It’s was raining Friday night in Munich. I had planned on meeting up with one of the ladies from the Global Digital Women network but she had to reschedule due to sickness. I suddenly had a free evening.
In 8 days, Oktoberfest would tap its first keg and open its doors for millions of visitors to enjoy. Soon, the streets around my Munich pied-à-terre would be filled with festival-goers, dressed up in their traditional Bavarian attire. Right around the corner, literally…
Last year, I had conveniently concluded a three-city European vacation in Munich, under an official business reason, but specifically to attend the world-renouned event. A few weeks prior, in Frankfurt, while working the IBM booth at the International Motor Show, I had enthusiastically shared my upcoming plans with some of the colleagues. Andrea had inquired: “Caroline, you have a dirndl right?”
Up until that point, I had considered it potentially culturally inappropriate to dress myself in the customary apparel. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t help but think of how I would feel if a non-Canadian (or anyone else for that matter!) showed up at a Canada Day party dressed up as a Mountie. I know, wrong.
“Andrea, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to wear a dirndl, I am not Bavarian!”
She quickly rebutted: “Caroline, it’s inappropriate NOT to wear one. You will feel left out and you will not have fun.”
Oh! Ok then.
I may never get a chance to do this again. Go for it.
That night, to make sure I would get something in time, from my Frankfurt hotel room, I immediately ordered something pink from dirndl.com. I took a chance on an affordable dress and felt lucky about my pick when I tried it on upon my arrival home. A few days later, I had packed it as part of my next cross-Atlantic trip clothing selections.
Andrea was right. I had fun, and I looked cute. At an IBM event at the Wiesn one evening, a Bavarian colleague even commented that he was honored I had participated in the tradition by dressing up. This, I didn’t expect and I was humbled by his words.
Dressing up is a must.
Fast forward to this year. I am back in Munich meeting people, attending networking events and a conference, interviewing and job hunting. At a social gathering a few week ago, my new-found Bavarian friend Julia asks me: “Caroline, do you have a dirndl?”
Proudly: “I do! Let me show you a picture!”
She hesitates, as only a German can do before she shares: “OK, that’s nice, but you need a proper dirndl.”
Oh, a “proper” dirndl.
I’ve been around this place long enough, listening and paying attention that I know exactly what she means. There is a difference between a costume and Tracht. My 2017 dirndl is a costume and if I really want to be perceived as appropriate, I need a legitimate, well-fitted and classical robe. Especially since the third day of the main event of my visit to Munich, the Bits & Pretzels conference is a networking event at the Oktoberfest venue in the Schottenhamel tent. She recommends a few places for shopping. “But don’t wait too long.”
On that rainy Friday night, I decide: it’s time to shop for my “proper” dirndl. I walk about 10 blocks to one of Julia’s recommended spots, Angermaier. As I approach the store, I start feeling like this process might be more complex than last year’s online shopping experience… I am glad I have a few hours before the store’s closing time.
I walk into the store and am almost immediately overwhelmed. There are literally thousands of options, neatly lined up on rack after rack. My strategy: take a first pass around the whole store and then get serious about a selection process.
As I walk through the store, I can’t help but touch some of the amazing fabrics I see: velvet, lace, silk, taffeta, wool. I end up in the fancy section where wedding gowns are amongst the beautifully displayed creations. I take a peek at a ticket, just out of curiosity: €1800. This definitely isn’t my section! But I am not surprised to find myself here.
I head to the sale section, in the basement. I’d be delighted to find a bargain for my “proper” dirndl, but unfortunately, the only models that are on sale are ankle-length. That’s not it.
I know what I want: a knee-length, lace-up bodice, dark-colored skirt, with a little edge.
I head back up to the section organized by size. For several minutes, I look through hundreds of options. This must be what it’s like to shop for a wedding dress… I’ve watched enough “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC to know that there is a point at which it becomes impossible to make a decision and I trust that when I put it on, I’ll know which one is my dress. I trust the process.
I head to the dressing room with 4 option. First one, meh. Second one, potential. Third one, she is the one. I don’t even try the 4th one on. An hour after stepping into the store, I head to stand in line at the cashier, “proper” dirndl in hand, excited about my success in this process.
As I approach the cashier, I realize there is a ticket with a price on the apron. It’s also not the same size as the dress. I begin to wonder if in the dressing-room madness I imagine must exist in the restocking of non-selected items, the original apron must have gotten mixed up along the way. I ask for help.
Greta agrees with me. “We find you the right Schürze.” I follow her to a previously unseen section of the store where walls are filled with apron options. We look for the right color: pink (duh!) and select a few that could work. “You try it on.”
As much as I don’t want to go through the undressing and dressing and undressing again and redressing process, I remember Julia’s advice: “Make sure you get help from one of the ladies, they know what they are doing.” I suck it up and step into a corner dressing room in the apron section.
When I walk out, Greta lets out a “Wow!”
“Greta, is this “proper”?”
I can tell from her non-verbal that it is. She shows me how to tie and hide my bodice ribbon and swiftly knots the apron on my right hip. As I ensure I am satisfied with the final look, she confirms with the manager that I can have this specific apron as part of the price of the dress. See, this one has a little extra bling on it, a gold lace-like stitching at the bottom that is normally extra. Of course.
As Greta shares the news that her manager approves, she can tell I am delighted: “I love making happy my customers.” Thank you Greta.
I’ve worn it twice already. Stay tuned for a “proper” picture after this Tuesday’s events from #bits18.
Dressing up is a must.