Summer Postcards 2014

Living Tradition

SALZBURG, Germany—Beneath a plain white blouse with a set of puffy sleeves, a tightly woven corset highlights the Austrian's sinuous bodyline. The corset’s intricate hand-printed and silk fabrics come together to form unique floral patterns. A full skirt flares out from the hip down, creating an A-line shape. A showy apron—its powerful color popping out against the rest of the ensemble—tied around the waist completes the elaborate outfit.

This is a dirndl, a type of traditional dress found in Bavaria, Switzerland and Austria.

Since dirndl is the go-to outfit for waitresses in beer gardens, I wasn't surprised at first when I saw people donning the dresses in Salzburg. Salzburg, the birthplace of W. A. Mozart and the setting of the musical play and film "The Sound of Music," is a popular destination for tourists.

So I thought of it like Kyoto or Lima. There, you will find people in kimonos and Quechua dresses—traditional outfits in those cities—offering five-cent photos, all in an attempt to show off feigned authenticity.

But in Salzburg, people don’t wear dirndls as a front. They go about their days in the dresses—shopping for groceries, glancing at their iPhones, ordering brezel, and strolling along the river. Similarly, men proudly wear their traditional outfits everywhere: lederhosen, or breeches made of leather. Salzburgers aren't presenting tradition—they’re living it, seamlessly interweaving the past and the present.


The idea of wearing traditional clothing isn't completely foreign to me. Growing up in Korea, I myself wore hanbok countless times. As a child, I liked wearing it. The colorful silk puffy dress seemed to go on forever, and I would always turn very fast to make the skirt swirl. But I only wore hanbok for holidays, such as the Korean New Year—never casually. The garment seemed outdated, awkward. I always felt people staring at me. Even my grandmother, who is very much in tune with the Korean tradition, would only wear hanbok on special occasions. Whenever we Skype, she asks me what color I would like her hanbok to be for my graduation or—heaven forbid—my wedding.

So seeing people in Salzburg wearing dirndls strikes a chord with me. Is traditional clothing so ingrained in the society there that a dirndl is simply another outfit to put on, not so different from a nice dress? Or is there a deeper meaning to it—an attempt to remember tradition in a present that seems to move too fast? Even the historic town of Salzburg is subject to modernity, with its flashy modern art museum shadowing some of the older buildings.

I will never know, but I hope the fashion continues. 

Adela H. Kim’16, a Crimson arts editor, is a history of art and architecture concentrator in Lowell House.