18th Century · Bunad · history lesson

National costumes on the National Independence Day!

Yesterday was Norway’s National Day, one of my favourite holidays! On the 17th of May 1814, an assembly of Norwegian menfolk signed the Norwegian constitution, which made Norway an independent country after more than 400 years as a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Now, I know that the constitution wasn’t actually very liberal, compared to earlier enlightenment constitutions , I know that the basis for our modern constitution isn’t really the one that was signed in May 1814, but rather one that was written in November that same year, I know that Norway didn’t actually gain full independence until 1905 (we had to spend some time with Sweden first), and although I love my home country and feel lucky to have been born into such a privileged society, I’m not really that patriotic. No, my reasons for loving our Independence Day are kind of superficial. I love the parades, I love the feeling of celebration – and I LOVE all our Norwegian national costumes!

The bride looks a little like she’s discreetly checking her phone. 

National Romanticism! Folk music! Heavy drinking! Crisp white linen shirts and expensive silver brooches! So, as mentioned above, Norway was a province under Denmark for a very long time, so when that union was broken up, the concept of “Norway” experienced a bit of an identity crisis. Are you familiar with the English Victorian obsession with the Middle Ages? Arthurian legends, Richard the Lionheart, damsels in distress, noble and savage Scots… Yeah, urban, academic and upper or middle class Norwegians did much the same thing. They re-discovered the vikings and the great medieval kings, bearded men with serious faces travelled the country looking for fairy tales and old, forgotten dialects.

“Look, children, at the expensive stuff I had when I was young, that you’ll never experience because of the economic recession.”

Some went looking for some sort of specific national costume, a dress style that was special to Norway. They found it too, sort of. They found several kinds of local traditional clothing, mainly based on rococo fashions from a century before. At first, they combined everything that looked cool and traditionally Norwegian to them, based on a mix of clothing still worn in rural parts of Norway, extant garments and old drawings and paintings.

This was taken by 19-year-old Carl Størmer in the 1890s, with a secret camera, and shows two ladies in national costumes. I really don’t think this specific costume exists today, but it would be heaploads of fun to try and recreate it!

Gradually, the outfits, called “bunad” (an old Norwegian word for “something you wear”, or really “something you own”), was changed to represent the part of the country you came from, or where you had your family roots. Today, there are hundreds of different bunads from all over the country.

“Why is there half a fence in the middle of this field?” “No idea. Wanna go and find some cows?”

Why do I love bunads? No idea. I’ve just always loved them. I remember making bunads for my paper dolls as a child. Maybe it’s because I love pretty clothing, maybe it’s because I love history and traditions, maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted that very certain and secure knowledge of where you come from (I hail from most of the south-eastern and northern part of Norway, and have so far never lived in one place for longer than 10 years).

The Norwegian royal family has bunads. Loads of them. I’m not planning on beating them, but I am beginning to assemble my own little stash of bunads. They are expensive, so I feel a little snobbish when I think about how spoilt for choice I am…


So, I have no good pictures of myself in my bunads on my computer, but no matter. This one is the bunad I got for my confirmation ceremony back when I was 15. I love it so much! My mother, grandmother, aunt and grand-aunt did the embroidery on the dress and the shirt, and I’ve made the little bonnet-thingy. I think it’s truly gorgeous, and I love all the hard work that has been put into it by all the ladies of my family. This bunad is from the geographical area of Norway called Solør and Odalen.


So, this cool, shade-wearing lady is my paternal grandmother, who passed away this winter. She was born in the northern part of Norway, where this bunad is from. The only problem with this bunad, which I have now sort of inherited, is that she was a lot shorter than I am… but it is so pretty! My sister has the same bunad.

My mother’s family is from a county in Norway called Østfold, and she and my aunt both have this bunad. My grandmother began making one for herself when she learned that my mother was pregnant with me, certain that it would be a girl who could inherit her bunad. Well, it was, and when she passed away, my sister and I sort of inherited it together. My mother took the skirt off it, as she needed a new skirt for her own bunad, I used the vest for a few larps, the rest of the bunad just laid there… But last year, I got some fabric for a skirt, and yesterday, I wore the complete bunad, for the first time! I even had a little photoshoot, thanks to my amazing and very patient boyfriend.

“Where be all my icecream?!”
So very idyllic!
… so, this probably comes as no surprise, but I can’t pose for shit.

And because three bunads aren’t enough… I’m currently making myself a fourth one. How will this one look? Don’t know yet! It will be a reconstruction of garments from Solør and Odalen, where I now live, and probably not finished for another year, at least. So far, all I’ve got is the petticoat, and a nearly finished chemise, but you will probably hear A LOT about this project in the future…

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