Step off the plane in Sweden and it’ll hit you like a sack of potatoes: Swedes have style. Fashion is a big part of daily life here and for a nation that’s famously open about nudity, locals spend an awful lot of time worrying about what to wear.
As a first-time visitor, you’ll probably end up falling in love – either with Swedish clothes, or with some of the people wearing them. On the other hand, you might just get jealous. How do they look so good?!
We can assure you: Swedes weren’t born looking stylish. And the great news is, you can easily copy their style without maxing out your credit card. The country that gave the world H&M has plenty of affordable fashion stores and in big cities like Stockholm there’s a thriving market for vintage and second-hand clothing.
Before you start shopping for your next knitted jumper or pair of skinny jeans, it pays to know a few ground rules. Follow these simple instructions and you’ll soon be as stylish as a Swede on the streets of Stockholm.
The rules of Swedish fashion
Wear lots of black
You might expect Swedes to compensate for the dark months of winter by wearing bright colours. Not so. Black is still the favoured colour for coats, boots and jeans – and sometimes all three at once. Is it just that black is cool right now, or that it’s perpetually in fashion? We’re not sure, but there are some great theories doing the rounds online (“everyone wears black to mourn the loss of feeling in their extremities”).
Trust in Converse
Trends come and go but walk down any street in Sweden and you’ll never be far from a pair of Converse All Star sneakers. White ones (ideally fresh out of the box) are easily the most popular among hip young things, but black ones also get the Swedish seal of approval, too (see ‘wear lots of black’, above).
Remember: the body is an onion
No, we’re not suggesting that you go around smelling like an onion. But hang around in Sweden for long enough and you’ll learn that the whiffy vegetable has a valuable lesson to teach us humans. No onion wears a single layer, and nor should you – unless you happen to arrive at the hottest time of the year, when shorts and a top will do.
Dress for the weather
On that note, seasons matter. Even though Converse are always in fashion, you won’t see many people wearing them during winter – they have crap grip in the snow, and no one likes walking around with soggy feet. But it isn’t only footwear that needs careful consideration in Sweden; cold temperatures mean that you might need a hat, a scarf and some gloves to stay toasty warm. Instead of freezing in the name of fashion, copy the Swedes and make those accessories part of your winter outfit. As the Swedes say, rather optimistically: “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes”.
Keep an eye on trends
Something about Swedish society means that new trends take off very, very quickly. You might not have seen a green cargo jacket for years, or ever felt the need to hang your iPhone around your neck in a little leather wallet, and then all of a sudden it feels like the whole city is wearing them. It pays to keep your finger on the pulse in fashion-conscious Sweden – especially in Stockholm and Gothenburg, where most trends start.
Getting the Swedish look on a budget
Honing the Swedish look can get expensive, but whether you’re visiting the country on holiday or just shopping online, there are some neat tricks you can use to get a whole new Swedish-style wardrobe at a fraction of the usual cost.
The best way to save money on Swedish style is to buy second-hand or nearly new through sites like eBay and Gumtree – if you’re already in Sweden, try the the local equivalents: Tradera and Blocket. If you understand Swedish or have a pal who can help you with the language, you might also want to check out some of the Facebook groups based around buying and selling clothes.
Buy at cheaper Swedish shops
Apart from H&M, there are a few good-value Swedish fashion chains that turn out cool clothes. Try Monki (girls), Weekday (guys and girls), or one of the other brands listed below. Most of them deliver internationally.
Hit the second-hand stores
If you’re visiting Stockholm, it’s well worth spending half a day rummaging through the clothes at the city’s many second-hand stores (our guide lists some of the best ones in the Swedish capital). Smaller cities like Gothenburg and Malmö have a few decent flea markets and thrift shops, too.
Go to an outlet
Out-of-town retail parks sell clothes and accessories by Swedish fashion brands at deeply discounted prices – depending on the item, you can expect to get 30–70% off the recommended retail price. Try Stockholm Quality Outlet in Järfälla, just outside the Swedish capital, or Hede Fashion Outlet near Gothenburg (also known as Freeport).
Swedish fashion brands – and where to find them
It seems like loads of Swedish designers and fashion brands have made it big abroad lately. But even when it comes to the smaller clothing companies, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting hold of the latest threads – most of these brands have English versions of their websites and will deliver stuff to you abroad. Many of these brands are also on ASOS.
& Other Stories Owned by H&M, & Other Stories is a relatively new women’s fashion brand selling clothes designed in Paris and Stockholm.
Acne Studios Uber-cool clothes for guys and girls, including knitwear, accessories and jeans.
Altewaisaome Run by two designers from Malmö, this pricey brand has stores across Scandinavia.
Björn Borg Gymwear and underwear from one of Sweden’s best-known brands.
Boomerang Stylish threads for men and women, along with a design-your-own jacket service.
COS Another H&M brand, COS is more upmarket than regular H&M stores, with prices to match.
Disturb.se Edgy online retailer selling casual streetwear from a mix of mainstream and lesser-known brands.
Dr Denim Family owned, this Gothenburg denim brand does jeans, jackets, shorts and more.
Filippa K Simple, everyday clothes for men and women, with stores across northern Europe.
Fjällräven Long-running, outdoorsy brand selling bags, fleeces and jackets, as well as gear for hiking and hunting.
Ellos.se Big, Borås-based online retailer, stocking Swedish and international brands.
Elvine No-nonsense Gothenburg brand making cool clothes for men and women.
Hildur.se Green-minded online store that puts the focus on the environment, with clothes made from materials like bamboo and organic cotton.
H&M Sweden’s biggest fashion export, with stores across the country (they’re not much different from H&M shops anywhere else).
Hestra If you’re worried about your fingers getting cold, Hestra can help. This Swedish company has been making gloves since 1936.
Hollywood Skate and street style for all, as well as a decent selection of shoes and skateboards.
Indiska Bright, colourful Swedish clothing that takes a pinch of inspiration from India. Also does decorations for the home.
Isbjörn Swedish clothing for kids, covering everything from warm winter jackets to UV-protected swimming gear.
Nudie Jeans One of the big success stories of recent years, this Gothenburg denim brand does some of Sweden’s most sought-after jeans and tees.
Outfittery No time to put together your outfit? Outfittery will do it for you (complete with a personal advisor) and send you all the items in your size. Men only.
Stronger Training and workout gear for active women, with a focus on bright, bold patterns.
Tiger of Sweden Premium fashion brand for men and women, offering suits, dresses, jackets, bags and more.
Twist and Tango Laid-back clothing for women and kids. The boho vibe is strong.
Uniforms for the Dedicated Too-cool-for-school fashion brand, creating blazers, trousers and more for fashion-conscious gents.
Uppercut Fresh new undies for boys and girls, all available with free delivery.
WESC Safe bet for skaters and snowboarders, stocking baggy tees, skinny jeans, and bright white sneakers.
Whyred Voguish clothes for men and women, inspired by music and art.
Swedish shoe brands
From Chelsea boots to flats, Sweden knows how to do footwear. The brands and shops we’ve listed here are all based in Sweden but most will deliver abroad.
Amend Atelier High-end, custom-made shoes and accessories.
Kavat Leather shoes for kids and adults, produced by a family owned company.
Swedish Hasbeens If you need new clogs, this is the place to go.
Vagabond High-street chain making its own smart boots, shoes and sandals.
What to read
Swedish fashion bloggers
The fashion-blogging scene in Sweden is pretty crowded, with hundreds of guys and girls posting regular updates about what’s hot and what’s not. In the interests of authenticity, almost all of the bloggers we’ve recommend here write their posts in Swedish, but most also give a handy summary in English (and anyway, their pictures are beautiful in any language).
If you’re already in Sweden, drop into one of the Pressbyrån or 7-Eleven newsagents (they’re everywhere). These places stock tasty candy and have plenty of Swedish fashion and photography mags. Here are a few of the best to look out for.
When to go
If you want to get a sneak peek of Swedish fashion trends to come, try to schedule a visit around Stockholm Fashion Week. Despite the name, Fashion Week actually takes place twice a year – you can see the exact dates here.
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