A bunad is Norway's traditional folk costume. A different bunad exists for each part of the country, and represents that area's history. The bunad is one of the most prominent symbols of Norwegian Romantic painting.

Each bunad is elaborately embroidered and is adorned with beadwork or silver. The most famous silver decoration is a brooch, called "sølje". (See the letter ø if needed...) Most bunads are black with brightly colored embroidery, although green is also quite common.

Folk costumes of all sorts existed for centuries before the bunad. These were clothes used for special occasions. Towards the end of the 19th century, a strong sense of national unity prevailed, and the need for a common identity grew. Keeping old tradition and culture became important, and the bunad was developed, based on the old folk costumes.

The bunad started as a dance costume by youth dancing groups, but its use soon changed to holidays and important occasions such as Christmas, christenings, weddings and other important days.

A bunad can take up to two years to make, and many cost as much as $4000. The garment will, however, last a long time, and brings a special feeling to all festive events. Bunad popularity has increased greatly in recent years.

The bunad is most commonly seen on women, although sales to men aged 20 to 30 have soared over the last years.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the old Norwegian clothing habits went into rapid change. The Industrial Revolution had given the country many new benefits, one of which was cheap, mass-produced cloth. As the people started consuming, their old traditions of carefully embroidering and stitching a dress for months went out of fashion. Indeed, why should they spend months on a dress of wool when they could easily buy nicely printed cotton or linen instead?

The romantic nationalist movement of Norway saw the danger of the disappearing traditions. They started documenting the old clothing habits before the clothes vanished into rags and stuffing, and also encouraged people to make and use them once more.

There was a change in the user group, however. While traditional Norwegian farmers had been the ones to wear the original costumes, the ones to pick it up again was the bourgeoisie. They found all old Norwegian traditions quaint and charming, and those colourful costumes excellent for partying in the national spirit.

Of course, only the best-looking national costumes could live on as new bunads, as they were called. While farmers mostly wore simple, practical habits for their everyday work, it was their wedding dresses that most caught on. Varieties with much embroidery and jewellery were more popular than others. Often, tailors would pick and choose whichever ornaments they liked the best. And so the modern bunads came to be - half traditional, half modern, beautiful and odd-looking at the same time.

These days the majority of Norwegian women have a bunad, and a good part of the men. The costumes are worn primarily on Norway's national day, but are also proper attire at weddings, confirmations or gala dinners. A proper bunad should have some root in the old traditions, a more recent invention is simply called drakt, or costume.

There is some controversy about which bunad is right to wear, and by whom. Traditionalists say one should only wear a bunad from the part of the country, preferably the village, where one has roots. And foreigners should definitely not wear it. The trouble is, many people come from places without any real bunad traditions, or they may not fancy the one available. Personally, I think anyone Norwegian or Norwegian wannabe should be allowed to wear whichever bunad they want. It's all about keeping the tradition alive, isn't it?

Bunads are mostly made out of wool, with shirts of linnen and decorative silver jewellery. They come in blue, black, red, green and white. The female bunad consists of a long skirt, bodice, shirt, and something to wear on the head. The male one generally has knee-length trousers, stockings, shirt, waistcoat and overcoat. Male bunads are less decorated than the females¹, but they are still rather goodlooking.

To get a bunad is expensive, as it needs a lot of work and is made from costly materials. However, once you have one, it will last forever. My mother currently wears a bunad that belonged to my grandmother, my sister has the one that belonge to my mother - I am the only one who has a new one. And I will wear it until I grow out of it.

¹I note that I here speak of bunads as if they were living creatures. This may not be very far from the truth. An article of clothing created with so much love and care is bound to be a little more sentient than your average pair of jeans.

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