Please scroll to bottom of post for answers to your comment questions!
The traditional costume of Norway is called “bunad.” There are about 200 different types, each one representing a different part of the country. The word “bunad” really covers two different types of dress: The first is the traditional garb of a particular location (some of which can be traced back a long, long time – the ones used today usually represent the “fanciest”, holiday version of the dress) and a sort of “party dress” developed in the early 1900s during Norwegian national romanticism. The last category was often put together using fabrics, weaves, and embroideries from the particular location.
Today, bunads are used for festive occasions: Weddings, baptism, May 17th (constitution/independence day), Christmas, anniversaries, or when performing traditional music. It is customary that a girl gets a bunad for her church confirmation, usually when she is 15. I didn’t, though, and my mom got her first at 50! They are very expensive so it is a rather big deal, but the good thing is that they last forever. I know many people who have the bunad of their grandmothers, for instance.
There is an unwritten rule that you should have a geographical connection to the bunad you chose. I, for instance, could get one from my mom’s town or my dad’s town, because I have a family connection there. However, many people don’t care and get the one they like! Some are more popular than others, and the ones from Telemark are the most popular. They have a long history and they are gorgeous so I guess with good reason! Click here to see some beautiful details from the Telemarksbunad.
The bunads or traditional dresses have some symbolism to them, for instance, a headscarf means that the woman is married.
Many Norwegian-Americans in the US Midwest treasure the bunad, but it is often not really the real thing - sometimes people put stuff together to a costume but to a Norwegian it can look really weird!
Answers to your comment questions:
Yes, they are VERY warm! Lots of wool and lots of layers.
Yes, brides wear them, but probably only something like 5% of brides. Mainly on the West Coast where the bunad tradition is very strong.
You can buy them in the US, I believe, but to get the "authentic" ones they should probably be purchased in Norway. There are online businesses I believe but they are usually sown to measure, so that might be a little hard!
They are not like kilts, really, because kilts "belong" to a clan/family/name, while these belong to a geographical area.