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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede
Photo: Tove Freiij/imagbank.sweden.se

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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For members

LEARN ABOUT SWEDEN

EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Sweden

Arguably one of the keys to Sweden's success as a nation is the thorough, systematic way that government proposals get turned into laws. Here's how it happens.

EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Sweden

The process is highly formalised, with the Swedish government’s website having a section to the right of each law showing where it is on the lagstiftningskedjan, or “Law-making chain”, the succession of at least six stages each law goes through until it is passed on to the parliament. 

The “legislative chain”. Screenshot: Swedish government website

1. The idea 

The first stage of any new law in Sweden is, of course, the idea. A proposal might be floated by a government minister in a newspaper, at a press conference, in a speech, or in a party manifesto. It may have been debated back and forth for decades, but without any formal steps being taken. 

Until it moves on to the next stage it doesn’t mean very much. 

2.The directive 

The first stage of the actual law-making process in Sweden is the directive, an order from the government, or more rarely the parliament, for a proposed law or change to be investigated and analysed.

This is when an idea goes beyond talk and the process is in motion. 

The directive summarises what proposal or idea needs to be analysed, lists the key proposals that should be answered, and sets a date by which the conclusions should be published, normally at least a year into the future.  

A directive can sometimes be issued to the Swedish Government Offices, or Regeringskansliet, in which case it is investigated internally. It is more common, though, for the government to issue a so-called kommittédirektiv, or “committee directive“, which sets up an ad hoc expert committee to examine the issue. 

The committee is led by an utredare, or “investigator”, who is normally supported by one or more secretaries, and who can appoint, or is appointed, experts drawn from the relevant agencies, from academia, or from elsewhere. The utredare is very often a senior judge, but can be a former politician, senior civil servant, or anyone else with relevant skills.  

3.The utredning, or inquiry

The next stage is the utredning, which does not correspond exactly to anything you might find in the US or UK. In some ways, it is like a government inquiry, as it is semi-independent from the executive and calls on various experts. Indeed, when an utredning is called into, say, the government’s handling of Covid-19, it functions in almost exactly the same way.

But it can also function like the preparations for a “white paper” in the UK, or a bill in the US, with the difference that rather than being prepared by a politician or government department, the proposals are put together by an expert committee given detailed instructions by the government. 

Once the utredning begins, it gets supported by a special department in the Swedish Government Offices. Since 1922, all committees and their conclusions have been collected together under a single umbrella organisation, Statens Offentliga Utredningar, “The Government’s Official Inquiries”. 

4. The slutbetänkande, or “final report” of the inquiry

The committee might publish its conclusions in several parts, in which case each section is called a delbetänkande, or part-report, or it might publish them all at once as a slutbetänkande, or “final report”. 

These detailed documents run to hundreds, sometimes close to a thousand, pages, and contain detailed analyses of the issues, the judgement of the utredare on each of the pertinent questions, and concrete proposals for what changes should be made to the law. 

The conclusions of the inquiry will normally be announced at a press conference attended by the utredare and the relevant minister. 

Mari Andersson, special investigator on “changes to the law on citizenship”, announced her part-report at a press conference alongside Sweden’s justice minister, Morgan Johansson, in 2021. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

5. The remiss or “consultation” stage 

After the report has been delivered, the next stage of the law is the remiss, or “consultation” stage. The report and its proposals are sent for consultation to the relevant government agencies or organisations, municipalities and other stakeholders, who can submit remissvar, or “responses”

It is the government department responsible for the proposed law which gets to decide which organisations or individuals are invited to submit responses, so sometimes organisations who believe they should have a say do not get one. It is possible for these organisations to send a response uninvited, but the government is not required to read them or take their arguments on board. 

Indeed, the answers given in consultation responses are purely advisory, meaning the government can, and often does, ignore the views of agencies and other stakeholders. If the responses are extremely critical, or raise insuperable obstacles, however, the proposed law can also be abandoned at this stage. 

6. The draft bill (stage one)

If the government decides to push ahead with the law, it then drafts a draft bill. The bill is then sent to Lagrådet, or the Council on Legislation. 

7. Lagrådet, or The Swedish Council on Legislation

Lagrådet, or the Council on Legislation, is responsible for analysing the legal aspects of a proposed government bill. The council can sometimes be very critical, informing the government that the law as proposed in unenforcible, against the constitution, or too vaguely framed for the courts to be able to interpret. 

8. The draft bill goes to parliament (stage two)

When the government is ready it sends the draft bill to the parliament, where it will often be scrutinised by the relevant parliamentary committee or committees. They can then submit views on the proposal, which are published as the utskottsbetänkande, the “parliamentary committee’s report”. At this stage the government may amend the bill to take into account the views of the committee, making it more likely that MPs for other parties vote in favour of the bill. 

9. Parliament votes

The final stage is the parliamentary vote on the bill. If a majority of MPs vote in favour of it, the bill is then submitted to the Svensk författningssamling, or Swedish Code of Statutes, the country’s official code of law. Each law is given an SFS number, and published both in paper form and online. 

The Swedish Government Offices have also produced an English-language document, titled “How Sweden is Governed”, which gives a good summary of the legislative process. 

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