiner Mill, but offering a new, refreshing interpretation.
It is worth mentioning that as Bavarian clothing has recently become very popular with price sensitive young people across the German-speaking realm, some labels have started producing ‘trachten mode’, in Asia and other cheap labor regions to make it affordable.
While affordability is great, it is worth considering the well being of workers in such countries. Moreover, for anyone who wants the true quality benefits of authentic trachten clothing, look for brands that still produce in Europe, like Robert W. Stolz or Steinbock. If a brand doesn’t say where the garments are produced, take care; the quality might not be what you’re looking for.
Taking a look at the outerwear available today, it would be easy to assume that synthetic fabrics and sprayed on coatings are needed to provide adequate protection from the elements. Yet, many of us prefer to reduce the use of noxious chemicals in the manufacture of garments for health and environmental reasons. Fortunately, nature provides alternatives.
Wool fibers are not only more environmentally friendly in production, but also odor absorbing, dirt repelling, fire resistant and gentler on the body of the wearer. However, not all natural garments cut it when it comes to heavy rain and snow. This is where Bavarian boiled wool jackets really shine. The method of making these fabrics has been perfected over centuries of practice in the harsh climate of the Alps.
Loden wool wear is both a high performance and luxury fabric. The density of the weave provides protection comparable to any synthetic blend, while maintaining the elegance of a high quality wool garment.
The traveler wearing a Bavarian jacket is knowledgeable of clothing culture beyond what's trendy. They value quality and know how to invest in the best the world has to offer. It is this kind of customer who enjoys mixing the trachten tradition into the modern wardrobe. Someone who appreciates the traditional technique of the craftsman will surely treasure these garments as uniquely rooted to history and heritage.
Bavarian outerwear is not the kind of garment to buy for one season of wear. The variety of styles produced, from the traditional Styrian jackets, trachten janker, schladminger mantel, loden cape, loden overcoat or contemporary styles, are all intended to be timeless. These pieces will have a place of honor in your wardrobe for decades to come.
When cared for properly, trachten clothing can easily become an heirloom, passed down to the next generation. It is this feature above all others that makes authentic boiled wool garments worth the investment. An authentic Loden wool garment, while less stereotypical the kitsch costumes so many associate with the region, is a true part of Bavaria.