Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clothing and Culture: On Spending a Day Hanging Out With People in Bunads

I went to a wedding this past weekend, and it was... different.

My friend's now-husband is Norwegian. His mother emigrated from Norway, his parents make their living in large part by selling Norwegian folk art of the carving variety. He's Norwegian. And, as such, he decided that he wanted to be married in a bunad, whatever else happened in the wedding. In the end, their wedding's visual theme was heavily influenced by Norwegian folk culture, right down to the invitations instruction to wear a bunad if we had them. The wedding party wore bunads, and they wanted some of the guests to, if they were able.

Well, it turns out that I had one at my disposal, so long as I didn't mind borrowing it from my grandmother, and the bride was thrilled at the idea that someone from her side would be able to participate actively in that part of the wedding.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, "bunad" is the umbrella term for the various traditional costumes from Norway. They vary region-to-region, and the wearer has the right to wear the clothing from certain areas depending on familial and marriage connections. Here are just a few examples:

L√łken-costume, which is not a traditional bunad but has some similar design elements
Bunads from Telemark
The lovely lady who runs The Random Lolita in her bunad
So I visited my grandmother and tried on each of her three (yeah, three) bunads. The first two didn't fit at all, unfortunately, and would have required a lot of alteration to fit over my busty frame. The third, though, a plain blue and red number purchased in Wisconsin, fit perfectly without a bit of alteration. It was like it was meant to be. My grandmother was absolutely thrilled that her granddaughter was wearing her bunad and getting involved in Norwegian culture, and I was just glad that I wouldn't have to do ample tailoring to get it to fit over the frontal units. (Pictures of me in the bunad are forthcoming; my camera didn't work, but the bride's family is putting together a CD of photos from the event)

So, the day of the wedding came, and I got dressed. At first I was worried. I wasn't worried about how I looked or whether or not I was "wearing it right," but simply about the environmental factors. When one is bundled up, neck-to-ankle, with long sleeves and fairly heavy fabric, summer heat becomes a bit of a worry. The day, however, was cool and I didn't have to worry for long.

Wearing a bunad for a day was... interesting. There was constant discussion among the wedding guests about which region they came from, who actually owned the bunad, and how the clothing was put together. Because I was wearing the bunad, I felt fearless about walking up to people and chatting with them about their clothing or their involvement in the wedding. I was part of a traditional wedding procession (walking behind a horse and carriage containing the bride and groom, which involved trekking through fields), got to carry a cake into the reception in a sort of procession of cakes, and even learned how to do some folk dancing during the reception. It was so much fun, and very different from the experience I would have had if I'd just worn a dress.

Moreover, wearing a bunad changed me for the night. This is something that they will never tell you about clothing on a day-to-day basis, but it's true and important to know: clothing can bring something out in you. In the case of this particular clothing, this particular day, it made me feel connected to my heritage. We tell ourselves stories that the past is past and that those from whom we are descended are long gone, but it simply isn't true. We are connected, no matter how tenuous that connection may be. For me, simply putting on a dress was enough to make me feel that connection. I don't often get a chance to run headlong into my heritage, being a twenty-something in America, and this was a great way to immerse myself in it.

It wasn't the prettiest thing I've ever worn, and it certainly wasn't what I'd have worn without the bride's request, but, at the end of the day, I still didn't want to take it off.

 And now, of course, I want a bunad of my own, and don't think for a moment that I won't wear it.

No comments:

Post a Comment