Sunday, 21 June 2015

Midsummer and folk costume

On Friday it was Midsummer's Eve, which is a really big thing in Sweden, and even bigger if you live in Dalarna, the region of Sweden that is the most serious about Midsummer traditions. Now I didn't do anything particular this year, we had a family lunch and then it was off to Vika to raise the Maypole/Midsummer pole and hear a speech about how great the summer is. It is a time to wear the traditional folk costume though, which me, my mother and one of my sisters did.

It was typical Swedish Midsummer weather as you can see by me and my sister wearing our wool winter shawls over the rest of the costume. My mother isn't wearing her headpiece either because it rained for a lot of the time and she didn't want to ruin it, it's quite a complicated thing out of hay and topped with a very finely pleated piece of fabric.

Since my plan for the HSM Heirloom challenge is to do some alterations on my costume I felt that this would be a good chance to go through some of the history of the costume. By looking at the picture above you can see that my and my my sister are not wearing the same costume as our mother. That is because you usually choose your costume based on the parish that you are from. My family on my father's side can trace our history back to the 14th century in Vika, outside of Falun in Dalarna, so for me and my sisters it was natural to choose the Vika costume. My mother though is from the county of Södermanland and is wearing a costume from Vingåker.

Costumes from Vingåker, note the headpiece
The history of the folk costume is quite complicated. Basically from the start it was used in most Swedish parishes, with each parish having its won version. My mother's Vingåker costume is one of the oldest unchanged ones in Sweden, there were regulations already at the end of the 16th century that you were not allowed to do any changes to it. During the 18th century the costumes started to deviate more from the current fashions, looking at many folk costumes you can still see fossilized remains of 18th century fashion. This also meant that the traditional costumes survived more in rural communities, people of the higher classes and people in towns preferred to keep up with fashions rather than tradition. Where the traditional costume stayed alive it usually developed a very complicated system of colours and accessories and how to wear the costume correctly. One of the most complicated costumes is the one from Leksand, Dalarna, where there is even a published calendar on how to wear and combine the different parts of the costume correctly, if you have more than the basic costume.
varieties of the Leksand costume,

When talking about folk costumes nowadays you usually differ between costumes with an unbroken tradition and reconstructed costumes. An unbroken tradition means that the costume has been in use up until the early 20th century, most costumes are reconstructed ones though. That means that the use of traditional costume disappeared in the 19th century, but when the wave of romantic nationalism swept over Sweden in the early 20th century they were reconstructed to and people started wearing them again. Some costumes were reconstructed, with the help of textile remnants and oral traditions, other were totally constructed out of a general "this would represent our parish"-feeling. I personally am trying to get away from looking down "new" or reconstructed costumes, not the least because many of them date to the 1920's and 1930's and have acquired a history as well, even if it's not as long as the unbroken costumes.

The traditional costumes are mostly associated with Midsummer, but can be worn for all occasions, they are considered formal wear. I've worn mine for example when singing with the church choir at Christmas and to balls when I was a student.

In the next post I'll talk a bit more about my costume.

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