What we recognize today as traditional Swiss clothing is based on the garments worn by peasants and common people at the beginning of the 19th century. According to the Encyclopedia of National Dress, the Swiss designed their clothing to function in a practical way and to communicate certain information about the wearer, such as age, social class and marital status.
The dress of the aristocracy of Switzerland was very similar to that of surrounding European countries, such as France, Italy and Germany. This was especially true as communication and travel improved, allowing fashion trends to cross borders more easily. The clothing of the common people, however, remained much more distinct, with variations based on the region and occupation of the wearer. There was a specific effort to define Swiss traditional culture, including folk costumes, during the Alpine Cowherds' Festivals of 1805 and 1808. This created a more unified idea of what traditional Swiss dress includes.
Embroidery and lace both feature heavily on Swiss garments, with simple designs for everyday wear and more elaborate decoration for special occasions. Clothing was generally sewn from homespun cloth, usually cotton or wool, depending on the season and the garment.
Women's clothing is usually based around a garment we know today as the "dirndl," which includes a full skirt gathered at the waist and a tight-fitting vest or sleeveless top. A white blouse is typically worn under the dress, and the outfit is finished with stockings, buckled black shoes and a headpiece or hat. An apron is often worn around the waist as well to protect the clothing while working. The garments are often contrasting colors, with red, green and black being common. In most regions, gold details indicate a married woman, while single women use silver.
For men, the most easily recognized garment is the lederhosen, which are knee-length pants with suspenders, often crafted from leather. Lederhosen provided both mobility and durability while climbing and hiking in mountainous terrain. Short-sleeved shirts, woolen knee-socks and heavy boots are also worn. A short-brimmed felt hat with trimming completes the outfit.
Traditional Swiss clothing for children is typically a miniature version of the garments worn by adults, with the differences in color to reflect the age of the wearer.