A Guide on What to Wear to Oktoberfest
To dirndl or not to dirndl? Learn how to dress for the world's biggest beer festival!
Oktoberfest is high on the must-have experience list for people all across the world. It's basically a beer festival stuck in an amusement park, who wouldn't want to go?
However, planning for the event can be intimidating. It's a fun, world-renowned festival, but it's also a part of German history with roots stretching back to the 1800s. To honor this, they wear traditional outfits, but for those who aren't from Germany it can be hard to understand what you should bring.
To help, I've made this guide on what to wear!
One of the biggest questions I hear is whether or not you HAVE to dress for the event. The short answer is no, you don't, but you should.
I would say that 85% or more of the people I saw were in some way dressed up. Of those people, 70% or more were full dressed in traditional clothing. Keep in mind that I was there during a weekend with an influx of foreigners, so these numbers could be even higher during a normal weekend.
So, what should you wear?
A dirndl is one of the most flattering dresses a woman can wear.
The traditional outfit for women is a dirndl. It is comprised of a tight dress, a blouse underneath, and an apron on top.
Traditionally dirndl was worn as work clothes, plain and largely unadorned. It's popularity waned and waxed over the years, eventually gaining more notice as a cultural symbol. It's important to note that dirndl is not only a cultural dress in Germany, as it was also worn in surrounding countries, particularly in Austria where it is still considered part of their cultural heritage. We know it best for its German heritage because the design of dirndl became most popular when infused with Bavarian influences.
The dress is usually cut one of three ways, above the knee (mini), below the knee (middle), and to the ankle (long). Below the knee is most traditional for the summer months and is what most native Bavarian girls will choose to wear. Above the knee will likely mark you as a tourist, but is still accepted. To the ankle is generally only worn by older women or some fairground workers.
The blouse can vary greatly as well, with all sorts of sleeve lengths, types of cloth, and length on the neck. Many are cut very low, to show off the female assets. Some not quite as low, and others are high necked. The two lower styles are most often chosen by younger women, but the high neck trend seemed to be making a comeback with all ages in the fairgrounds recently.
Aprons are meant to match the dress, but not by being the same color as your dress itself. Be sure to choose colors that compliment each other.
Your apron can be more important than you'd realize. It is a symbol of your relationship status. Tying it on the left means I'm single sometimes with the pretext, come flirt with me. Tying it on the right means I'm taken or, for some ladies who don't want to be bothered, leave me alone. Tying it in the middle traditionally (debatable) means I'm a virgin, but with women realizing whose business is that anyways? it has recently taken on the meaning of mind your own damn business. Tying it in the back means that you're a child, a widow, or someone working.
At most stores they'll have accessories for you to match to your outfit, as well as hats and socks and sometimes even shoes. Hats aren't as common for women as they are for men, but are still seen. Many women will grab a few ribbons because they are cheap and can lace up the front of your bodice. Necklaces with an edelweiss pattern or symbol are also popular, as are pins with attached flowers to be nestled in your hair.
Purses are important because backpacks are not allowed. There are lots of cheap options for purses around Oktoberfest time, but as long as you go with a small, over the shoulder purse in a neutral color, you're golden Ponyboy.
This is a you do you situation. One thing specific to the dirndl style that I bought is an underskirt. The lady who helped me said that underskirts are a great way to give your skirt a little volume and cutely lengthen the dress (a blessing for those tall people like me out there).
Tip! - I would really recommend buying a dirndl bra, which only some stores sell (I got mine at a department store), because it will give you the push up that Victoria could only dream of.
Everything else under there is all up to you. I wore basketball spandex underneath because my dress was a bit short, but some girls preferred tights.
Shoes can be tricky, but most women will wear a simple black shoe. Heels are impractical and will make you stand out in a bad way (mostly because you won't stop falling due to beer spills and overcrowded tents), and sneakers are considered a fashion faux-pas. Ballerina flats or leather shoes are popular. Laces, buckles, or a Bavarian design will help. My choice of shoe wasn't perfect, but was acceptable to the look as a whole - a pair of black ankle boots with laces in the front.
The only real big no-no is no open toed shoes or flip flops. It's a beer festival, there will be glass, and you will be stepped on, a lot.
The most common way you'll see hair worn is either down or incorporating some type of braid. Braids are big in Germany. Braided pigtails are very common to see (my choice), especially with a bit of ribbon matching your dress. Braids that collect in a bun or a crown are popular, so are single fishtails that lay on your shoulder in an Elsa-like fashion - you get the picture. Braids = better.
There's no guidelines on makeup for the event, so you can do with or without, but I found that a nice lip color pulled my outfit together nicely.
But then again whatever lipstick you wear will get smudged with the amount of beer you'll be drinking, and everyone will likely be too drunk to notice your lipstick by the end of the night... so who cares!
Jackets are hard because it covers up the gorgeous dress you just bought. I know it can get cold, but the beer will warm you up, plus the tents can get cozy.
So I recommend not getting one, but if that isn't an option for you, you'll likely have to go to a dirndl shop and get something. Most people opt for a cardigan, but you could probably get away with a longer or thicker coat as long as its a base color or has some sort of Bavarian flair.
There are also traditional jackets called trachtenjacke, they are a bit expensive but are well made and long lasting.
The traditional outfit for men is lederhosen, although recently lederhosen for women has started to become a bit more popular.
Traditionally, men wore lederhosen for manual labor and other such work because they were sturdy and long-lasting. Nowadays, men will still wear their lederhosen, but usually for cultural events. As with dirndl, it is important to note that lederhosen is not only part of the cultural heritage of Germany, but also of Austria and other counties in surrounding countries.
Lederhosen are leather shorts that vary in length, but are most commonly seen just above or just below the knee. Traditionally deer skin was used for the leather, but nowadays that is a more expensive option so people usually opt for goat or something akin. The leather usually has Bavarian-style patterns embroidered as well, typically near the pockets.
The shirt is more up to you, but typically a striped or checked button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up is what men go for. However, a white button down shirt can work just as well.
Suspenders or Vests
These complete the classic lederhosen look and are often thought to already be apart of the lederhosen shorts themselves. No, they are detachable and can either be sold separately or together, depending on where you buy them. The suspenders form an H across your chest and are usually embroidered, but again it will depend on where you buy them.
Vests are the other option if you don't want to wear suspenders. Most are highly decorated and are paired with a belt.
A Note - Lederhosen can be harder to fit than dirndl because the leather will be very stiff on first wear, so it's important that you have someone who knows what they're doing help you pick it out. They'll know all the tips and tricks. Like for instance, sometimes cheap lederhosen won't have adjustable straps so if you're taller or shorter than average, you could have an issue.
The socks are surprisingly important to the look as a whole. They're nearly always white, and can either be slouchy or pulled up, but either way you should buy long socks and adjust how you want them to look later. Socks with designs at the top or stripes are also popular.
Rule one, do not wear sandals. Rule two, do not wear flashy sneakers.
If you have nothing else, a dark brown or black muted sneaker can maybe pass, but is certainly not optimal. Leather shoes would be better. Even better than that would be to choose a hiking boot or other timberland shoe.
Traditionally the Oktoberfest shoes are called "half shoes," because they look like a cross between a dress shoe and a hiking boot. You can get these too, but generally when people travel they don't like to buy shoes because they take up the most room in a suitcase, so being prepared before hand is the best idea.
(Above, the drunk man perfectly shows an example of the "half shoe.")
Hats are a big thing for men at Oktoberfest. Native Germans wear Alpine hats, which give a Sound of Music vibe. Many of these will be feathered.
Tourists will usually pick up a big floppy hat in the shape of a beer stein, or something that looks vaguely like the sorting hat from Harry Potter, but with beer stains on it.
Hat pins are popular accessories, as well as chains with dangling charms that hang from your lederhosen. Some opt for buckles or pocket squares, but my favorite accessories are the gingerbread hearts (Lebkuchenherz) you can buy at the festival and wear around your neck... or give to a special someone!
This option is the same for the women as well as for the men. Jackets look the best but are a bit expensive, cardigans are another choice but don't look as nice. I've never been a fan of a man in a cardigan myself, but that's personal preference.
It would be best to go without if you can. Or if you need a little something, opt for a vest.
Where to Buy Everything
You can buy your festival wear online, at a department store, or at a store specific to traditional Bavarian clothing. I chose a store specific to dirndls that was on the lower end of the price range. The reason why I recommend such a store is that the ladies who work there are VERY knowledgable and will help you with everything AND give their honest opinion about how you look (very important since they know what is acceptable and what is not).
A Note - Dirndls can be expensive. It will depend on where you buy them and the quality, and you can even rent them, but no matter what it will put a dent in your pocketbook. If you're worried about having money to spend at the festival, that's fair, but also keep in mind that men will likely buy you a round or two (if you're ok with that of course).
For instance, being a tall, athletic woman, I had some trouble finding a dress to fit me. My friend who is reasonably tall but very slender had many more options than me (I'm not bitter... anymore). I asked for help and one of the ladies immediately found me a few options to try. Keep in mind that not every dress in your size will fit you because they're cut differently in the chest and waist. I am small chested and could not fit in some dresses because of that. The dress is also meant to fit VERY tightly, so if you are between sizes it is recommended to size down.
Eventually, I was able to find a dress that I thought looked very flattering and the lady even helped me find an apron and blouse she thought would match well. By the end she told me, usually I don't recommend dirndl above the knee but you are tall and that dress would cut to the knee on anyone else. So, that is your option.
Warning! - Girls, if you buy a slutty Halloween costume version of a dirndl you will stand out in a bad way. It can actually be insulting to the native Germans.
For lederhosen, it is just as important to not buy a cheap costume-esque version because it WILL NOT fit you right. Lederhosen is a very specific leather material that you'll probably need help sizing and as I said above, needs to be able to be altered to fit your height.
What If You Don't Want to Wear Traditional Outfits?
You don't have to wear them, and you won't be alone. However, since you'll be the minority and the festival itself holds a piece of Germany's culture, you should still try to dress as respectfully as possible.
For men, a checkered button down shirt would be the number one choice, a white button down would be second. Pair that with some jeans and a pair of hiking boots and you can probably pass.
For women, same criteria as the men above. A checkered or white button down shirt with jeans and hiking boots. I wouldn't recommend a dress because nothing can really compete with a dirndl dress and you'll look even more out of place. Wearing your hair in braids would also be a nice touch.
By the end of the night, everyone will be too drunk to care what you're wearing anyways, so do what feels right and yell out a hearty Prost!