The perfect shirt for Syttende Mai
A new owner at Hovden Wear pays tribute to her heritage
St. Paul, Minn.
In the mountains of central Norway, Ingvill Montgomery grew up in the small village of Vingelen. Immersed in a community of weaving, knitting, woodwork, and other crafts, Ingvill took pieces of her family history and heritage, as well as the traditional craft, when she founded Hovden Formal Farm Wear (now Hovden Wear).
Hovden is named after the farm in Norway where Ingvill’s ancestors lived. Busserull shirts—a unisex linen shirt—were the work uniform on the farm and are the garment that Hovden is most known for. Amid a renewed cultural interest in heritage, with DNA tests increasingly popular, and a turn toward cultural authenticity in media, fashion, and even culinary arts, Hovden’s reputation for slow fashion made by traditional Norwegian methods brings the past into the present.
Hovden has origins in Norway, Oregon, and now Minnesota with its new owner Elizabeth Curtiss. Elizabeth has a deep connection to Norway, especially the Norwegian language, and even more specifically the busserull!
Curtiss grew up going to Skogfjorden, the Norwegian language camp at Concordia Language Villages, where they sang a song about busseruller, and once she discovered Hovden, she purchased one of their first white tunics. With her sister, Gina Moorhead, as a fashion consultant (creator of the brand House of Gina Marie and owner of Union Market in Mankato, Minn.), Elizabeth plans to take Hovden Wear in a new direction while maintaining the values that inspired the company.
Following is recent conversation I had with Curtiss.
Laila Simon: Can you tell me about your personal connection to Norway?
Elizabeth Curtiss: My connection to Norway started with my grandmother. She was born in the United States to Norwegian parents and the youngest of six. Her older siblings were born between 1900 and 1911, and then in 1922, along came Fern. By that time, the United States had gone through World War I and there was a big push to “be American,” so when my grandma entered school, her teacher told her parents to stop using Norwegian in the home. This meant that all five of her siblings were bilingual, but she grew up knowing only English.
When I learned this, I thought it was really sad and not right. I heard about Skogfjorden in fourth grade and decided I wanted to learn Norwegian. I attended for six years and loved it; I then started working there, and this summer will be my 20th on staff! Skogfjorden really opened the doors to Norway. My grandparents took Gina and me on a trip there when we were in high school so we could see where the family came from. Learning the language allowed me to move to Norway after college, first as an au pair, and later, as an English and Norwegian teacher. I ended up living in Oslo for about five years total and feel very much connected to the country, the language, the people, and the culture.
LS: How does the Hovden Wear brand connect to your personal heritage?
EC: Hovden Wear allows me to dig into new areas of my heritage. I had heard of a busserull, and my mother, sister, and I embroidered and constructed my bunad for my wedding, but now I have a chance to learn more. I look forward to learning about how my ancestors would have dressed and what they would have used on the farm. Both my grandmother’s Norwegian ancestors and my grandfather’s Swedish ancestors came from farming families, so doing research for Hovden Wear feels like doing research about my own family.
LS: Hovden Wear has gained a reputation for its ethical sustainable fashion. What does “slow fashion” mean to you, and is that an identity that Hovden Wear will continue to have?
EC: Slow, ethical, and sustainable fashion is incredibly important. When I think about my grandmother and my ancestors before her, I know that nothing was wasted. They used what they had. They patched and repaired. They sewed and they mended. It was important to take care of their things because they didn’t have much, and they needed things to last. I also learned from my father that it is often better to spend a little more money to buy something that is well made and will last. That way you end up buying one or two shirts, instead of a dozen, but they end up lasting and looking beautiful for years. I think both ideas are very much connected to slow fashion. As a society, we need to realize that it is worth it to buy items that are made with care and attention and that will last us for many years. It is better for the tradespeople, it is better for the earth, and it is better for us as consumers.
LS: What is a busserull and what makes it so iconic as a garment?
EC: A busserull is a traditional work shirt that was often worn by farmers 150 years ago. It embodies the idea of zero waste in that the pattern uses squares, instead of curved pieces, which means the pattern pieces can fit together tightly and use the bolt of cloth efficiently. Busserull shirts could be worn by men or women and were often made from bright blue or red cloth with white stripes; however, other colors could be used as well. It is very interesting because the busserull was created out of necessity, but it totally fits the trends of zero waste, sustainable fashion, and slow fashion, which are becoming more and more important to consumers today.
LS: Can you tell me about the materials used in Hovden Wear’s garments and where they are sourced from?
EC: We have two different sources of materials. The traditional busserull fabrics come from the Solberg factory in Norway. This factory follows traditional methods and patterns to create cloth that is clearly recognizable. We also work with Doben Creaciones Textiles in Spain. The women who own and run this business focus on traditional sewing methods, and they also have linen fabric that we use. All of the fabrics are made of 100% natural fibers, either cotton, linen, or wool, and are ethically sourced.
LS: What is your vision for the future of Hovden?
EC: One of the more noticeable changes so far is the change in name. The original name was Hovden Formal Farm Wear, but I have shortened it to Hovden Wear. Although I will retain the farm inspiration, I wanted a name that was a bit easier to remember and more open to new possibilities. Right now, I am learning about the business and the people who love and support it. I would ultimately like for Hovden Wear to grow. I want to create a company that makes people feel connected to Norway in some way. Many people will come to Hovden Wear because of personal or family connections, but I also want to reach people who are interested in learning more. Norway is such an amazing place for so many reasons. The culture, the history, the people, the values: there are so many reasons to be proud of one’s Norwegian heritage.
You can find out more about Hovden Wear and visit their online shop at hovdenwear.com.
This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.