Who will wear us now?
Each year Norwegians order more than 10,000 new bunads. But what happens to the trade when tailors are not allowed to touch their customers, and the 17th of May is canceled?
Laila Marie Hagen has never experienced a spring as quiet as this one. She’s a fulltime maker of bunads in Voss, and normally she would be sewing like mad right now. March and April are usually the busiest months of the year.
“It’s awfully quiet here now,” she says.
In springtime, all the young people who are getting confirmed have their bunads made, and, of course, there’s the 17th of May. This spring, with the coronavirus threatening, confirmations have been postponed, and the 17th of May is more or less canceled.
In Bunadsloftet, “The Bunad Attic” in Voss, the phones would normally be ringing, and people would be coming and going for fittings and collecting their clothes. But now, Laila has several half-finished bunads just waiting for someone to wear. They can’t be finished without a final fitting.
“We are not forbidden to have customers in here, but we have to keep our distance. And we cannot really work like that; to take measurements, we have to get real close!”
In Bunadsloftet, or actually “Bunad og kléloftet,” which is the full name, there are five tailors the workspace. Now some of them are working from home to make social distancing easier. The old wooden building has many narrow hallways and small rooms.
Together with her colleague Grete Ullestad, Laila is making bunads mostly for men. In the course of a year, she is able to make about 25, maybe 30, complete bunads. If you order a bunad from them, absolutely everything is handmade. A complete bunad for men, including silver, costs approximately NOK 60,000, whereas a woman’s bunad is less, around NOK 45,000. The tailors at Bunadsloftet make between 110 and 130 bunads each year. They also fix bunads that need repairs or alterations.
“Making a man’s bunad is a lot more complicated, and it requires more fabric and silver. For a Vossabunad, it’s between 40 or 50 buttons. I would say it’s almost twice as much work,” Laila says.
Both she and Grete were trained by older women who worked there before them. They take great pride in their handcraft, and they do their best to make a good quality product for customers—even if it means staying up sewing all night before May 17.
“There was this man who so badly wanted a bunad that spring. I told him, ‘I haven’t actually got the time, but if you can wait until 9 a.m. on May 17, I can get it to you by then, so you’ll be ready for the parade at 10 a.m.,’” she says, laughing.
Grete once had a request from a Norwegian-American family in the United States to have bunads made, but because of travel difficulties, they couldn’t come for their fittings. She thinks it’s great that Norwegian Americans are keeping in touch with their historical roots.
The women working at Bunadsloftet all have their own private business while sharing the facilities. With no one picking up any garments, there isn’t any money coming in either.
“We don’t know how long this will last, but if we can’t open as usual this spring, we’ll have to start calling customers and ask them to pick up garments or pay in advance. We have a lot of expenses,” says Grete.
Elias Kaarstad is Laila’s son. He’s 19 years old and has been laid off from his trainee position during the coronavirus crisis. He still doesn’t have a bunad, but today, Laila can use him as a mannequin for one of her finished costumes.
“It’s too hot,” Elias complains, as his mother dresses him in several layers of wool. But he thinks he, too, will have a bunad sooner or later.
“The boys normally wait a bit longer than the girls to order bunads. You have to be fully grown before you order one,” says Laila.
So what will they be doing this 17th of May?
“I will take a snowmobile trip,” says Elias. “I’m happy to where there are less people so for me that’s great!”
Laila will also go to the mountains. “But on foot or skis, if possible,” she says.
Grete hopes to wear her bunad: “I hope we can gather in small groups, and at least have a little celebration.”
All photos by Ingerid Jordal.
This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.