It’s been something of a Mitteleuropean week for me, complete with traditional dress. After three weeks at base in London (save for a two-day jaunt to Tokyo), I hit the road last Saturday, destination: Oktoberfest, Munich. While Munich is a city that pops up frequently on itineraries, I’ve always missed the celebrations as Bavarian clients usually avoid taking meetings at this time of year.
When I touched down that afternoon, I wasn’t sure what I was in for other than that I was expected to don full Tracht (traditional dress) for a dinner that my friend Ian was hosting for a group of Austrians, Germans and Californians. Thankfully, Ian’s team had sorted out all the details, from transport to Lederhosen, so by the time I arrived at the hotel there was already a bag of handsome garments waiting for me in my room.
During the drive into town, I spotted a couple of men who had elevated dressing for this occasion to a fine art, so I made a few mental notes about some of the finer details of making the ancient look a bit more modern. I pulled on the Lederhosen, tried on the socks and fiddled with the hat, and quickly decided that I’d have to take things up a notch.
Fortunately, just across the street was the Lodenfrey department store, and Ian’s colleague Pia was on hand to help pull the whole thing together. I dashed up to the store’s third floor expecting to find a rather traditional set-up but was greeted by sales assistants all doing their very own spin on Tracht and all looking like they had just come from a casting call for an upcoming Tyrol-inspired Prada show.
On one side of the room a young gentleman in heavily worn (read: shiny) deerskin Lederhosen, navy check shirt, intricately patterned socks and smart ankle boots was helping a group of Frenchmen find the right jackets. Another sales assistant, with perfectly slicked-back hair, was in shorter shorts, a blue check shirt, shorter chunky socks, a lighter desert boot and an elegant, very tight vest.
“Don’t all of these guys look great,” said Pia, as she gave instructions to another gentleman helping us. “No, he doesn’t want those shoes, too matchy-matchy.”
As I tried on a second pair of Lederhosen in the softest deerskin, a less matchy-matchy pair of side-lacing shoes was placed on the floor and various vests and jackets were presented for trying.
Thirty minutes later, Pia was satisfied with all that I’d assembled and we made our way to pay. As a couple of sales girls set about wrapping all my purchases, and another fitted a little flourish of very expensive mountain goat beard to my hat, we commented on the resurgence of the Dirndl dress and felt-hat business. As this was the tail end of Oktoberfest and the city was now bracing itself for the arrival of tens of thousands of property types for the big real estate conference, it was remarkable to see how many people were still stocking up on boiled-wool jackets, sturdy shoes and fancy socks.
If you were a maker of fancy socks in Austria, you could probably take the rest of the winter off, I suggested to Pia. “Indeed, and none of this comes cheap either as it’s all made either here or in Austria,” she said.
Truer words were never spoken as the sales assistant handed me the tally for all my purchases and my eyes went wide – particularly as it was for a lovely collection of garments I’d probably wear once every five years.
Back at the hotel I spent a solid hour working out various options. Socks up or down? Or maybe no socks and Tyrolean knee-warmers instead? Was the hat too much for a warm October evening, or did it make a statement? Should I have bought a blazer instead of a vest? Could I have gone a size smaller on the Lederhosen and perhaps a wee bit shorter?
In the lobby, Pia gave me a wink of approval and I returned the gesture as she looked splendid in a black Dirndl and perfect shoes. Around the lobby everyone looked elegant and sharp in their various outfits. As I ran across the road to a cash machine, I was delighted to see that almost everyone on the streets was in proper attire.
As we piled into our cars and headed to the Käfer complex (this is the special Oktoberfest offshoot of Munich’s famous restaurant and gourmet shop), the discussion centred around the positive attributes of having a national costume. Japan popped into the conversation and we all agreed there was something charming about seeing young men and women in kimono and yukata. “The best thing about this form of dress is that everyone looks good in it,” said Pia. “There’s a lovely dignity, and now it’s become more popular than ever.”
As we walked towards Käfer’s wooden structure, exquisite German engineering was in evidence everywhere. Dirndls designed to give every woman a perfect bust; leather shorts to show off calf muscles, hide tummies and give every gentleman a perfect bum. Well, almost everyone.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at www.ft.com/brule