Looking back at my teenage years, I remember the fear of being distinguished from my social context all too well. Namely, my mom refusing to buy me something that "everyone else" was wearing at the time - Ugg boots and a Moncler jacket. My school was in an affluent area - so on top of being in Stockholm, and a teenager, the pressure to fit in was three-fold. The capital of Sweden is well known for its trendy habitants, who are, however, also noticeably homogenous. We feel the most comfortable when we fit in with the people around us.
Clothing, of course, says a lot about one’s social and cultural context. Swedish characteristics are shaped by our inherited Lutheran values, even though Sweden today is mostly a secular country. But present studies also indicate that personality trait patterns, according to the Big Five model of personality traits, are bigger within each country than in comparison to other countries. This fits in line with the theory of cultural Similarities Hypothesis. Most of the countries in Northern Europe, including both Sweden and the UK showed similar patterns: high scores on the trait of Openness and low scores on the trait of Neuroticism.
Our style is inevitably shaped by strong collectiveness; we constantly strive to maintain social harmony in the group and to fit in. Trends spread quickly here. As such, perhaps the most characterizing factor of the Nordic mentality can best be interpreted in line with the trait of Agreeableness - a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. We want to see ourselves as good-hearted, sympathetic and helpful. At the same time, we tend to be mistrustful of strangers, which might be linked to our collective way of thinking. Have you ever seen that "Waiting on The Bus Like a Swede"- meme? If not, google it.
Even our role in the fashion industry demonstrates evidence of this herd mentality rather than individualism or extravagance. We have a strong tradition of textile factories, but almost no historical experience of haute couture. We do not want to be viewed as special, different or strange.
The Swedish fashion establishment of today started to take form around the turn of the millennium. Designer labels such as I b, Filippa K, HOPE, Whyred, Tiger, Rodebjer, Back and Dagmar have developed a unique minimalistic style, built on Swedes’ love of simplicity, functionality and strong tailoring. Simple cotton and wool are commonly used fabrics, rather than luxurious silks or velvet. Filippa Knutsson, founder of Filippa K, defines Scandinavian style in the book Säker Stil (a style guide for women based on Scandinavian sustainable fashion) as "Style for me is when the clothes don't take over but bring out the wearer in them. It should be aesthetic, balanced and harmonious." Ann Ringstrand, one of the founders of HOPE, describes Swedish fashion mentality in the same book: "Many define us as quite uniform, always wearing the same things. The reason is probably both social and political. We depend on our collective and we look quite collective although we are fashion-conscious. We are used to being surrounded by many people who dress alike rather than many who stands out."
Still, we are fascinated by those who dare to be different. One (adopted Swede) who does is Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert, contributing Fashion Editor to W Magazine and Senior Fashion Editor at Vouge Japan. The celebrated Italian fashion icon recently moved to Stockholm after her marriage to Swede Oscar Engelbert, and was soon quickly recognized by one of the biggest Swedish newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet, for lightening up Instagram with her highly distinctive personal style.
As our high scores on the trait of Openness show, Swedes are curious. That is why I believe that we have been holding back when it comes to our personal style. There is a significant gap between what we feel comfortable wearing and what we wish to wear, even among those of us who consider ourselves to be fashion forward. Instagram, as always, is partly to blame (I mean, thank). Seeing people with interesting looks gain popularity on social media makes us want to be like them, and brings out the individualist even in the most modest person. To be cool is to be paradoxical, and you cannot be that if you constantly conform in one-dimensional head-to-toe Acne.
Since the millennium, Sweden has developed a strong, globally recognized take on fashion. We should embrace our unique view of balanced aesthetics and uncompromising craftsmanship, but we should not let our herd mentality stand in the way of developing a personal style. When shopping for new pieces, we should remember Ryan Gosling’s character’s infamous lines in The Notebook: "What do you want? What do you want? WHAT do you want?"
The Swedish designer brand HOPE writes on their website that "there is truly no reason why anyone should feel limited by old fashion conventions". We have all the weapons we need to break out of old patterns. Self-expression is the new trend, and trends spread quickly here.