These past few months I’ve learned that fashion traditions are really quite important in Norway. There’s a rich history in which knitting especially has an important place. I’ve never seen this many people knit before and I love that this tradition is still very much part of current culture. Besides, making your own clothing is not only more sustainable, it also strengthens the relationship you have to the item. This also goes for the traditional Bunad dresses the Norwegians wear. Not only are they valuable, they are such important symbols that they are really loved and taken care of. In that sense, honoring fashion heritage contributes to sustainable fashion.
On a random day in Bergen city center, you’ll see someone wearing a Mariusgenser [Marius sweater] at least every 20 minutes. Heck, you’ll even see some dogs wearing it! The sweater was made immensely popular by war hero, alpinist and moviestar Marius Eriksen, who wore it in the 1953 movie ‘Troll i Ord’. It is usually dark blue with a red and white pattern, the same colors as Norway’s national flag, and is considered a national icon representing the Norwegian’s love for the outdoors.
Unn Søiland Dale is generally considered to be the designer of the Mariusgenser. She is a big name in Norwegian fashion history, having meant a great deal for Norwegian knitting. She used new patterns and bright colors and made designs for big brands like Dior and Givenchy. She employed hundreds of women and we own our current way of pattern-writing largely to her. Dale got her inspiration for the Mariusgenser from the book ‘Norske strikkemønstre’ [Norwegian knitting patterns] by Annichen Sibbern from 1929 and sold the rights of the pattern in 1954 to the company Sandnes Uldvarefabrik. In 2011 that company shared that they have since sold around five millions copies of the pattern. Fun fact: Marius’ mom Bitten Eriksen claimed she was actually the first one to come up with the design and started her own shop in Oslo where she sold the pattern as well as readymade sweaters.
The Bunad is the official dress that Norwegians wear when there’s something to celebrate. The national holiday, May 17th, is swiftly approaching and I can’t wait to experience it for the first time. Though I have seen some Bunader at a Norwegian wedding and a baptism, they should be all over the place at May 17th.
Each region in Norway has its own Bunad. They differ in design, color and ornaments and apparently there’s hundreds of different versions. During the 19th century Norwegian nationalism and romanticism flourished and traditional dress of different regions became the source for the Bunad dresses. It was only in the 20th century that they were really promoted and became commonly worn. Bunader are generally of high quality, sourced and handmade in Norway and decorated with beautiful embroidery and silver jewelry.
It’s amazing to me that so many Norwegians wear a Bunad. It’s such a wonderful way to honor tradition and keep alive cultural heritage. The Bunad is an example of how we all should relate to our clothes: an investment made to fit you, yours for life and something you take good care of.
The video below shows a wide selection of Bunader and the different regions they are worn.
Kofter and votter
Like I mentioned earlier, knitting really is a much valued Norwegian tradition. From this tradition, several garments developed towards typical Norwegian designs that are very popular today. Two types of garments that I noticed specifically are kofter and mittens.
A kofte [multiple: kofter] is a Norwegian knitted sweater vest. They have been made since (at least) the 19th century and some regions have their own kofte, like the Lusekofte, Fanakofte and Setesdalkofte. While the more traditional patterns resemble that of the Mariusgenser, there’s kofter with any pattern (and color) you can think of. I especially like the ones with the little hooks as buttons.
Mittens [votter] are knitted throughout the world, but the Norwegian ones are something special. They developed from a rich tradition and have intricate but very recognizable patterns. Throughout the winter I saw them everywhere and they even got me so inspired that I tried knitting some of my own. Trust me, I have a long way to go.
I’m looking forward to learn more about Norwegian fashion heritage. Unn Søiland Dale is definitely worth looking into some more, as is the history of the Bunad. Please let me know if there’s any traditions or information that I should learn about.