If you were to visit a town in Norway on May 17th, the streets would be flooded with colours, elaborate works of embroidery, and ornaments pinned at the necklines and cuffs. These works of art are called bunads and are traditional festival gowns worn by Norwegians at various holidays and celebrations.
The gown itself says a lot about its wearer, meaning that not anybody can just throw one on without careful consideration of its symbolic style and embroidery. In the past, bunads were worn only by peasants in the southern region of Norway, but over time they have been redesigned to suit formal settings. This gown carries great meaning about its wearer, telling onlookers about where they are from and where they are going through its unique design.
THE HISTORY of the BUNAD
This gown dates back to the 18th century as a garment that peasants would wear for special occasions, gradually replacing traditional folk-style costumes that were often worn for important events. The bunad was a more formal version of the folk costume. Fast forward to the 1900s, national activist Hulda Garborg wrote of Norway’s need for a national formal dress. Hulda selected bunads from every region, including a few designs of her own, and eventually inspired her country to make the bunad a national gown that signified its wearers’ origin. Following these series of events, Norway received its independence in 1905 which encouraged its people to take pride in their country’s newfound freedom from the Swedish union by wearing the bunad as a symbol of identity. Throughout the 20th century, the design of the bunad has come far from its roots, making its old styles that were fit for a peasant nearly unrecognizable in the modern day.
BUNAD GOWNS and IDENTITY
There is a broad variety of bunad styles, but these variations in the dress are not just for appearances. Each design symbolizes a different region of Norway, which can only be worn by someone who hails from that specific area. Additionally, a woman’s social status could also be identified based on the jewels on her bunad or the embroidery on her shawl.
To ensure that bunad gowns are authentic, there are groups in place, such as the National Bunad Council and the Norwegian Institute for Bunad and Folk Costume, that monitor their production. New patterns, designs, and designers are all categorized through a classification system that also determines whether or not a style will be considered a bunad or a folk costume. It is considered unacceptable to sew a bunad on one’s own. Rather, Norwegians are expected to purchase all their sewing materials in Norway and learn to piece the gown together with an experienced seamstress. Purchasing a bunad is extremely expensive due to the extensive authenticity processes involved in their creation. According to the Department of Social Anthropology, there are nearly 2.5 million bunads owned in Norway, the cost of which adds up to more than 500 million pounds.
TYPES of BUNAD
With the bunad symbolizing different regions of Norway, each gown has both slight and drastic variations in its style. These variations come in the form of accessories, colors, stitch work, and use of ornamentation.
Bunads from this area come in many colors and are made in separate styles to differentiate between married and unmarried women. Roros is a mining district that contains three regions, named Haltdalen, Tydal, and of course, Roros. An embroidered dress called the Bergstadbunad was created especially for those from this region because it features embroidery of the wildflowers that are specific to the area.
Although the region of Trondelag is split into two sections, there is one bunad made up of styles from both providences that was deigned to be worn by anyone in the general Trondelag area. It typically comes in either green, red, or blue, and often is paired with a veil.
This region contains the deepest bunad and costume culture in comparison to the other regions, with a special dress for a city within the area called Trondheim, although it has yet to be named an official bunad.
Both the North and South Trondelag bunads are made from a quilted skirt with a shawl and apron incorporated into the dress. These areas lie close to the Fosen region, making their bunad designs similar.
Designed in 1928, the Nordland bunad is a dress that comes from a region containing rain forests, which is reflected in the dress. Typically coming in greens and blues, this dress contains colors of nature, with ornate floral embroidery throughout.
There are many more regions of bunads to explore with over 400 variations of this style of dress. Bunads are deeply enriched in Norwegian culture, giving its people a sense of national pride, and there is no doubt that the future will witness the creation of increasingly specific versions in order to celebrate groups across the country.