As a girl of strong German heritage, and a lover of vintage fashion, an old-fashioned ethnic outfit to celebrate Oktoberfest has long been on my to-make list, and is now – finally – a reality! Here’s my year 1942 dirndl! Each piece is separate for ultimate mix-and-matchability, so can wear each on its own in the future or change up my dirndl in the future. This is something I am so happy with…it tuned out every bit as wonderful as I imagined. Prost!
I was inspired by the traditional late 30’s/40’s “Black Forest Maiden” when making this. The “Black Forest” is a very ancient, forested, mountainous region in southwest Germany. It was already being named in Roman times. The cultural dress and traditions of this region is likewise very old, and the rich dirndl customs associated with it have been around for the last several centuries. Thus, I find it so sad that an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, temporarily became twisted by Hitler, used to suppress and subjugate women nationally in the late 30s and early 40s. As a girl with very German roots I recognize that interpreting this can painful, but this is an outfit made to honor a woman I don’t know with a story I will never forget.
At a WWII reenactment two years ago, I met a wonderful, friendly, and knowledgeable man with a thick German accent. As we chatted, I seemed to bring to mind something for him by wearing my vintage garb, and he proceeded to tell me about his mother. She was 11 or 12 when Hitler started his invasions, and the local Nazi Youth Movement chose her as the town’s “Black Forest Maiden” since she had the “perfect” body, hair and eye color. Terrified and crying, she was forced to lead the town’s parades, forced to wear what they chose, and be the “mascot” with her official photo. When I was shown that woman’s picture from back then, in her beautiful dirndl vest, with her stereotypical ‘Gretchen’ braids, she was so sad through that ‘perfect’ smile – that image is burned in my memory. And you think image crafting and body shaming is hardcore today…! All the advancements that women of central Europe had been fighting for during the 20 years of the Inter-War period (and they were many) were threatened by the Nazi Idea of the model German woman.
I had no idea before hearing his emotional maternal story that a “Black Forest Maiden” was so forced on women and young girls who happened to fit the “faultless” Aryan mold, much like living out a punishment. As if the way we are made is by choice! Instead we have been incessantly fed a need to change one’s own inherent individual beauty for ages. I have read that blond hair dye was extremely popular and encouraged back then for the brunettes, and posters and publications pressured a certain living ideal, too. There is nothing like a first-hand account from those who lived through those times to get the real stories of the past. Luckily, I can choose to wear what I want, and be happy celebrating heritage the way I choose in the fall, but making this dirndl reminds that was not always the case. This is why I did not strictly adhere to the “Black Forest” ideal with my outfit – this is (to me) a freedom-of-expression version for a non-pale skinned, brown hair and dark eyed girl like me of today.
FABRIC: all fabrics are authentic to a vintage dirndl of the times – cotton for the skirt and a ribbed cotton velveteen for the vest, lined in basic broadcloth
NOTIONS: I only wanted to use supplies that were on hand already, and all I absolutely needed to buy was the front zipper!
TIME TO COMPLETE: It took me about 20 hours to complete and was finished on October 13, 2018.
TOTAL COST: As everything I used had been on hand in my stash for at least a few years (yay for whittling down my hoard of fabric), and (knowing me) I probably got it all on a good discounted price anyway, I’m counting this outfit as free!
I had the best surprise as I opened up the dirndl jumper pattern, the kind which don’t come that often (and I believe I have seen and opened up a lot of vintage patterns in my life). This one copy of mine is in top tier condition. It was still factory folded inside, no discoloring, smell, or brittleness and the trailing floral embroidery transfers were miraculously as pristine as the day they were made – never used and still shiny and waxy beaded up on the tissue paper strips. I always see transfer papers either missing, used already, or the ink dry and crumbly. Needless to say I really have no intention of actually using them, but it is neat and rather tempting knowing they are there and fully usable! Perhaps once my commitment to full scale embroidery is more guaranteed in the future, I might make a copy of these transfers and try the design, but I would have to start such a project two seasons ahead at my rate and I have enough going on in my life.
The bodice vest’s novelty velveteen – already thick, sturdy, and lovely to touch – was fully lined and fully interfaced with sew-in muslin so it would end up almost like a corset, or at least a very substantial jacket weight. Lining is always such a nice and easy way for both a professional finish and a clean way to finish all your edges and hide all your seams! It was chilly the day of our town’s Oktoberfest, so my vest kept my entire middle so warm I needed no coat.
As I am a married woman, I have no red trimming (meant for single ladies) and my vest is primarily black. There is a matching color separating front zipper wedged in the middle to close the front of my dirndl vest. Happily it is not very noticeable at all. I really considered a laced up front, but as zippers were the latest and greatest fashion edge in the late 30’s, I wanted this traditional-influenced dirndl to follow suit. Besides, a simple closing accommodated the fancy trim I planned on using.
The braided trim is complex and dramatic, perfect for a dirndl where your haberdashery cannot be too fancy or your details too scrumptious. It is a Simplicity brand roll that I had bought on deep discount years ago. It is something so novelty that I had no clear idea of what to use it on at the time, but as something like this is hard to come by – and normally expensive – I had to have it. I’m glad I did, because it was meant for this dirndl…the 4 feet on the roll was exactly the length needed to go completely around the front and neckline edge. Even an inch less would have not worked. It is a cotton rayon blend of a white satin soutache-style rope braided with multiple strands of twisted black rope which reminds me of what is on decorator’s tassels. As much as I wanted a quick and easy way to attach the trim down, I put up with hand-stitching it down for a precise placement with threads unseen. I am in amazement at how this special trim made my dirndl vest go above par.
My skirt is self-drafted of a 40’s reproduction print. The color is not as green as I would have liked, but neither is it solidly turquoise. Whatever the tone, happily my skirt is very much a copy of the skirt and apron colors worn in the West German movie “The Black Forest Girl”, made in 1950. The story for this movie is based on the operetta “Schwarzwaldmädel” by Leon Jessel, who died in the same year as my dirndl pattern – 1942.
It’s merely your basic gathered skirt, and for a good amount of pouf I brought in just over twice my waist length into a very nice, 1 ½ inch wide, lightly interfaced waistband. In order to use the whole of my fabric with minimal cutting, I hand-stitched down a 12 inch hem to shape some fullness into the skirt, weigh it down, and keep it opaque. There is a true vintage metal zipper in the side for an old-fashioned touch. It should definitely be a great basic wardrobe staple during the spring and summer worn on its own with a tee or blouse apart from this dirndl. I hope to make another skirt like this one, using a completely different print and material, to see how that changes the overall feel of my Germanic outfit.
An apron is a must with a dirndl! I am using a handcrafted fine cotton apron that my mom had ordered from a vintage reproduction company, so it is not of my own making, but the details are just what I would want to pair with my outfit. There is crocheted lace and both pintucks and ½ pleats for more texture and interest to the outfit. The apron I had on for the day is a very wearable new version that reminds me of the apron I would have preferred to wear (but wouldn’t dare out of respect) – my Great-Great Grandmother’s apron handmade apron from circa 1890 (pictured at left). This family history treasure was made on her way over to the United States, and the fine details are mind-blowing. Just studying it is improving my sewing skills by practicing to imitate such tiny, regular feather-stitching on other items.
I do intend on sewing up the dirndl vest’s matching underblouse in a sheer white organdy just like the cover shows, but I ran out of time for this weekend. It will be made soon, anyway, and be ready for next year. Until then, I wore a fine linen blouse already in my wardrobe, one that has lovely floral-and-vine shadow work along the neckline, visible above the sweetheart neckline of my dirndl vest if you look closely. The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother (on my father’s side).
There is heavy German influence on all sides of my family, and around the last turn of the century they had immigrated over (before the First World War, when eight million German-Americans comprised this country’s largest non-English speaking group). This was at a time when being a “Hyphenated American” was paramount to asking for the finger of suspicion to come to you. Yet, during the First World War, when Ellis Island immigration was high, about 20 of all Americans who answered the call to arms were foreign born. Quick assimilation was important to “Hyphenated Americans” for both their safety and because of their likelihood for a successful new start.
Even still, our families have not forgotten our past heritage over the last 100 years. My dad has memories of going to Oktoberfest celebrations as a child in his little Lederhosen, and his Grandfather – who operated his own bakery for many years – always had stollen and coffee on hand to enjoy with him every Sunday after church. My husband’s paternal side had originally settled in a city actually called Germantown, with German still on the tombstones and street signs. Conversely, our relatives did their part for America fighting against the Reich in both wars. The German influence that still surrounds me in the Mid-Western United States where I live is all good stuff – stately, impressive churches, strong homes made to last, delicious and hearty food, creative micro-breweries, beautiful winery vineyards, and happy, down-to-earth, hard-working people. So why did I not make a dirndl earlier than now?!