Icelandic Language Blog

National Dress Posted by on Jun 23, 2012 in Icelandic culture

A little while ago, nearer to May Day, was National Dress Day (peysufatadagur). I had to wait to make this post because it took some time for people to start uploading all their photos and videos. Otherwise, this post is so late because I have my posts for this blog written and scheduled over a month in advance (I actually wrote this post at the end of May).

Iceland has a few versions of a national costume/dress and they have them for both men and women. They each have names, and all the parts have names too, although not even Icelanders tend to know all of them. About a hundred years ago it was still common to see people (especially women) wearing the national dress, and even in the 1940’s you can still find some mentions of people wearing them every day, but these days you usually only see them for National Dress Day, Independence Day, or weddings. Even then, it’s mostly that the women are in the national costume and the men are in tuxedos. You almost never see people wearing only parts of the national costume, although I imagine that many people don’t have a full set.

National costumes are very, very expensive and can cost thousands of dollars today depending on the type. Not only can they be made out of silk and gold, with embroidery and fastenings, but they can also have many layers and be tailor-made instead of self-made. I’ve been asked about this a lot, but I’ve never seen a place where you can go in and buy a ready-made national dress, not even a simple one or a knock-off. Many people, if they have them at all, their older relatives made or bought them and handed them down. You can take classes and learn how to make one yourself in the traditional manner instead of getting one tailor-made, but even the materials alone might cost a lot and the classes are probably only in Icelandic.

These three photos are just from my dictionary. You can already see that there are varying types of women’s dress and a lot of names to memorize. The English Wikipedia article is pretty good about labelling their photos with which type of dress is being worn. In Iceland you can find quite a number of books on the national dresses at the library, but finding books that include the men’s outfit is a bit more difficult.

Here is an ad from 1925, describing silk and “silk flauel” (remember “flauel” from a previous post?) as an appropriate choice for making national dresses. From A book from 1935 explains that you need 3.5 meters of fabric for the most basic national dress.

Here is a news video about this year’s National Dress Day, and you can see many dresses at once in it.

The Women’s School has a photo gallery of National Dress Day across some years.

Here is another one from the same school. Remember the post about suffixes? “Kvennó” at the upper-left of the page is short for “Kvennaskólinn”, the school name.

I think the Icelandic “lopapeysa“, a type of woollen sweater that’s actually quite modern, is advertised a lot more often than the national dress. You see it a lot in tourist advertisements, textbooks, and even just picture books for Icelandic kids. People wear them a lot more often too, and you can buy them just about anywhere in Reykjavík. Coming from a country that doesn’t have a traditional dress (Native American clothing and “jeans and a cowboy hat” don’t exactly count), I think it’s sad that the Icelandic ones aren’t worn more and aren’t more accessible, and that something not even a hundred years old has become a more recognizable icon.

If you search for peysufatadagur in Google, depending on the time of year you get a varying amount of results. I searched around and before this year’s holiday and didn’t find many, but if you search a little while afterwards then you get a lot of hits. I can’t find some image galleries I found last year either. I’ve noticed that Google tends to be pretty strange with its searching methods if you’re trying to search in Icelandic, so that might be it.

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About the Author: sequoia

I try to write about two-thirds of the blog topics on cultural aspects and one-third on the language, because there's much more out there already on the language compared to daily life information. I try to stay away from touristy things because there's more of that out there than anything else on Iceland, and I feel like talking about that stuff gives you the wrong impression of Iceland.


  1. Stefania B. Eymundson:

    Great article on Icelandic National Dress (I have been researching this area as I plan to make one for myself).

    Yes, there are several styles and variations to those styles..all very beautiful.

    I have been collecting old postcards of Iceland’s National Dress to refer to and have also been given a handmade pattern for a couple of the pieces (which will be a great help).

    Some parts of the skautbuningur seem to be made out of a heavy material, such as velvet. Does anyone know what fabric this is?

    I shall check out the links you provided, they look interesting. Thank you.

    • sequoia:

      @Stefania B. Eymundson If you make one, please share photos! Progress photos would be good too. I like seeing people make things basically, haha.

      I have a lot more things about the women’s national dress that are more useful for someone studying it in detail, I can put them in a ZIP folder and give them to you. I’ll Email you to see if you want them.