Claudia casts a critical eye over my cleavage. Or lack of it. Clearly, I’m wearing the wrong kind of bra. Compared to her décolletage – and that of every woman in town – I’m sadly deficient. But in every other respect, my new outfit meets her approval.
First, a cropped white blouse with puff-sleeves (mine are trimmed in pink) and a low neckline; a pinafore-style dress goes over the top, buttoned up tightly down the front, with a voluminous gathered skirt to below the knee; and over that, an apron that ties around the waist, cinching it in.
Claudia Holl and her assistant, who has a big laugh and is not afraid of using it, jiggle, adjust and tighten our frocks to their satisfaction. Glasses of wine are poured. Sadly, there’s nothing to be done about the lack of bosom. It needs lift and thrust, it is all in structure of the bra and I simply don’t have the right scaffolding in my travel wardrobe.
I have donned a dirndl, and in Austria’s Salzkammergut region, the dirndl is de riguer. The Austrian national dress is for every day, and Claudia is a woman determined to share the joy of wearing the dirndl with others.
In Claudia’s home town of Hallstatt – reckoned by many to be the most beautiful village in Austria, if not the whole of Europe – her new business, Dirndl-to-Go, is giving tourists the chance to dress up like a local for an hour or two or a full day.
Four of us take turns with the dressing rooms in her small shop, finding a dirndl that fits and emerging with a definite spring in our step, unleashing our inner Julie Andrews (or Maria von Trapp). Indeed, this is the part of Austria in which The Sound of Music was made.
We sashay onto the narrow streets of Hallstatt. My friend Beverly and I catch the eye of a grinning male tourist. “It’s okay to laugh,” we say, swishing our big skirts.
He does, but assures us “You look great!” in an American accent. “Have fun!”
And we do. There is something strangely liberating about wearing this dress. It’s undoubtedly very feminine, and there’s a certain youthful joy in playing dress-ups. But it’s also the generosity of spirit that comes with Claudia’s venture. She clearly wants to share her heritage with visitors, and this is a great way of doing it.
Dirndl-to-Go is so far only for women. The lederhosen – short leather trousers with braces – worn by Austrian men is not yet available for male visitors. Perhaps it has to do with ease of manufacturing; ordering custom-made traditional lederhosen (such as that worn by Archduke Johann, who made them fashionable in the 18th century) means waiting around seven years, and the cost is 5500 Euros. To hire Claudia’s dirndls costs a mere 22 Euros an hour or 35 Euros for half a day.
Over a few days in Salzkammergut, we see traditional dress often. In the streets of Bad Ischl on market day, couples do their shopping in outfits just the same as we have worn for our Hallstat outing. All that changes is the colours of the flouncy frocks. The dirndl is worn by everyone from young mothers pushing prams to elderly women with walking sticks, waitresses and shopkeepers. The women seem to embrace their national dress more easily than the men, with mostly older men spotted in lederhosen.
We change back into our own clothes reluctantly. But thankfully none of our party are carried away by the fun enough to buy a dirndl to take home. We know where it belongs, and that is on the streets of Austria, not Australia!
A Glass Half Full travelled to Hallstatt as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Board.