Folk horror movies are so rare, and films with Swedish folk attire as stage costumes are even rarer. That’s why it’s so interesting to analyze the outfits used in this movie called “Midsommar”. These Scandinavian garments – at least 500 costumes for the cast and extras, by the way – are mostly made from scratch to resemble the real Swedish traditional clothing as much as possible. Also, the garments are decorated with runes, which is rather unusual for modern popular films as well. And these runes aren’t just cute ornaments but meaningful symbols. In short, Midsommar is definitely worth watching and its movie costumes are worth studying.
This material is based on the video from YouTube channel “Costume CO”.
An American and Swedish Co-Pro, it's written and directed by Ari Aster – the same director as Hereditary. It's also from the same production company as “The Witch”.
The movie follows a group of friends who traveled to Sweden for a festival that occurs once every 90 years, only to find themselves in the clutches of a pagan cult.
The costumes were designed by a Hungarian costume designer and stylist Andrea Flesch.
Midsommar in Swedish tradition
While the grisly telling of the Midsommar film is entirely fictional, you might see it as a calling back to The Wicker Man and maybe even Logan's Run. But it's based upon June's midsummer – the longest night of the year and the Swedish celebration of the summer season. Just to put it into context, its origins lie in Sweden's agricultural roots. It was a time to welcome the months of fertility ahead. It's traditional to make flower garlands, which are brought by procession to place on the Maypole or midsummer pole.
According to Real Scandinavia, “This pole is erected in an open space and is the center of the day's festivities”. As it turns out, the Maypole is a comparatively new part of the Swedish midsummer tradition, it came to Sweden in the late Middle Ages from Germany, where the pole was decorated with leaves and raised on May 1, hence the name. And since spring comes later to Sweden, it was hard to find the greenery to decorate the pole on May 1, so the tradition was moved to midsummer.
Gathering flowers to weave into wreaths and crowns was a way to harness nature's magic to ensure good health throughout the year. It is believed that if a girl picks 7 different flowers in silence of the midsummer night and puts them underneath her pillow, she will dream of her future husband.
Taking elements from Scandinavian folk history, there was a dictate from director Ari Aster that all of the members of the pagan cult, the Hårga, all dressed in white – something that isn't typically Scandinavian.
Midsommar movie costumes were inspired by Swedish folk clothing
According to Fashionista, costume designer Andrea Flesch studied traditional Swedish folk dress or folkdräkt, which differ based on town and region.
Here's a selection of Swedish folk costumes from the American-Swedish Institute in Minnesota.
Women traditionally wore skirts, aprons, stockings, hats, and shoes, while men and boys wore trousers, shirts, long socks, and shoes.
As you can see, aside from the blouses and sometimes aprons, the costumes are vividly colored. Men’s and women's traditional folk dress comes in two primary colors of blue and yellow – the colors of the Swedish flag.
Fashionista also reported that the clothing usually worn in rural areas phased out during the mid-1800s due to industrialization but returned to style in contemporary times for nostalgia’s sake.
Tröja – jacket, 1920
Aside from small batches of reproductions and authentic historical pieces in museums, like we see here, large quantities of costumes weren't available to rent, so Andrea Flesch and her team had to design and build at least 500 costumes for the cast and extras.
And like the festival costumes of the Hårga, Swedes made their own hand-sewn garments at home. So the wardrobe department did just that – made all of the costumes from scratch. In a Los Angeles Times article, Andrea Flesch said that the villagers’ costumes are a classic Swedish cut and design.
Andrea Flesch told Fashionista that it was very important that it didn't become a high-fashion kind of thing, so you can believe that these people are working on their clothes for 90 years for this big event. Not everything is perfect.
Linen chemise, 1800-1899
Andrea Flesch said in an interview with Deadline, “It should look like they do their own costumes themselves, and everybody has his own costume. That's why it was also very important that all the costumes looked different – some of them are better made, some of them less – to see the difference. That it's not come out from a fashion house or a factory. So, that was very important, that it looks like homemade things, in a way”.
Skjorta – shirt, 1927
Väst – waistcoat
Andrea Flesch said that she sourced out something like 700 yards of 100-year-old linen fabric in Hungary and Romania and made all of the folk costumes out of that. She also ordered buttons from Sweden.
Here are some examples of traditional Swedish embroidery from the American Swedish Institute and the Textile Museum of Canada.
Andrea Flesch said that she used a lot of embroideries, original ones. A little bit from Scandinavia, but also from Hungary and Eastern Europe. Because these motifs were a little bit the same. In all of the world, in folk costumes, you can really find big similarities between folk motifs. Because they were preparing the movie in Hungary and it was not a very high budget movie, they had to try and find a lot of things in Hungary.
Embroidered lace border
Embroidered linen curtain
Linen hand towel
Peculiarities and detail of Midsommar stage costumes
Andrea Flesch said that “The concept was that we start the movie all in white, and as we go further, through these 7 feasts, everybody dressed up more and more colorful. Then, every feast had a color. I don't know how much you can see this in the movie, but the idea was that at first, we'd use only red. Then, we put some blue, and then some yellow, and then some green, and in the end, all the colors come together”.
Many pieces were hand-embroidered, while others were painted or printed, with costumes used to signify different families and even different jobs within the community, such as servers or musicians.
According to Fashionista, “There wasn't enough prep time to hand-stitch the detailed patterns, so she [the designer] found swatches of authentic Swedish embroidery. Flesch discovered that other countries, including Ukraine, Hungary, Romania and Peru, have similar-looking folk-style trims, which she then incorporated into the Swedish base designs”.
She tells Fashionista, “We added a new color with each ceremony: blue for the Ättestupan ceremony, green with the little boy’s pine dress for the Lake ceremony and red for the animal sacrifice”.
She said that the colors culminate in the Maypole dance ceremony – the girls dancing around the tree wear various colors: red, green, blue, yellow. The colors become even more intense in the final scenes, as the Hårga wear their most festive attire for the celebration of their May Queen.
This villager vest, for instance, from the May Queen festival dinner is embroidered in blue, red, yellow, and soft green.
While this villager vest worn during the final ceremony is bursting with an assortment of floral colors.
The silhouette, by the way, is very similar to this damask velvet bodice from the American Swedish Institute.
Livstycke – bodice
Fashionista wrote that “The senior male members wear ‘frocks’, explained by an elder as a tribute to the ‘hermaphroditic’ aspect of nature”. Andrea Flesch said, “This community raises a child all together, so [the societal norms are] not important: mother and father, woman and man. The elder men wear dresses and skirts because the [gender] is not so important”.
Ruben, the oracle of the community, also wears a shapeless tunic.
The Hårgan elder costumes worn for the attest to a ritual are in blues with a Viking silhouette of cloth cut in the positive and negative, with rune symbol appliques. Of all of the costumes in the movie, the fabric is the most exquisite.
According to the A24 Auctions that sold a handful of the Midsommar costumes, with proceeds going to charity, the blue linen was interwoven with real gold thread.
As a point of interest, A24 Auctions pointed out that the tunic features holes in the back, created to accommodate a safety harness.
Mysterious symbols on Midsommar costumes – runes
“As a person grows up in the cult, he or she is assigned a specific rune, which corresponds with their unique background”, Andrea Flesch said. Each costume was given an individual runic symbol to identify the characters, following along with 4 seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter metaphor.
Andrea Flesch said, “Every member of the community gets their first sacrament at age two, the second one at age 18, the third one at age 36, and the last one at age 54”.
According to production designer Henrik Svensson, “The runes in the film are meant to be read in the Uthark style of translation, which is popular among occult circles”.
Flesch said, “There are three main categories: balance runes, unbalanced runes [or reversed runes] and prohibited runes”.
Fashionista wrote that “Using a runic alphabet, the team even developed its own language, the Affekt, which also features prominently on the costumes”.
Village matriarch Siv is wearing the balance rune Ansuz, a rune sacred to Odin, god of Wind and Spirit, with the meaning “the gift of speech”, “communication”.
Pelle's rune is Fehu, a fulfillment rune of good fortune, material stability, security, and wealth. You'll find that many of the villagers have this symbol.
Christian's rune, however, brings his fateful outcome. His rune Tiwaz literally translates as “the God Tyr”. Notably, it's the rune of sacrifice of the individual self for well-being of the whole society. And it's encircled by a series of unbalanced runes. The reverse position indicates that the situation may call for more of a defense than originally thought.
Both the male and female elders have symbols appliqued on their tunics. Like Christopher, elders’ tunic appears to have the rune Tiwaz, which can also mean a “brave and noble death”.
Dani has two unbalanced runes embroidered on her blouse. Reid, though, a rune sacred to Thor and Thunder, this rune reversed is indicative of delays and possibly difficult journeys. It can also mean that there are important lessons that need to be learned.
And Dagaz rune reversed warns of treading carefully and conserving energy.
Flower headdresses and floral arrangements instead of garments
Andrea Flesch told Deadline, “I did a lot of research about headdresses, and really designed [based] on what was necessary for the movie, and matched [them] with the costumes. We made some headdresses from fabric and embroidery, and I think Dani had three flower headdresses, or maybe only two in the end”.
She also said, “I did a lot of research on flower crowns from all over, but I think in the end it was really from traditional old Swedish crowns…”
In the first, when she won the May Queen, she had a smaller flower headdress.
“Then, in the end, when we go with a huge flower dress, and she got the huge flower headdress, we had to remake the headdress because the first one was even bigger than that, and she couldn't wear it. It was so heavy that she couldn't wait until we made a new one”.
Andrea Flesch said, “It was a hat-maker who made the base of it, and then it was the same woman who put the flowers on the dress. The first crown was so heavy that Florence couldn't wear it, so we had to make a new one. It was really heavy because the base was metal”.
Of Dani's little capelet, Andrea Flesch said, “It's a true thing that they wear. This flower cape was not an invention of us”.
Dani’s showstopper, her May Queen robe and spiked crown – outrageous but in a good way – was an original creation and from the vision of director Ari Aster.
Andrea Flesch started working on the final look from the beginning. She said, “This dress was the biggest thing in the movie. I think we worked on it for two months because we had never made something like this before, and also Ari had a big vision for it. What was most important for Ari was that the flower dress look like a meadow. Not like a fashion statement. We knew it had to be huge and wearable. First, we had to find out how we're going to make the base of it. I think we bought around 10,000 silk flowers”.
“Fake flowers. We wanted to make it from real ones, but, because the costume took several weeks to make, we couldn't keep them alive”, she adds.
“Of course, the first idea was, ‘Oh, it would be so nice to make the whole dress and the headdress from real flowers’, but because it took weeks or months to make these, of course, you cannot work with real flowers. So, I tried to find the best artificial flowers I could in Europe that looked the most real”, she said.
Andrea Flesch says, “It had to be really wild, and so we used a lot of small ones to get the feeling of a real wild meadow. The color was very important. We tried to use the Swedish colors first, the blue and yellow. The most important thing was to find silk flowers which looked almost real. We preferred to use forget-me-nots, sweet peas, meadow buttercups, cornflowers, and persian jewels. But they sell it like a full flower, so we had to take off the heads. It was also a lot of work”.
The framing of the dress needed to be sturdy enough to support the weight of 10,000 silk flowers.
Andrea Flesch said, “We got the idea to make a hoop skirt for the base. My husband made it because he's an architect. It was more an engineering thing than a designer thing, the base. He made three or four versions, we kept changing it.
“Then we had to make the cloak to go on the base of the dress, over the hoop skirt. We tried different things and at first, but it was very bulky and round. Ari preferred something not so round. We finally found the right shape and then, as you can see, we glued leaves on the whole thing so you never see the fabric itself. Then we started to glue on the flowers”.
The dress and the headdress weighed a whopping 15 kilos or 33 pounds. Andrea Flesch said, “Florence really had to fight in this costume and it was very, very heavy”. She adds, “This was good because she really couldn't move either way in it. But that was the goal”.
The May Queen dress and matching crown were auctioned off in early May by the studio in support of a charity. The final bid was $65,000, and it was sold to the Academy Museum.