Commentary: Norwegian geography — via clothing |

Commentary: Norwegian geography — via clothing

Max Fenson
Submitted to The Union

As tourists attend various local celebrations throughout Norway, they often are impressed by the colors, patterns, styles and jewelry that make up what they consider national folk costumes. But the informed observer's appreciation goes far beyond that.

Close examination of authentic traditional men's and women's outfits will tell that visitor what narrow region that Norwegian celebrant's family calls home.

Rural communities in old-time Norway often developed their exclusive clothing designs and those patterns remained intact because the mountainous terrain hindered travel. A local design was not subject to style influences of an otherwise nearby community.

Over the years, the traditional garb has been supplemented by modern fashion interpretations. This has resulted in modern styles being labeled costumes, while the strict traditional wear is called bunad (buh – nahd).

It has also caused the creation of the Norwegian National Bunad Council which oversees the geographical authenticity and execution of traditional clothing.

Today, traditional bunads are often seen at weddings, baptismals, confirmations and on the national holiday, May 17.

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The normal fabric of a dress or coat is wool. Shirts are made of linen and shawls or aprons are wool or silk.

Elaborate embroidery, scarves, caps, purses and silver belts often complete the ensemble.

One bunad can last a lifetime, being passed down from generation to generation with each person adding something.

Men's pants — knicker length — are often made from wool which is pressed into shape rather than woven. Leather shoes often feature large silver buckles.

A few members of Grass Valley's Sons of Norway Gulldalen Lodge have such traditional bunads.

Roger Johnsen was born in Norway and in the mid-70s, he attended a bunad making class in Larvik, Norway.

A certified bunad tailor supervised the eight-week cutting and sewing session and Roger completed the full outfit as shown in the photo (where Nels Nelson is shown wearing that bunad).

Siri Fenson is wearing a bunad from the Hardanger mountain area. It is probably the most well-known Norwegian national costume.

The vest embroidery is korsting (cloister stitch). The bottom of the apron is embroidered in the famous Hardanger style that originated in the 1700s.

Else Sanzone also sports a festbunad from Gulbrandsdalen. Her Norwegian mother gave her embroidered material on Else's 50th birthday and she then cut and sewed her attractive traditional outfit.

Her silver belt, worn by married women only and earlier, only by the elite, is made of bits off silver mounted on leather or velvet.

Laila Glahn has a hverdagsbunad (everyday bunad) that hails from Ostfold, an area just southeast of Oslo. The cotton fabric is handwoven with a rust bodice and green pleated skirt. Pewter stays are on the bodice.

Anne-Martha Klovstad wears a bunad representing Nordland (northern Norway), a gift from her parents when Anne-Martha immigrated to the U.S. in 1953. Her mother did all the embroidery.

Julie Anne Droivold has a bunad from Halten, a Norwegian town bordering Sweden and also her father's birthplace.

She ordered her first custom-made bunad in 1997 but the airlines lost it as she was returning to the U.S.

Fortunately, the tailor retained her measurements and a new one soon appeared. Her bunad is registered and once was the only one in the U.S. from that region.

Betty Williamson discovered her bunad in a Grass Valley consignment shop. It was priced at $10. Having traveled to Norway a year before, she recognized the embroidery and offered $20. She walked out with a $4,000 bunad.

Here in the United States, we're often quick to determine where a person is from by his speech pattern.

In Norway, an informed observer can pretty much guess where a person hails from by the design of his or her folk bunad.

To learn more, attend the local Viking Fair Saturday at the Nevada County Fairgrounds where members of the local Sons of Norway lodge will be wearing their bunads.

It's from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Ponderosa Hall. Tickets are $2 adults, $1 children ages 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and under.

Max Fenson is a member of Sons of Norway — Gulldalen Lodge.

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