Thursday, September 23, 2010

Folkdräkt: The History of Folkdress and the Birth of the National Costume

As recently as 1830 Sweden was still an agrarian society in which each region had very distinctive characteristics. From home design, to furnishings, cuisine and dress, each region had a specific style in which all of its inhabitants partook. The dress was in fact enforced and since every province had its own style of dress, a worker from Angermanland was easy to identify when he came to work in Stockholm down to the very town of origin. Soon after the Industrial Revolution dress edicts disappeared and within a generation folk costumes faded out, in favor of individualism.

In 1900 Märta Palme came to Tullgarn Castle, which was the home of the Crown Princess Victoria of Baden. Due to the Princess’ Nationalist convictions, she required that the female staff and herself wear folk costumes. Märta Palme wore a version of the costume that belonged to the region of Vingåker-Österåker in the province of Södermanland.

This introduction to folk costumes led Märta to head up the Swedish Woman's National Costume Association in 1902. Section one of its by-laws states: "The purpose of the association is to bring about a liberation from the domination of foreign fashion among Swedish women through the introduction of a more common use of national costumes." The national costume, which she referred to as "Din Svenska Dräkt," was to have its origin in the folk or peasant costume. And by 1903, Märta Palme Jörgensen had fashioned a costume for all of Sweden, which she described in a series of articles in the magazine Idun. “We need strong colors in the peasant costume. They have an invigorating effect on our senses - and they are necessary as contrast to the deep, green pine forest and the cold, white snow."

Shortly after the First World War, eagerness for the National Romanticist waned and the Swedish Costume fell to the way side, (though Märta Jörgensen wore it religiously until her death in 1967). She did not live to see the Folkdräkt revival of the 1970's, nor to see her costume popularly accepted as the official National Costume when Queen Silvia wore it on the first National Day, June 6th, 1983. While the Regional costumes are presumably only to be worn by inhabitants or descendents of a particular region, any Swede may wear the National costume, with pride. 
The costume consists of a blue linen dress with a high bodice embroidered with white marguerites, a white särk, or smock/shift is based on a man's wedding shirt from the early 19th century, a yellow apron with a blue panel embroidered with marguerites, and a blue belt. Black shoes and stockings are worn. The costume is finished off with a pewter brooch and matching belt clasp. Many women wear a huvudbonad (or head covering) that is a bit reminiscent of the flying nun's wimple. 

Folkdräkt are commonly worn for celebrations such as Midsommar, National Day and Lucia Festivals. Folkdräkt are held on the same level as a parade uniform, but can be used on less formal occasions as well.

My National Costume was a gift from my very dear friend Inga-Marte Ahman, who was also a great resource in learning about folkdräkt.


  1. "How did this get on the internet?"

    Great work you two.

    Fun read I of stuff I had no idea about.

    Now are you going to wear your National Costume to work?