The concept of The Uniform has always intimidated me. There was a short period some years ago when I forewent my ruffled dresses and took up jeans, button downs, black ballet flats, etc. It looked composed — cool, even — but it wasn’t me.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when my friend Leyna and I were at a thrift store.
“You know, I’m really a sartorial chameleon, which is why I think I resent the teachings of wardrobe staples so much,” I said with the conviction of a tired philosophy major. “It’s all so boring.”
Leyna looked at me with an expression as if to say, Don’t flatter yourself, chameleon. “Haven’t you purchased that prairie dress you’re holding, like, a million times before? You for sure have wardrobe staples.”
She was right. I’m not anti-basics, but my conception of these omnipotent Wardrobe Staples — a blazer, a “good” pair of jeans, a white tee — followed a formula not intended for me. My staples are no less essential, they just happen to be more Heidi: Child of the Mountains than, say, Emmanuelle Alt.
Case in point: the dirndl top. For the uninitiated, the dirndl is a traditional style of dress found in Bavaria and regions of Austria. Somewhere underneath the bodice, apron and full skirt sits the white, cropped blouse that “sartorial bartending” opportunities are made of.
These billowy-armed tops are deceivingly versatile. Their length (dancing along the lower part of the rib cage ) proves flattering on a variety of figures and makes for a universal layering device. With a flash of skin, the shirt punctuates an otherwise-tailored pant. And it makes an awkward garment more fluid; a baggy pair of overalls from the depths of my closet have only recently been added to the steady rotation thanks to these Germanic cropped blouses.
More appealing than the styling of the blouse itself, though, is the sentiment of its new role as an unconventional and unassuming mediator between once-dead pieces. Just like witnessing a cool and clever passerby, sometimes all it takes is the isolation of one style to reinvent disregarded attire.
And! You can dance.
You can get dirndl tops aplenty for about a euro at flea markets in most Germanic cities. But, should you be stateside: they seem to pop up at garage sales and thrift stores with surprising frequency. If you have trouble finding one near you, Etsy and eBay are cheaper than a flight to Berlin. Speaking of cheap: try not to pay more than $5 for a dirndl top.
(And for those of you looking for a white layering blouse that isn’t your typical button down…)
Now post your version of a dirndl below.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis