Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu
Greenland National Museum & Archives

Arnanut kalaallisuut

Women's national dress

The current form of the colourful national dress of women in Greenland is relatively recent. It has elements from pre-colonial times mixed with the addition of European materials. National dress in Greenland has developed and changed significantly, especially during the 1900s. The national dress of west Greenland is obviously inspired by traditional skin clothing, although important elements with spiritual significance as well as traditional clothing patterns are disappearing.
Arnanut kalaallisuut

The symbolism of colours has varied throughout history. The Moravian custom of using different coloured ribbons to signal martial status presumably influenced the choice of colour in different parts of Greenlandic national dress. The colour black is associated with widowhood. In general, the older the woman is the more toned down and darker the colours worn.


Greenlandic women apparently stopped embroidering the crotch of their trousers because Europeans considered this ‘erotic’ decoration sinful. Originally the symbolism of the embroidery was probably linked to spirituality, signalling the woman’s fertility and childbearing capacity.


In recent decades there have been some intense debates about the use and misuse of Greenlandic national dress, especially when used by non-Greenlanders as inspiration for clothing designs. In the 1980s a dress was designed with embroidered skin, causing women’s associations in Greenland to protest against what they saw as the inappropriate imitation of their national dress. In 2009 young female politicians in Greenland were up in arms about a fashion designer’s creation of kamik boots. The protestors claimed the use of their national clothing to be in violation of Greenlanders’ collective intellectual property rights.


Search Nationalmuseum and Archieve of Greenland