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The first time I visited the Slussen metro station, located at the northern tip of Stockholm’s island of Södermalm, I felt like I’d fallen down a snus-induced rabbit hole and landed at an underground Acne Studios runway show. Not only is there a disproportionate amount of beautiful people heading down the platform with blank expressions, but the style they sport is remarkably consistent. I soon realized it was going to take more than my beat-up Fjällräven Kånken to help me blend in in my new semester-long home, where I came to study abroad.
Let’s break down the Stockholmer wardrobe: black coat (but sometimes gray!), blonde hair (but sometimes brown!) tucked into a solid wool scarf. Black culottes (for men, sub in black skinnies), white sneakers or Chelsea boots, a backpack, and a beanie — always a beanie.
The look is impeccably minimalist, a reflection of the Swedish “lagom” lifestyle; technically translating to “moderate,” the term sums up Swedish culture: not too little, never too much — just right. Call it the Goldilocks way. The Stockholm uniform is cool in a way that blends into the city’s cobblestone streets, burnt-orange facades, and globe pendant-lit cafes. It doesn’t fight for attention; it just works.
Unlike Paris or London, the shopping scene in Stockholm is not dominated by international commercial brands (although there are plenty; after all, Sweden is home to H&M and Ikea). In this age of globalization, when the Champs-Elysées has become equally as unique as your local suburban shopping mall, Stockholm remains strongly dedicated to local brands and designers while also embracing borrowed trends (hello, Yankees and Dodgers hats).
See Filippa K, a haven for perfectly tailored women’s clothing and menswear à la Theory, or Rodebjer, the go-to for denim culottes and platform boots. For accessories, there’s Hestra, a brand that made its name making ski gloves to survive the rural Swedish winter and now makes leather dress gloves with wool lining for the city dweller; and Sandqvist, the bag company giving the tried-and-true Fjällräven a run for its money with Herschel-style canvas packs and more chic leather styles.
There’s also & Other Stories and COS, both owned by H&M Group, which have struck a chord across the globe for their mid-priced yet well-made wear. Other brands that deserve a mention include d.brand, House of Dagmar, HOPE, Nudie Jeans Co., BACK, WeSC, and Whyred, among others. And of course, Acne — with its flagship in the building where the term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined — is arguably as much of a Stockholm institution as the Vasa Museum.
Many of these brands have stores of their own but are also sold in department stores like Åhléns (Sweden’s Bloomingdale’s) and lifestyle concept shops like APLACE and Grandpa, whose quintessential Swedish style has granted them a strong local presence.
You’ll find many of these stores in Stockholm’s equivalent of New York and London’s major shopping districts: SoFo, whose name comes from “South of Folkungagatan.” Walking into Grandpa’s store in SoFo is like entering a live version of Kinfolk magazine; described as the “Scandinavian life store,” it’s filled with floor plants, block-typeface posters that say things like “this must be the place,” and simply beautiful casual-wear for both men and women.
Alongside tables of Happy Socks and wool scarves, you’ll find an array of perfectly-arranged little home goods that you definitely don’t need but cannot resist, because sometimes a rosemary candle really can cure the winter blues.
With three stores in Stockholm and one in Gothenburg — its flagship, on Stockholm’s Kungsholmen island, has an in-store coffee shop/bar for the obligatory fika break — Grandpa has become somewhat of a nucleus for Swedish style, hosting exclusively Scandinavian labels as well as its own line of home goods called “Low Key.” One Grandpa employee told me of the “Grandpa cult,” a phenomenon in which people will quit their high-paying corporate jobs to join the team.
What gives Grandpa its allure, beyond its well-curated selection and commitment to local products, is its friendly atmosphere — a novelty in a city known for interactions as icy as its weather. One employee told me the goal of Grandpa is to give the customer an experience that rises above transactional shopping. It combines the “lagom” lifestyle with a communal approach, making it both distinctly Swedish and borderless.
The first week of my study abroad semester in Stockholm, I wandered into the Grandpa store in Norrmalm with little knowledge of where I was geographically, let alone a handle on local culture. The woman working there began a brief conversation with me, and when I came back a month later to finally adopt some elements of the Stockholmer wardrobe, she still remembered me.
At the Södermalm store, I met an employee who lived down the street from where I stayed for a summer in LA’s Silver Lake. In Kungsholmen, I discussed housing and gender relations with a Grandpa staffer who I am now friends with on Facebook. Grandpa breaks down the cold fences feared by foreigners and embraces its customers with wool blankets and good conversation.
As I’ve kept returning, bringing along friends and family members who came to visit me, I’ve begun to feel the tidal force that is the cult of Grandpa. My wardrobe — once dominated by ripped jeans, flannels, and vintage tees — has begun to resemble those I ogle at on the tunnelbana as I’ve picked up some black pants, a long coat, a couple beanies, and a pair of white Reeboks. My clothing has become my armor, a shield against the terror of being called a tourist in my town, in a land where I can’t speak the language beyond “hej.”
With my dark frizzy hair and tan complexion serving as obvious signs of my non-Swedish heritage, I turn to beanies and black pants to assert my local status. Not since middle school have I cared so much about “fitting in.”
Immersing myself in the Stockholm fashion scene has allowed me to look and feel a little bit less like an outsider, infusing Swedish style into my life instead of passively imitating it. It has allowed me to get to know locals and understand what drives their day-to-day lives, seeing beyond the “shy Swede” stereotype often discussed by tourists.
As I spend more time here, I have realized how much less intimidating the Swedes are than they first appeared to me. They possess both a strong sense of national identity and an enthusiasm for new cultures, acting as both transnational influencers and reflections of a globalized world.
Embracing Swedish style isn’t just about shelling out kroner; it involves internalizing the lagom lifestyle, a refreshing counterpart to the boisterousness of American life. And as an influential society brimming with creativity and progressivism — not to mention impeccable style — maybe the Swedes are onto something.