Traditionally bunads represented the family home and the area people came from but now in the modern world where moving from place to place is a necessity, Norwegians wear the bunad tradition from the place to which they have the strongest attachment.
Today the bunad is worn for celebrations and special occasions. During the wedding season (May-June), you often see Norwegians dressed in their bunads on Saturdays walking to and from Churches. Baptisms and Confirmations, Balls and Norwegian Constitution Day are typically bunad wearing days.
Left: Bunad with marriage headdress. Right: Norwegian immigrants (in the U.S) wearing their bunads.
The bunad, meaning ‘clothing’, is a fairly recent development in Norwegian culture. The more ‘authentic’ bunads are modelled off old folk attire worn in certain regions that developed over the centuries. Even though old folk wear (commonly called ‘folk costumes’ in Norway) evloved because of daily life, regional traditions and celebrations, the bunad only borrows from the more festive forms of traditional folk clothing.
The National Bunad Council Bunad- og Folkedraktrådet , the authority on national costumes appointed by the government, has developed five categories to grade modern day bunads according to ‘authentic’ regional folk clothing:
Category 1 – a bunad that represents a ‘final’ link’ in the development of a folk costume. This is basically an original folk costume that has taken on the function of a bunad.
Category 2 – a bunad that has a background in a particular folk costume that is out of use but not forgotten. It is generally reconstructed from first-hand knowledge.
Category 3 – a bunad that has been reconstructed from preserved folk garments which reflect the actually time and region of the piece. Pictures and writings are used as sources in reconstruction.
Category 4 – a bunad that has been made based on random and incomplete folk material. Missing peices have been designed to match the style of the materials.
Category 5 – a bunad that has been completely or partically ‘freely composed’. It was the 1800s bunad movement that has given these types of bunad their status.
New ‘bunads’ that are being designed every year, must go through the strict judgement process of the National Bunad Council in order to be classified as a proper ‘bunad’. The council is very strict in making sure new additions follow closely the traditions and history of the area. Because of this, many designs today, even though they have the same function as a bunad, generally don’t make the cut and thus can not be called ‘bunads’. They recieve the name ‘festive costumes’ instead.
Traditional women’s bunad with cape from Nordland
Because of the strict ‘authentic’ requirements set by the National Bunad Council, Bunads are very expensive. Traditionally bunads use hand-made gold and silver jewellery to decorate. These often get upgraded or added to from certain life achievements such as confirmations, marriage or authority. Some bunads can also have elements of silver or gold in the thread.
The normal fabric of a bunad dress or coat is wool. Mens pants are often made from hodden which is wool that has been pressed into shape rather than woven. Shirts are made from either linen or cotton, and shawls and aprons are normally wool or silk. A purse is part of nearly every female’s bunad with matching fabric and embroidery. When a woman is getting married in her bunad she wears a gold crown, headress or elaborite jewellery on her head. She also carries a small bible in her purse and can wear a veil if it has been designed into her traditional costme. It is also common for married women to wear a silver belt. Women who have authority, such as matrons, carry a key as symbolic decoration.
Traditional Men’s and women’s bunads from Nordland
Bunads usually incorporate elaborate embroidery, scarves, bonnets and shawls – all which are custom-made for the owner. Woollen stockings are a must for ‘strict’ bunad fashion (however, because of global warming you often see women wearing normal panty hose instead.) I’ve also heard that there is no need for underwear! If the old folks went commando then in keeping with tradition so should the bunad wearer.
Traditionally shoes were handmade but nowadays people are ‘allowed’ to wear shop-bought black shoes with a silver buckle on top. Mens hats vary greatly from region to region – some look like elf hats while others have an ‘artful dodger’ style. However, hats are more of a luxury than a requirement. With certain bunad traditions, women who are married are meant to wear their hair up – however, nearly every woman I have seen wearing a bunad wears her hair down. (It is not common for a Norwegian woman these days to wear her hair up unless going to the gym.)
One bunad can last more than a lifetime, being passed down from generation to generation and added to with each new person. They are designed to be adjustable so when you have eaten too many cream cakes that year you can let out your bunad and still be the bell at the ball.
You can expect to pay at least NOK 30,000 for one adult costume. However, extra money can be spent on jewellery for special occasions. Because of the expense you are not likely to see children in real bunads as they grow out of them too quickly. Instead, inexpensive generic ‘bunads’ can be bought from supermarkets for those special days for children. These bunads have red vests with a white shirt and black pants or skirt, however, in recent years gold and green have also been popular.
Generic children’s bunad
The height of the bunads popularity was during Norway’s romantic nationalism movement after its stand for independence was crushed by Sweden in the early 1800s. Writers of the period would often describe farmers working in the field wearing their ‘traditional bunad’. However, it is both untrue and highly impractical. Nowadays I sense that Norwegians still have a romantic connection in wearing their national pride. In 2003, there was one Norwegian fellow, Petter Solberg, professional rally driver, who arrived at the Motor Sports Gala in Monaco. Standing among many prominent guests wearing tuxedos and gala outfits, stood Solberg in his traditional bunad from Østfold. In front of everyone at the gala he accepted the Rally World Championship trophy (in a cream jacket and flower-patterned vest with black knickerbockers) and posed among the other competitors for photos. When asked about his unusual attire he said he didn’t like wearing tuxedos but was worried that they might not let him into the gala with such fancy clothes as his bunad.
Traditional women’s bunads from Trondheim
Sami attire is considered to be traditional folk costumes as they have had an ‘uninterrupted’ progression. These costumes also follow regional traditions and reflect the customs and celebrations of the people. The Sami have particular festive attire but also have traditional everyday wear. Reindeer, of course, is a major theme throughout their costumes as well as bright colours such as red, yellow and blue.
You can view a slideshow of some Norwegian bunads here: