The Bunad

Rebecca-Larson_RThere is a something special about owning a bunad and wearing it on Syttende Mai, Norway’s National Day. Let’s take a look at some of the history behind Norway’s bunad. The traditional costume dates its roots back to the Norwegian Romantic Nationalism period in the mid-19th century when, at that time, Norway was determined to secure a solid cultural identity. The Norwegian bunad is unique in that it is recognizable as Norway’s official dress, but it is individualized based on regional characteristics of color, pattern, style, and accessories. Since the 19th century the traditional costume has developed with the modern age and Norwegians who are lucky enough to own a bunad are always proud to show it off at significant occasions like confirmations, weddings, funerals and National holidays.

The original costume of Norway has evolved with deep-rooted traditions based on everyday folk attire of old rural farmers mixed with the festive characteristics of old-style customs and local creativity. The interest for a traditional costume for men and woman was popularized when Norwegian Romantic Nationalism became widespread between 1840-1867, although there is evidence that the local folk costumes date back to the Middle Ages in Norway. Norwegians were eager to reinforce their own official cultural identity under Danish control and a strong part of that identity was obtaining a traditional costume that could symbolize national pride.

Around 1900 there were reactions against this development. The Norwegian Nationalist Movement opposed the union with Sweden and campaigned for that which was specifically Norwegian. They wanted to recreate the old rural, pre industrial folk culture which was slowly vanishing, and reintroduce it in the rural and urban communities in an improved version. Old folk costume was again taken in use, but new costumes were also created with elements from the old folk costume.

By the early 20th century the bunad movement was gaining momentum thanks in part to one woman’s inspiration, Hulda Garborg. Garborg was a pioneer in promoting interest in the bunad tradition and rousing a strong Norwegian sentiment for national pride. The appeal grew and eventually distinct regional styles of the costume were fashioned for not only rural folk but for the urban elite as well. Regions of Norway designed special bunads based on the customs and traditions from their area. Descendants must follow stylistic guidelines of their ancestor’s origins when making or purchasing a bunad of their own. Strict requirements are in place by Norway’s National Bunad and Folk Costumes Council (Bunad og Folkedraktrådet) who promote bunad knowledge, sustain traditions of the folk costumes and provide advice in the construction of new bunad models.

Today the bunad is widely recognized as one of the most authentic and popular traditional folk costumes in the world. Making or purchasing a quality bunad can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 so it is often viewed as a status symbol for those who can afford them. The outfits are often passed down in families and typically when adolescents go through confirmation or turn 16 they are given their own authentic bunad. Because of the hefty cost, it is important that costumes can be easily altered for a lifetime of use. The fabrics used to make a bunad typically consist of wool skirts for women and wool pants and jackets for men. The men’s vests and the women’s bodices, aprons, bonnets and capes may be contingent on what was available when the bunad was first designed, but silk materials and lustrous woolen fabrics are most common, and don’t forget the cotton blouse to go underneath. The embroidery, color and shape give the bunad the most distinction and character, followed, of course by the accessories and unique jewelry called sølje that are key to any genuine bunad.

It is truly a beautiful sight to see all the beautiful bunads out in Norway on Syttende Mai. Folks line the streets waving flags, proud to show off their regional costume and excited to celebrate their enduring cultural identity that their ancestors fashioned so long ago.

Bunad tidbits

  • There are approximately 450 different types of bunad designs in Norway.
  • The NBF (Norwegian Institute of Bunad and Folk Costume) was established in 1947 and they contain full documentation about all the folk costume designs in Norway.
  • Historically, Norwegian women wore headdresses or hair coverings in many rural towns to signify being married.
  • The term “national costume” was labeled to describe the clothes in the mid-19thcentury.
  • The term “bunad” later became the official name of the national costume in the early 1900’s.
  • Over 50% of woman and nearly 10% of men in Norway own a bunad.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s