The term “Tracht” is much more complex than advertised by the clothing industry.
Nowadays, the term “Tracht” is often used to depict a very specific kind of clothing. It becomes clear easily that this use of the word is problematic when you think of the fact that not only in the Bavarian Oberland a certain type of regional clothing was used for work as well as for holidays. Until the mid-18th century, the word was still used corresponding to its word stem “tragen”, to wear. It not only comprised the clothes but everything the whole appearance of a person, including hair or demeanour. The transformation of the word towards its contemporary meaning began in the 19th century when romantics brought the concept of folk costumes. In this context, the popular assumption of the existence of an original, authentic, unchanged peasant attire emerged.
Before that, traditional costumes used to indicate not only the regional but also the social origin of their wearers. The fact that people would get the clothing they could wear all their lives was rather a matter of financial possibilities of the simple people than a patriotic expression. They had to wait for industrialization and the social revolution at the beginning of the 19th century to take down class barriers and give them the financial means to afford contemporary fashion.
Fueled by the search for cultural identity for the new kingdom of Bavaria, which was supposed to be found in the farming community, the pair of opposites with traditional, unchangeable clothing on the one side and contemporary fashion on the other was created. During those eventful times, many artists, bourgeoises and nobles were gripped by a romanticized desire to find and preserve or even create patriotic national costumes. Especially prince regent Luitpold (1821-1912) loved to display his patriotism, and he is close to the people by wearing Lederhosen and alpine jackets (Janker).
In general, there are three groups of traditional clothing which are common in Bavaria: historical costumes, which are often preserved by associations. Tracht fashion (“Trachtenmode”), which is very similar to historic Tracht and only varies in details, like it’s commonly worn in South Bavaria, but not in associations. The third variety of Tracht is another subspecies of Trachtenmode, which loosely references historic Tracht.
In all three groups, Tracht is most often used to reference upper Bavarian alpine costumes, “oberbayerische Gebirgstracht”. After loden suits became popular at the Bavaria court in the late 19th century and subsequently made their way to the bourgeoisie, Lederhosen became less and less visible on the streets. This motivated the teacher Joseph Vogel from Bayrischzell to found the first association for the preservation of traditional clothing, the first “Trachtenverein“, in 1883.
Already in 1859, another foundation was founded in Miesbach, which was at first mainly a schuhplattler group but later transformed into one of the first trachenvereins. At this time, the Miesbach Tracht was created, which became so popular that it became common all over South Bavaria and motivated the foundation of many other associations. The creation and dissemination of this new tracht lead to the disappearance of local traditional costumes in many places. However, there are also cases in which the organized tracht movement led to the rediscovery of local tracht and culture.
The type of clothing, which is sold in tracht outlets specifically for Oktoberfest, is of course only vaguely referencing actual tracht. Wearing “Oktoberfest tracht” became extremely popular during the 2000s.