Traditional Dress

The Inuits' animal skin clothes

In former times the Inuits only wore clothes made from animal hides or skins. These clothes were warm and hardwearing, and if properly looked after could cope with the winter's freezing temperatures in the Arctic region. Both men and women's clothes consisted of furs, trousers and boots, but the cut and choice of animal skin was different for each sex. The skins were taken from animals that were killed and captured, and, depending on the species of the prey, were of very different weight, durability and appearance.

Carefully selected skin

Men's clothing was made so that they would neither freeze to death on their long hunting trips on the winter ice nor be soaked to the skin when hunting by kayak. "A man is what his wife makes him," said the Inuits, because they knew that if they were to survive in the harsh Arctic winter, the skins used in their clothes had to be carefully chosen and perfectly sewn. Being a skilled seamstress thus earned a woman a great deal of respect. If you could sew good kamiks, trousers and anoraks, then you were assured of a good existence. Today the traditional animal skin suits can be seen in most local museums.

From traditional dress to national costume

When the Europeans set foot in Greenland in the 17th and 18th centuries, they brought with them clothing fabrics and glass beads as goods to trade. These materials gradually become incorporated into the Inuits' dress, particularly for festive attire. For men the hide trousers were replaced by a thick woollen material called 'holmensklæde' (literally island cloth), and for women the anorak was sewn in silks. The glass beads were initially used in the same way as when decorating oneself with beads fashioned from bone. It gradually became prestigious to use more and more beads, and this trend is particularly visible on the women's national costume.

Wearing the national costume

Today the Greenlandic national costume is used on special festive occasions and at festivals such as Christmas, Easter, Greenland's National Day, confirmations and weddings. On birthdays the national costume can also be used, not least on a child's first birthday. When a child has his or her first day at school at the beginning of August, it is a day of great celebration in Greenland. The six-year-old girls and boys are usually dressed in national costumes on this special day. In addition to the traditional festivals, visitors to Greenland will also see the national costume being worn when cruise ships call at port or when there are other special events.

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