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The Norwegian Bunad

Best Norwegian bunads
Photo: Lars Botten / Norsk Flid Husfliden

The colourful Norwegian folk dress has gained in popularity in recent years. We take a look at the history and the detail of the designs.

A bunad is a traditional folk costume that you find all over Norway. Although much more popular with women, men's bunads are also available.

A modern tradition

The smart, colourful outfits are made with wool, meant to be tight-fitting, and are adorned with metal buckles, buttons, jewellery, and even blades.

The bunad of Norway is the national dress commonly worn on May 17th, Norway's national day

Although believed by many tourists to be a tradition dating back hundreds of years, that's not exactly true.

Although the modern bunad takes its cue from traditional folk costumes dating back a few hundred years, the modern dress is actually a 20th-century invention.

The mother of the bunad

The person most often credited with the outfit's ‘invention' – or at least rekindling interest in traditional folk costumes – is Hulda Garborg.

The writer, novelist, playwright, poet and dancer spent many years travelling the country participating in debates and promoting Norwegian culture during a time when many families were leaving Norway.

Huldra Garborg, the mother of the Norwegian bunad
Huldra Garborg. (Photo: National Library)

During the early-to-mid 1900s, Klara Semb took over and put the focus on developing historically correct bunads. Aagot Noss started to develop a written account of the traditions that modern bunads were based on in the 1950s.

When do Norwegians wear bunads?

Wearing a bunad is not something Norwegians do every day. Day-to-day, simple practical clothing is worn for work and regular social ocassions.

Since a bunad is a festival garment, less ornate traditional dress is more suitable and practical for work situations. Everyday cotton or wool costumes, colored and patterned shirts and aprons, and simpler sølje are among the possibilities.

The costume plays an important role in life events and special occasions.

Norwegians use it for various celebrations including weddings and possibly important birthdays and folk dances. It's also often worn on religious occasions such as baptisms, confirmations, and sometimes at Christmas.

Norwegian bunad on 17th May

But without doubt the best day to admire the bunad out in public in Norway is on the 17th of May for the country's Constitution Day celebrations, when almost everyone dons the national dress.

Consider getting an everyday (hverdags) dress, which is less expensive and easier to make and care for. If fabrics are carefully chosen and workmanship is excellent, you will have appropriate clothing for traditional events.

The rules of the bunad

One primary focus is appreciation of and homage to your Norwegian heritage in general and to your part of Norway in particular.

It is customary to wear a bunad or folkedrakt from an area to which you have a genetic or residential connection. Then you won't have to explain to those who greet you (feeling they've found someone from their region) that you just liked that particular dress.

Your bunad should display good to excellent fabrics and workmanship, fit nicely, and be clean and in good repair. Because you are wearing traditional (or traditionally related) clothing, conservative makeup and hairstyles are suitable.

An old Norwegian family portrait
Family portrait from 1910. Photo: Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane (CC 2.0)

More contemporary additions such as earrings, high heels and nylons are out of place. References to the bunad police are made partly in jest!

Popular regional variants

One of the lesser known facts about the traditional dress is that there are a few hundred local varieties, with some saying there are up to 400.

That's quite a selection for a country of little more than five million people! Here are some of the most notable versions:

Nordland

One of the most popular regional variants is the Nordlandsbunad, from the county of Nordland. The men's version dating back to 1924 features dark blue stockings and a floral brocade vest over a stand-up collar shirt.

The female version is a rich blue dress with embroidered floral patterns on the skirt and top. Accessories include a shawl, apron, bag and a hat, all in blue of course. The Nordland outfit has regularly won the title “Norway's most beautiful bunad” from the Norwegian media.

Hardanger

Known as “the first bunad”, Hardanger's collection of designs vary in detail but are best known for their distinctive red body and white apron.

The traditional bunad of Hardanger is one of the best-known regional varieties of Norway's national dress
The Hardanger Bunad

It is common to add a belt to the outfit at confirmation. According to tradition, the headgear worn depends on marital status.

Telemark

With a rich history in textile production and craftsmanship, Telemark in southern Norway is regarded by some as having the “Norwegianest” bunads.

Based on costumes from the 19th-century, Telemark's bunads differ between the west and the east, but at first glance appear similar: both feature a predominantly deep shade of blue, the same cut, and red/green embroidery.

Trøndelag

While different variations do exist within the vast region, the Trøndelag bunad was created in 1923 in an attempt to create a common bunad for the entire region of central Norway.

Inspired by Roccoco fashion from the 18th-century, it is one of the easiest to spot even though it can come in green, red or blue varieties, the latter being the most common.

Bunad jewellery & accessories

Silver was (and still is, in some parts!) a very important material in Norway, steeped in superstition and legend. According to one legend, the silver mines belonged to the mountain trolls as they were such good silversmiths.

For many years silver was used by locals to protect themselves against bad weather and storms, to heal illness, and even to consecrate water. According to some stories, a silver brooch would often be pinned on the clothing of a baby so trolls couldn't swap the infant with one of their own!

The Hovet bunad of Norway
The Hovet bunad. Photo: Multerland (CC 2.0)

Because of this spiritual connection and ancestral value, pieces of silver were often handed down for generations within families.

As with the bunad itself, the design of the associated jewellery varies in design regionally. Some of the silver jewellery often found on a woman's bunad includes:

  • Neck pin/button to hold the shirt together at the neck
  • Brooch fastened across the front of the shirt rather than the bunad
  • Accessories including cufflinks, shoe buckles, rings, and belts

Typically, less is more when it comes to accessorising the national costume.

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About the Author: Life in Norway Editorial Team

This post was written by more than one person on the Life in Norway editorial team.

14 Comments

    1. There are at least four different types that are called Vestfoldbunad. One is called Vestfoldbunad 1932 and is black or blue with a white a white shirt and a woven belt. Another is called Vestfoldbunad 1956. It is more colourful that the 1932 model with a red bodice and black or blue skirt. You may even have a white, embroidered apron. The belt is woven, or leather with silver “støler” on it. There is even an embroidered Vestfoldbunad which is called “den broderte vestfoldbunaden”. The last model is called “Tranum Røer”. It is very nice but not as widely used as the other three models. You can google all these models and find nice photos.

  1. I received the most marvelous gift from my beloved, his mother’s Hardanger bunad
    from when she was a young woman….. It is my absolute treasure, and his sister
    crafted the beaded vest, and belt……. Gorgeous, and I consider it an honor
    to have received this.

    1. Wow! That is special! My mother (from Stavanger) left her bunad behind when she came to the U.S. Years later she asked family back home to send it to her but somehow it was lost. What I wouldn’t give to have it, now that’s she’s passed away.

      1. Very sad! If you go to Google and search for Rogalandsbunad you’ll find lots of photos. You can buy them- The cost would come up around 25000 Norwegian Kroner (US$3000) with should include the silver embellishment. – start saving!

  2. What an interesting essay and pictures. I do not have a bunad but do have a small silver pin, with silver discs that perhaps incorrectly we call the “wedding broach”. My daughter Kathy brought it back from Norway when she was an exchange teen through the Sins of Norway in 1975. I treasure it.

  3. I finally was able to purchase a bunad from Voss, where my great grandparents were from. I had been looking for TEN years. It is in fabulous condition, with the appropriate jewelry and a gorgeous silver belt. I only wish my Grandma was still alive to see it!!!

  4. My Mama gave me her bunad before she passed away in 2010. She bought all the material and made her bunad by herself. The embroidery work is beautiful. Her family, fathers side, is from Egedall so she made it for that area of Norway. Again, it is gorgeous and she was very proud of it. I am so proud of it too. She made the hat and purse and along with her seulas it is complete! Thank you. Some of my spelling is incorrect.

  5. My mama traveled to Norway four times and bought the material for her bunad there. I meant to write that in my comment above. Thanks, Irma Weaver.

  6. My mother in law Signe Eriksen, was one of the group of Oslo women chosen to design a bunad for Oslo. As a city there was, at the time, no traditional bunad. The gorgeous blue dress with Signe’s wildflower embroidery is now the official Oslo bunad. Her own dress came to me when she died. Unfortunately it had been in her attic and was damaged bt moths. I took it and had pillows made of the material. I would love to know more of the story of how the dress was designed and the other women in the group.

  7. My maternal Grandmother’s mother was from Hønefuss in Buskerud, and her father from Nord Aurdal in Valdres. My maternal grandfather’s parents were from Nor-Odal, just north-east of Oslo .Which would be the most expected District I choose the bunad from ?

  8. My grandmother came to Vancouver Canada at the turn of the century, with her traditional dress from Sweden. When she passed away my mother passed her mother’s dress to me, the first born grand daughter. The dress includes her beautiful red and black handwoven twill floor length skirt and matching apron with long handwoven ties, handmade lined black broadcloth vest, silver pin and beautiful fine woolen floral fringe shawl. I am honored to be the caretaker of her dress for our family. Her family name was Boberg. They had a lumber mill on the edge of the North Sea, in the community of the now Skaftung Finland. Her niece Harriet and family still live there and care for the land there.

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