The Language of Folk Dress

Clothing form and decoration are stitched with multiple narratives that speak of production, design influences, use, and community connection. Cultural identity can be woven into clothing, allowing garments to become strong social and national symbols. This symbolism is communicative[1]; it can connect a person to a culture, speaking loudly without words.

The Ørskog Bunad (Sunnmøre) is found in Norway, typically in the county of Møre og Romsdal.[2] It is an excellent example of cultural communication and identity development through dress. Around the time of Norwegian independence in 1905, regional Bunads became symbols of national identity.[3] Many Norwegians don full ensembles, like this one, for various special occasions, national celebrations, and church activities. Even though there are differences in styles and materials used among the regions of Norway, the Bunad connects people through a shared cultural identity.

Authenticity in production and use of folk dress has been questioned, particularly when styles have crossed geographical borders. Many Scandinavians immigrating to North America brought along folk garments and dress patterns. Traditional styles have been “revived in colourful hybrid forms,”[4] adapted to Canadian and American contexts. Ageless, this type of garment is worn and adapted through the life course, maintains its cultural importance, and influences personal and social identity.

[1] Fiona Parrot, “‘It’s Not Forever’: the Material Culture of Hope,” Journal of Material Culture 10, no. 3 (2005): 256; Lizette Graden, “Folk Costume Fashion in Swedish America: Crafting Cultural Heritage and Diversity Through Dress,” Swedish-American History Quarterly 62, no. 3 (2011): 187-188.

[2] Kjersti Skavhaug, Norwegian Bunad (Oslo, Norway: Hjemmenes Forlag, 1982), 182-83.

[3] Ibid, 16-17.

[4] Frances Kennett, Ethnic Dress: a Comprehensive Guide to the Folk Costume of the World (London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 1995), 48.

Photograph by Anne Bissonnette©

Cite this page (bibliography):

Bissonnette, Anne, Larisa Cheladyn, Stephanie Huolt, Robyn Stobbs and Sarah Woodyard. “The Language of Folk Dress.” Stitched Narratives, Clothing and Textiles Collection Web site, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta, July 15, 2015. [INSERT URL].

This exhibition is part of the graduate course “Material Culture & Curatorship” (HECOL 668).

Sponsorship provided by The Kule Institute for Advanced Study and The Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives.