More Auld Garbs (KH)


Katharina Hauptmann's picture

In my previous article I wrote about the traditional costume, the Þjóðbúning, but only the women’s costumes.

And since I am all for equality, I will now talk about the male costume as well as about children’s garbs. So hold your horses, boys and girls!

Today, we don’t know that much about the men’s costume in Iceland, at least not compared to the information we have about the women’s traditional attire. Also sadly very few pieces of old men’s garments have survived.

So these limited resources are all we have to work with.

One can find three very different versions of the male Þjóðbúning, whereas the typical þjóðbúningur karla is the only direct descendant of traditional daily wear of Icelandic men, while the other were designed from the start as ceremonial costumes.

The Þjóðbúningur karla was mostly worn from the 17th until the 19th century. It was commonly made of navy blue, black or brown loden cloth and came with woolen breeches or trousers, a usually double buttoned vest and a double buttoned, short jacket called treyja. Sometimes a woolen peysa (cardigan) with a single row of buttons was used instead of the vest and treyja. And like their female counterparts, this costume also came with a jolly tail cap, though historically different hats were also en vogue.

In the middle of the 19th century, when the traditional þjóðbúning had gotten out of fashion and many Icelandic men had taken to using continental clothing, Sigurður Guðmundsson, an Icelandic artist, designed a costume which closely resembles 10th century Nordic clothing. This fornmannaklæði or litklæði (‘color clothes’) was quite popular for some time but eventually disappeared at the end of the 20th century.

Although not really a traditional costume, the hátíðarbúningur (‘festive costume’) was conceived as a modernized version of the old school national costume. Even today in 2014, Icelandic men frequently wear this outfit instead of a festive dinner jacket to formal events.

I just love that!

I find it sad though that the men’s garbs are so much less fancy than the ladies’ costumes and that we know so little about them.

As for the children’s costumes, búningur barna, the costumes for boys and girls were, generally speaking, similar to the adult clothing but only slightly adapted in size and maybe amount of decoration. But of course they also included funny hats.

What’s with those national costumes and weird hats? What’s with all those tassels?

Some of you reading this may ask themselves now “What about shoes?”Nowadays Icelanders wear modern shoes with the national costume, that is no surprise, especially when keeping in mind that in the old days shoes were made of either fish or sheep skin, both equally unattractive to me. These shoes are known as roðskór (‘fish skin shoe’) and sauðskinsskór (‘sheep skin shoe’) respectively.

Some people also cheat and put on leather chaussures with buckles similar to the shoes commonly used with the Faroese and Norwegian national costumes in the 18th or 19th century. But like I said, that is cheating.

Icelanders value and celebrate their national costumes, and rightfully so.

There are special tailors and associations dealing exclusively with everything revolving around the Þjóðbúning, so if you want a custom made Icelandic national costume with all the bells as whistles (and tassels), you should contact one of these wonderful experts, such as Þjóðbúningastofu 7ÍHÖGGI or Annríki - Þjóðbúningar og skart.

If I ever get my own þjóðbúning, I might post of photo of me here - just without the hat.

Katharina Hauptmann - [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.