Lederhosen


Figure 1.-- Lederhosen are most associated with Germany. Boys in many European Scout and other youth groups sometimes wore lederhosen. They are less common in the 1990s, but have not disappeared.

Lederhosen or modern leather short pants appeared first in the German state of Bavaria. I'm not sure when they were first worn. I assume they have originated with knee breeches and gradually become shorter. Thus you would assume they probably originated un the 18th Century. There are two types of lederhosen, short pants and knicker-like pants. Lederhosen were also worn in rural parts of Austria and Switzerland. They are often associated with the local popular folk music. Boy scouts and other youth groups in those countries, like the Hitler Youth, also sometimes wore them too. Boys in the 1920s-40s wore them much as modern boys wear jeans. The lederhosen is generally a folk costume of (mountaineous regions) of Bavaria and Austria. The men and boys wore in general a short lederhosen, usually with a halter in flower or animal design (or another motive) , greyish-green half stockings and a white shirt. Some of them wore a hat with a Gamsbart or a bird feather. The colours ranged from black to white, sometimes beeing more grey and sometimes brown. The costume has become very popular abroard, and not many people believe it is "the" German costume. Today it is only worn on folkloristic events and there a special shops were you can buy the Tracht and associations, which want to save the tracht costume for further generations to come.

Definition

The word "lederhosen" is German for leather trousers, the word is commonly used to indicate a particular type of short trousers coming from Germany or Austria. Lederhosen have a mixture of features, which distinguish them from a pair of leather shorts made elsewhere in the world. These features are a fall front, with either button or zippered fastening, leather braces with a cross bar, legs that have a turn up or cuff on them, lacing on the bottom of the leg, the use of large buttons that are attached with a leather strap, pockets at the front rather than the sides, a single small knife pocket near the bottom of the right leg and the leather used is selected for its durability rather than fashion. A single pair of lederhosen may have most of these features or just a few, there is no precise definition.

Terminology

Below the knee or knicker-length lederhosen are called kniebunde. The short lederhosen are called kurze. As far as I know, the terms in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are the same.

Historical Background

Lederhosen are particularly associated with Alpine area (especially Austria and Bavaria) but also in other parts of Europe. There is a long tradition of wearing leather pants of varying styles dating back into the early Middle Ages. Some historians date leather pants back to the 6th century AD. It was in in the 16th and 17th Centuries in Bavaria and in the Alpine part of Austria that the modern lederhosen as we know it today emerged. One source suggests that the style of lederhosen evolved from French knee breeches (culottes) in the 18th Century. The French of course did not use leather, but a variety of materials, including silk and satin for the rich. It was the more practical Germans who began making long-wearing pants out of leather. The first lederhosen were kniebundlederhosen, knicker like knee breeches commonly worn in the 18th century. Lederhosen is a city in Thüringen. I'm not sure how the city got its name, but perhaps lederhosen were made there. Another factor is the developing interest in folk dress among royal courts in the Rococco period (18th centuty). This gave status to a fol style that may not have survived to the 18th century. We are not sure precisely when short pants lederhosen (kurze lederhosen) were first worn. We see portraits of Austrian royals in short pants Lederhosen in the late 19th century. We see them more after the turn of the Century. It was in the 1920s that large numbers of boys began to wear them. They were most common in Bavaria and neighboring Alpine areas, but boys in several neighboring countries also wore them.


Figure 2.-- Lederhosen were popular with German boys for outings in the country, especially before the appearance of jeans.

Chronology

HBC at this time has only limited chronological information. We have no 19th century images of boys wearing lederhosen, but as we have few 19th century German images this does not mean that boys were not wearing lederhosen in the 19th century, especially the late 19th century. With the popularity of Wandervogl and Scouting in the early 20th century we believe that lederhosen became increasingly popular for boys in the early 20th century. They may have been initially worn by older boys of Wandervogel and Scout age. These youth movement may have helped spread lederhosen beyond Bavaria and Alpine areas. HBC does note images of younger boys wearing lederhosen by the 1910s. Many commercial postcard appear with boys wearing lederhosen, suggesting that they were being worn by boys at this time. Photographs after World War I (1914-18) show that boys in southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland were commonly wearing lederhosen. Immediately after World War II, lederhosen were no longer readiably available in Austria and Germany. There was a clothing shortage as the industrial base of Germany had been destoyed. Leather was in especially short supply, notice the number of boys going barefoot in this period. Conditions did not begin to improve signifianly until 1948. Lederhosen once available continued to be worn, but by the 1960s and even more so in the 70s older boys wanted to wear jeans for casual wear. Lederhosen were widely worn by younger boys and even worn to some extent in France. After the 1980s lederhosen have become less commonly worn, but some Scouts still wear them. They are now not very popular in Europe, but they are still worn in some parts in Germany by some boys--mostly Scouts.

Countries

Lederhosen are most associated with German boys, in part because Germany was the largest country in which they were commonly worn. Lederhosen were not really a German costume. The lederhosen is generally a folk costume of (mountaineous regions) of Bavaria and Austria. HBC is not sure, however, if they were only worn in Tyrol or in other regions as well. They were commonly worn throughout Austria--allbeit by far fewer boys because Austria is such a small country. Lederhosen have also been worn by boys in several other countries as well--especially countries with large ethnic German populations. Ethnicity was clearly a factor in the spread of lederhosen. In Switzerland, for example, German Swiss boys often wore lederhosen, but they were not commonly worn by French Swiss boys. It was not, however just ethnic Germans who wore lederhosen. They were even popular for a time in Germany's main continent--France, but not nearly as popular as in Germany. The only country with a large German population where lederhosen have not commonly been worn is America.


Figure 3.-- Many lederhosen have the suspender front in a variety of different styles. This boy wears the grey-colored Sepplhose.

Types

These leather pants came in many styles and lengths, often with suspenders or even a front design. They came in both a short pants and knickers style. The short pants Lederhosen were probably the best known. They came with varyig designs and lengths. The length varying in large part along the lines of prevailing fashion trends. We also note that knickers-length Lederhosen have become more popular in recent years. There were other other stylistic differences among both short pants and knickers Lederhosen.

Accessories

A variety of accessories are worn with different types of lederhosen. Hosiery can also vary.Lederhosen were normally worn with front suspenders (straps/braces) that cross over in the back, rather like suspender shorts. Lederhosen did not originally come with belt loops. Modern lederhosen, especially those worn by Scouts, however, however, have been made with belt loops. The straps were often elaborately decorated with embroidered designs (ausziehr). There are several styles of suspenders. Norwegerhosenträger braces for lederhosen has instead of a cross-bridge at chest-height, has two usually woven belts before the stomach, flowing together in direction of the flap and are supported at the middle pants-head. Through five instead of four stops, this type of the suspenders is especially for heavy lederhosen ideally and is often used for kniebundlederhosen. Lederhosen were commonly worn with both kneesocks and split socks (loferl). The split stockings consist of a calf band and a foot part. Loferls were particularly common in areas of Upper-Bavaria when wearing short pants lederhosen (kurze lederhosen). The knicker-length lederhosen were always worn with kneesocks. The shorts style was worn with both kneesocks and the cloth band. During the summer boys might also wear them with ankle socks. Some boys and men wore a hat with a Gamsbart (beard of a chamois) or a bird feather.

Construction

The design and construction of lederhosen was quite varied. The various elements, the halter and the especially the shorts had many varied elements and detailing alternatives. The shorts varied as to length, front flap, pockets, cuffs and other elements. Some were plain and highly utilitarian while others could be very ornate.

View

Lederhosen, primarily because of the halter had a very different look from the front and back. Most photographs naturally enough are from the front. To get a complete idea of the lederhosen garment, however, it is necessary to view them from the side and back. Lederhosen are basically very simple garments, but they are countless small differences, most understandably to the front of the garment. The sides are less important. The back is critical in holding up the garment and shown here because they are rarely seen in formal photographs and thus needed to provide a complete few of the garment.

Material

Proper lederhosen were of course made of leather. Some short pants with lederhosen styling have been made with other materials, but real lederhosen are made of leather. The German word comes from "leder" meaning leather and "hosen" meaning pants. HBC has very little information about the leather used for lederhosen. We have noticed two major types. There are two types of leather: 1) glattleder (vollrind): smooth finished leather and 2) rindkernvelour (raw inner side of leather), also called suede in English. The animal the leather is made of varies: cow, deer etc. This is a topic we will persue in greater detail. We do not know many basic facts about the two types such as popularity, conventions, practicality, chrnology, and other trends. The true traditional Lederhosen, however, were primarally made of chamois leather until about World War II when Lederhosen increased in popularity and leather had to be used to meet demand. Both cattle leather and chamois leather was available in Alpine regions. Cows were kept for the milk and making "new cows" and the chamois lived naturally. The chamois leather, although a little thicker, is far more durable, pliable and softer than cattle leather. There were many varied types and grades of leather that were used for Lederhosen. Most lederhosen are made of rough leather looking much like suede. A less common type is leather with a shiny surface. This is a topic we will pursue in greater detail.

Conventions

Lederhosen were commonly worn as casual wears or for hiking and other outdoor wear as they were so hard wearing. Small boys may wear them for play. Beginning in the 1920s we note boys beginning to commonly wear them to school in Germany. They may have been even more common in Austria. Lederhosen were not initially boys wear, but rather adult work trousers. Today they are increasingly worn by boys or adults participating in folk festivals. The popularity of lederhosen, however, declined in the 1960s as German boys, like other European boys, increasingly wore jeans. Lederhosen were also sometimes worn with a tie and jacket for a dressy, but folk look. This is rarely seen today, although some boys might wear the knickers (kniebundlederhosen) with a tie and jacket. Currently they are most commonly worn at folk festivals and other such events.

Color

Most lederhosen are made in a narrow range of natural colors. Rhere are many shades pf brown and tan. There are also gray and balck lederhosen. Ther actual shade is affected somewhat by the frinish type, shiny or suede leather. Lederhosen are sometimes seen in other colors such as red, but this is rare and usually for girls or very young boys.

Practicality

One reason for the popularity of lederhosen was there durability and low maintenance. Well made lederhosen were almost never worn out. The hard-wearing pants were practically indestructible. For that reason, they were perfect for hiking and outdoor activities. The fact that they did not need to be washed like cloth garments made them even more practical for outdoor activities. This was presumably why leather pants were first worn by farmers in Alpine area--the practicality. Much why Native Americans and frontiersmen wore them in America's westward expansion. As a result, a boy's lederhosen were worn for several years and were very well-worn garments.

Comfort

Many outside of Germany do not think that lederhosen look like they would be very comfofrtable. An American reader, for example, wonders, "How does it feel wearing lederhosen I would think they would be rather rough and uncomfortable?." A german reader who wore lederhosen as a boy tells us, "Quite to the contrary. Lederhosen (at least the types I'm familliar with) are made of soft leather and are very comfortable to wear, paricularly the "seppelhosen" or cuffed short type. And besides looking feeling good, they make the ideal boys' wear as they are almost indestructable."

Seasonality

Lederhosen are commonly seen as summer or warm weather pants as short pants are today mostly seen as warm weather clothes. This has not always been the case with lederhosen. German and Austrian boys in the first half of the 20th century commonly wore lederhosen and other short pants years round and not just during the summer. Boys wearing lederhosen during the summer might not wear a shirt or only a light short-sleeved shirt. During cooler months the boy might wear a sweater or jacket. During the cooler months might also wear his lederhosen with kneesocks or long stockings. After World War II some boys also wore them with tights. Thus lederhosen have been worn over long stockings or tights when the climate is too cold for shorts alone. A mother is thus able to continue to dress her boy in the practical lederhosen while making sure that he is kept warm.

Gender

Lederhosen are essentially a male garment. We primarly note men and boys wearing them. This was virtually entirely the case until the 1960s. We begin to see short pants with Lederhosen styling appearing in German mail order catalogs during the late 1960s. We do not think it was very common for girls to wear Lederhosen, but apparently some did. As far as we know, it was mostly in Germany that girls wore Lederhosen or Lederhosen-styled shorts and even here it was not very common. A Canadian reader tells us about Canadian Lederhosen and a pair of Lederhosen he purchased for his little girl.

Accompanying Clothes

Lederhosen might be worn with folk costumes, but more commonly they were worn with regular clothes. German boys wore Lederhosen with a wide variety of other garments. This was the case because Lederhosen were worn for many different occassions from play, school, casual occassions, and even dressing up. As aresult we see boys wearing Lederhosen with "T"-shirts as well as many different collared shirts. Colored check shirts are often associated with Lederhosen, but white shirts might be worn when dressing up. They might even be worn with a suit jacket for more formal occassions. Bavarian Alpine jackers were especially popular. They were also worn with arange of hosiery from ankle socks to long stockings. Many boys worethem with knee socks. As with other garments both chronological trends abnd seasonality were factors in the choice of these garments.

Hosiery

Lederhosen have been worn with a wide range of hosiery. Younger boys in the summer might not wear any hosiery at all and go barefoot. Some folk outfits show boys and men wearing split socks (loferl). Lederhosen were also worn with short socks, kneesocks and over-the-knee long stockings. After World War II, in the late 1950s, boys also began wearing lederhosen with tights. The choice of hosiery varied over time and were affected by the wearer's age as well as the season. In recent years kneesocks, which used to be commonly worn with lederhosen, have become less common.

Youth Groups

Lederhosen are strongly assocaited with uniformed youth movements. They were presumably first by Germany's Wandervogel--Germany's first important uniformed youth group. Wandervogel boys also wore corduroy shorts. Boys in other German and Austrian youth groups in the early 20th century also wore them. They were of course widely worn by Hitler Youth boys. After World War II (1939-45) they were widely worn by German and Austrian Scouts as well as Scouts in France and other neigboring countries. Often the lederhosen they wore did not match. They rarely wore the halters when wearing lkederhosen as part of their Scout uniform. Lederhosen are now not nearly as common with Scouts as was true in the 1950s and 60s, but some boys in Gernmay and other European countries still wear them.


Figure 4.--Lederhosen are generally associated with German boys, but they have been worn by boys in several European countries. Hitler reportedly liked to wear them, but stopped in the late-1920s because he didn't think they projected the proper image.

Hitler and the NAZIs

Lederhosen because of their association with folk culture became popular after World War I with many of the right wing political groups which sprang up in Germany. Photographs from the 1920s often show groups like the NAZI Storm Troopers (S.A.) wearing them. Hitler according to an HBC reader liked to wear lederhosen. They were apparently his favorite clothing. Photographs of Hitler in the early 1920s show him wearing them. By the late 1920s, however, he is rarely seen in them. Apparently he decided he wanted to project a more official, business-like image. As a result, for the sake of looking official, military and political, he rarely wore lederhosen after the Nazis became a more prominent political party. S.A. members more rarely appear in lederhosen by the late 1920s. I do not have details on this, but perhaps S.A. leaders like Rhoem wanted his Storm Troopers to project a more fierce image. By the 1930s, lederhosen were no longer worn by adults with NAZI uniforms. Hitler Youth boys, however, did often wear them.

Lederhosen Museum

A very extensive internet site, The Lederhosen Museum, is available on the internet. A great deal of information is available there in English, German, and Dutch--although some of the English pages do not work. The sites show cases the many different styles of lederhosen along with the accessories worn with them like the halters. Unfortunately there is not yet much historical information available at this site.

Individual Experiences

HBC has collected some individual accounts of boys wearing lederhosen. Interestingly we do not yet have any accounts from Austrians and Germans where lederhosen are most common. Perhaps this is because wearing lederhosen there was so common that readers don't believe that it is worth noting. Hopefully we will acquire some German and Austrian accounts as HBC continues to expand.

Patterns

HBC does not archive clothing patterns. Mike Kreutz has asked if any HBC readers have lederhosen patterns or know where they can be obtained. "I am writing to you on behalf of the 'Austrian Canadian Edelweiss Club'. We are a non profit organization committed to further the Austrian tradition in our city, province and country. Among other things, we have dance groups who wear traditional clothing, like lederhosen. Some of these lederhosen are getting to the point where they need to be replaced. Since this type of garment is very expensive to purchase, and we do have limited funds, we are trying to find patterns so we could make them ourselves. If you have information where something like that could be found, we would very much appreciate if you would forward that information to us. On behalf of the Club I would like to thank in advance for any information you might be able to supply us with."

H-bar Pants

Lederhosen are similar to H-bar shorts and knickers, but there are significant differences. H-bar shorts are not made of leather. The H-bar suspenders are sewn on to H-bar shorts while for lederhosen the haltar is separate and detachable. Also the H0bar suspenders are not decorated like lederhosen haltars.

Authors

HBC readers have made major contributions to our HBC site. In fact few HBC pages have gone without at least some comment or suggestion by our readers. HBC contributor Conrad Fowler has done more than just comment on HBC's lederhosen pages. Conrad has provided major contributions to the existing lederhosen section as well as an extensive paper on lederhosen that we have used to create many new lederhosen sub pages. Much of the detailed information on lederhosen construction has come from Conrad who has lived and worked in Germany.

Sources

Franz J. Grieshofer, Christian Brandstätter, Franz Hubmann, Die Lederhose. Kleine Kulturgeschichte des alpenländischen Beinkleids. Gebundene Ausgabe - 120 pages (1996) Husum Druck, Husum; ISBN: 3880427623. This is probably the best available work in the history of lederhosen. The English translation of this valuable research study is The lederhosen. A brief cultural history of the Alpine pants. The Lederhosen museum comments: Das Buch Die Lederhose steht fast konkurrenzlos da. Der Autor versucht eine volkskundliche Aufarbeitung der Geschichte und Entwicklung der Lederhose, die wissenschaftlich vielleicht nicht immer haltbar ist, jedoch einen akzeptablen Überblick verschafft. Die Abbildungen sind nett anzuschauen, wirken aber manchmal etwa "aus der Hüfte geschossen". Ein schönes Bilderbuch, die Anschaffung lohnt sich auf alle Fälle. (A rough translation: The book Die Lederhose is a unique study. The author takes a "volkskundliche" [folkloric or folkloristic] approach to the history and development of lederhosen, which however is scientifically mayby not always justifiable yet provides an acceptable overview. The figures are to be looked at nicely, work however, sometimes about "from the hip shot". A beautiful picture book, the acquisition is worth while itself in any case.)






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Created: December 27, 1998
Spell checked: July 31, 2001
Last updated: 8:16 PM 5/14/2011