Some tolerate it hot

Wearing a bunad in desert heat isn’t easy, but many Norskies say it’s worth the sweat

Photo: Erik Ringnes
The bunad was not developed with Arizona’s heat in mind, but these Norwegians put on their finest to celebrate Syttende Mai 2016 in Glendale, Ariz.

Sada Reed
Tempe, Ariz.

The bunad is a staple of Norway’s Constitution Day, or Syttende Mai, celebrations. Norwegians and Norwegian Americans honor the signing of Norway’s constitution each May 17 by wearing the festive garment and celebrating Norwegian identity through food, parades, speeches, and music.

Temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona, drastically differ from those of Norway. Despite highs of 99 degrees on May 13, several attendees still donned bunads at the joint Norwegians Worldwide and Phoenix-area Sons of Norway lodges’ Syttende Mai celebrations at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“It is a warm, heavy garment,” Norway native and Sons of Norway Desert Fjord Lodge 6-133 member Nina Poe said of her bunad. “You don’t stand out in the sun. You stay in the shade and you move as little as possible. But it’s not impossible to wear it. It’s okay.”

Modifying a bunad to accommodate desert temperatures isn’t necessarily easy or feasible. To even be called a bunad, a costume needs to be approved by the Norsk institutt for bunad og folkedrakt, or Norwegian Institute of Bunad and Folk Costume. The institute was established in 1947 and documents traditional clothing and folk costumes. According to its website, the NBF had about 70,000 registrations of clothes and costume parts as of 2011.

Director Camilla Rossing said the institute does not have a good answer for how to properly modify a bunad for desert temperatures because such conditions are not historically encountered in Norway. But she recommends light fabrics, like cotton or linen, but wool if there is going to be embroidery. An underskirt or petticoat of cotton would lift the woolen skirt away from legs, making the bunad airier, she said.

“Another suggestion might be to shorten the amount of fabric that you use when you sew your skirt,” Rossing said in an email. “Perhaps the pleats might be a bit more shallow, for example.”

Rossing also said wearing proper full-length linen shirts with standing collars may trap heat. She recommends trying shirts with three-quarter arms, “not gathered at the cuff, and with only a narrow lining at the end,” with a lower neckline, without a collar, and with a string or a brooch to tie it. These are traditionally chemises, not shirts, and are used in some bunads in Norway, she said.

Making such changes may be too much for some people’s tastes, Rossing said.

“However, I think you simply must be sensible about this and figure out for yourselves what is practical and doable,” she said.

Since a bunad represents the region of Norway from which a person originally hails or is connected, wearing that particular style of bunad is part of a person’s story—something Norwegians and Norwegian Americans in the Phoenix area may be reluctant to modify, regardless of weather. Making a new bunad can also be costly and time consuming.

One way to compensate is to limit use of the bunad to early in the morning or to indoor events.

“We do have our celebration early in the day and are finished about noon, so that helps a great deal,” said Sissel L. Espeland, a native of Norway and a Sons of Norway Overtro Fjell Lodge 6-153 member, in an email. She originally hails from Rogaland, a county in western Norway, and her wool Rogalands bunad was hand-embroidered in Norway by Husfliden.

“It is not difficult to wear my bunad,” she said. “I am so proud to use it. It is part of who I am.”

The invention of air conditioning also helps.

“Wearing the bunad—you just do it,” Poe said. “I crank the AC up. I go from the house to my car, and go to where I’m supposed to be wearing it. Most of the time it’s inside with air conditioning.”

This article originally appeared in the June 16, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.