Wear your 17. mai sløyfe with pride

Left side, right side, bunad or no bunad?

Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB
In 2008, Queen Sonja (right) raised some eyebrows when she wore her 17th of May sløyfe on her right side. Crown Princess Mette-Marit (left) followed the unofficial protocol and wore her ribbon on her left side.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

Every year when the 17th of May comes, some of you may be lamenting that you don’t have a colorful bunad to put on. In Norway, 80% of all women and 20% of all men have one and wear them as symbol of national pride on Norway’s Constitution Day.

Purchasing a bunad can be a major financial commitment, and outside of Norway, obtaining one may not be easy, depending on where you live. Sourcing the materials may be difficult, and it can be hard to find someone qualified to sew the bunad. There are some courses where you can learn  to sew one for yourself, but finishing the bunad can take months or even years.

And then there is the dreaded “bunad police,”  the stringent enforcers of bunad dress protocol. Everything needs to be properly in place to  make your bunad authentically proper. While Norwegian Americans tend to be more forgiving when is comes to bunads, there is still a strong respect for the regional  traditions, and everyone wants to get it right.

But there is one piece of Syttende Mai apparel that is accessible to everyone and a must-have for most: the traditional 17th of  sløyfe. Available in many varieties and easy to make, these red, white, and blue ribbons are a fun and easy way to show your national pride and love for Norway.

The word sløyfe means simply  “tie” or “loop,” and the 17th of May sløyfe is simply three red, white, and blue ribbons looped together. These ribbons come in all varieties, and they are sometimes customized for groups or organizations with a specially designed pin.

But are there any rules when it comes to wearing a Syttende Mai sløyfe? Some would say yes, and others would say no.

According to my research, there is no set etiquette for wearing your 17th of May sløyfe, yet there are some unwritten rules that many abide by.

Most importantly, it is held up by many that you should wear your ribbons on the left side of your body, close to your heart. No one seems to know when and how this old custom started, but the symbolism is clear: your heart is with Norway, the country you love.

The same rule goes for all official Norwegian medals and pins.

Photo: Lise Åserud / POOL / NTB
In the 2021 pandemic year, Crown Princess Mette-Marit (left) and Queen Sonja (right) appeared on the balcony on May 17 wearing 17th of May ribbons with their bunads, but not all of the “bunad police” gave their approval.

Breaking with tradition

That said, not all Norwegians abide by this unwritten sløyfe rule. In 2008, none other than Queen Sonja raised some eyebrows when she appeared on the balcony of the palace wearing her ribbons on her right side for the annual 17th of May celebration. A good deal of discussion ensued in the press, but the palace never issued a statement on whether the queen had been right or wrong.

Another unwritten rule about 17th of May ribbons has to do with the bunad. It is commonly held that a sløyfe should never be worn with a bunad—and you can be sure that the bunad police are out to enforce this rule. Waving the Norwegian flag is okay, but wearing a sløyfe with a bunad is a no-no.

But, again, Norway’s queen has bucked the trend on more than one occasion, wearing her ribbons with her bunad. It could be the queen’s way of telling the people that she is one of them and puts on her ribbon  just like everyone else. One thing is for sure, though—Queen Sonja’s festive show of solidarity looks very good on Norway’s Constitution Day.

So, this year, no matter how you wear your sløyfe, we hope you will wear them with pride in the spirit of Norway’s Constitution day. Hipp hipp hurra for the red, white, and blue and Syttende Mai!

This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.