Essential vocabulary to help you get dressed (and undressed) in Swedish

Clothes. We all buy them, we all wear them, and we pile on seventeen layers when the winter comes. But can we pepper our Swedish conversations with the right wardrobe lingo?

Essential vocabulary to help you get dressed (and undressed) in Swedish
How to talk about clothes in Swedish. Photo: Simon Paulin/

We'll start with a couple of essential verb constructions then work our way up from toe to top in a quest to ensure we have at least what it takes to tell a skirt (kjol) from a shirt (skjorta).

Let's get it on 

Traditionally first thing in the morning, after a shower and five mugs of tarry coffee, Swedes like nothing more than to get dressed (att klä på sig). Then when they go to bed, much like people anywhere really, they get undressed (att klä av sig). To fit right in, you should probably consider doing the same. 

It's also useful to know this informal word for a garment: ett plagg.

The Swedish word for tie is 'slips'. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Feet first 

Items of clothing suitable for feet include socks (strumpor), tights (strumpbyxor, or tights if you're feeling lazy), shoes (skor) with laces (skosnören), sneakers (gympaskor), boots (stövlar, kängor), Wellington boots (gummistövlar), high heels (högklackade skor). 

When the streets are icy it might even be worth getting spikes (broddar) attached. In the summer we can eschew the footwear and go barefoot (barfota), or throw on a pair of flip-flops (badskor… or flip-flop). 

You'll also get bonus points for knowing the most common term for Crocs (foppatofflor – Peter-'Foppa'-Forsberg-slippers). The legendary ice hockey player imported them to the Swedish market after they helped him get through a foot injury. 

To put on one's shoes – 'Att ta på sig skorna'. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Leg it 

You can cover your precious pins with trousers (byxor), shorts (the same word but pronounced like you're hocking up spit, or kortbyxor), a dress (klänning), miniskirt (minikjol or kortkort, literally short-short). Your suit trousers (kostymbyxor), leather trousers (läderbyxor) or jeans (jeans) will probably come equipped with a zipper (blixtlås) or buttons (knappar). 

A denim jacket is a 'jeansjacka'. Photo: Gunnar Lundmark/SvD/TT

Under the layers

Come to think of it, before putting on your trousers it's probably a good idea to pull on some underwear (underkläder). We could be talking gentlemen's underpants (kalsonger, often called kallingar), panties (trosor), or a bra (bh or behå, which are both short for bysthållare, literally 'bust holder'). 

Torso coverage 

If you support the right to bare arms, start with a t-shirt (t-tröja, or, you guessed it, t-shirt), a short-sleeved blouse (kortärmad blus) or a tank top (linne). If your tank top is made of linen you could amuse (annoy) everybody by insisting on calling it your linnelinne

If it's cold outside then a sweater (tröja) might be in order, or a hoodie (luvtröja), or maybe even a woolly jumper (ylletröja). If you want to look smart, sport a blazer (kavaj). When it's really getting cold throw on a coat (generally rock, överrock for men, kappa for women). 

For fancier affairs, you could chance a tuxedo (smoking – yep, just en smoking) or a ball gown (balklänning).

A striped sweater, or in Swedish, 'en randig tröja'. Photo: Kerstin Carlsson/TT

Atop your crown, and other extremities 

Sweden gets cold. This is a fact. A woolly hat (mössa) is a must. As are gloves (handskar) or mittens (vantar), and a scarf (halsduk). 

When the so-called winter half-year (vinterhalvåret) ends, why not celebrate with a hat (hatt), a cap (keps), or a beret (basker). 

Winter, when Sweden is awash with kids in 'overaller'. Photo: Carolina Romare/

Recycled clothes 

Now that we've got the wardrobe filled, let's look at how the Swedish language recycles words from the textile industry and forms new and exciting things with them. 

Skitstövel: If you think somebody's a boor you could say they're a poop boot. There are words for this in English that generally end with hole and head. 

Strumprullare: This one's purely for football enthusiasts. A “sock roller” is usually used to describe the kind of shot where a player miskicks the ball but is lucky enough to shin it into the goal. 

Byxmyndig: This is kind of a strange one. It literally means that someone has come of age trouser-wise. In other words they've reached the age of sexual consent, which is 15 in Sweden. 

Offerkofta: This a pejorative term, bandied around a lot these days, to describe someone who routinely plays the victim. 

Axla någons mantel: Literally 'to shoulder someone's cape', this means to fill someone's shoes, in the sense of taking on their responsibilities. 

Toffel: A toffel is a slipper, but the word is also used to describe a henpecked husband. 

Velourpappa: This is a term that emerged in the 1970s when stretch velvet, or velour, was a popular fabric for unisex garments. A 'velour dad' displayed a soft masculinity and shared childcare and household chores. The fact you don't hear the phrase so much any more is indicative of the fact that the phenomenon it describes no longer seems so alien. 

Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder: We've got this phrase in our autumn list as well. Designed to irritate and educate in equal measure, it means: there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. 

Throw it all together to achieve that perfect look 

Here are a few sentences to memorise when you want to show off your new words. They make some assumptions about the kind of person you are, but please don't take offence. 

Jag är väldigt modeintresserad. Igår shoppade jag verkligen loss, jag tillbringade typ tre timmar i omklädningsrummet och nu har jag en helt ny garderob. Dock är jag helt pank nu. Vad finns det för jobb i modebranschen? 

I really love fashion. Yesterday I did an awful lot of shopping, I spent like three hours in the changing room and now I have a completely new wardrobe. But I'm totally broke now. What kind of jobs are there in the fashion industry?

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Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.