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pops of color & my place in swedish fashion

Didn’t you hear? Color is so not in anymore! 

Admittedly, this is kind of dramatic. But, while American fashion after COVID has trended toward bright colors, pastel crocheted sweaters, patterned pants, and funky, 70s-revival sunglasses, one could say Sweden is heading in the other direction. I thank myself now: when I was packing to come here, and there was maybe a square 2 inches of space left in my suitcase before the zipper was gonna snap off, I slid in my thrifted black boots.

Now, they’re all I wear. I would say the Stockholm starter outfit would come in black, head-to-toe: a black puffer jacket, black trousers, black boots, and a black hat. I rarely see someone around who is not wearing at least one article of black clothing, but oftentimes this is interspersed with another neutral tone: gray, brown, muted green. It’s never lounge-wear, always sort of dressy, but it sticks to a code of neutrality, such that each person is sort of indistinguishable from one another.

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C

Although I saw Sweden’s style as sort of Hunger-Games dystopian at first, I felt at home with this neutral/earth-tone wardrobe upon arriving here. Throughout my college years, I’ve slowly found myself wearing less color. It began with an affinity toward dark blues and forest greens in my freshman year when I ditched the Nike elites & vineyard vines shorts and tried to start looking presentable for once. But nowadays, it trends toward browns, blacks, or anything very muted. I think this was indicative of a style identity crisis; I couldn’t really commit to a set of colors, or for serious lack of a better word other than style, a vibe of clothing, and so I neutralized myself altogether. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I felt whenever I put on an outfit, there wasn’t much expression behind it.

Disregarding the regrettable packing of a University of Georgia graphic tee and a pair of corduroy yellow pants, my wardrobe fit the Stockholm look. Every day, I felt enlivened by the fact that I could put on my regular black pants and boots, white and black sweater, and brown jacket, and walk de-Americanized throughout the city. But I remember as I, and the other students at DIS, kept ditching our color and pattern for the blacks, grays, and browns of our closets, there was a point at which I began to crave some color. 

I think it was a time on the train that my craving for color began. Looking around, everyone was dripping in black clothing, and the day outside was icy and gray, like something out of a crime fiction novel. It was gloomy, and the outfits weren’t helping. Looking back,  however, this wasn’t really a fair view of fashion here. But it would take a little longer, and an eye for color where I could find it, for me to actually notice the pops of color in Swedish fashion and how they employ it differently from the way we do in the US.

I began noticing that a lot of people would wear some sort of solid color with their black clothing. You can wear a neon-green puffer jacket, or a bright purple hat, as long as you wear black pants and shoes to balance it out. It was like the neutral-toned clothing—which was still stylish in its own right—was simply a canvas for a certain color they showed off. You could kind of learn something about each person when you looked at what color they chose to embrace. Rounding out this view, when I was able to interview students at a local high school for my Swedish class, one of my first questions was why they wore such neutral clothing. He said it related to the Scandinavian Law of Jante: a value which encourages people not to brag, show off, or stand out.

This pop of color amidst “Jante-abiding” neutral clothing is really a beautiful combination. It showcases the beauty of just one color, undisrupted by patterns and other colors. It’s restrained, yet also quite revealing of a Swede’s personality. I like to think of it as a Mark Rothko painting. Rothko was criticized for his “simple,” abstract pieces which often featured just 1-2 colored shapes. Yet his goal for the viewer was that they would absorb the feeling of the color he depicted, and he even encouraged patrons to stand very close to his paintings and “soak them in.”

In a way, the comfortability for me of being around neutral-toned fashion has inspired me to experiment with color while here. When I walk into thrift stores in Stockholm now, my first instinct is what colorful piece can I find that will stand out against my pants/shoes. Swedes’ elegant and restrained use of color against my neutral instincts is something I’ve enjoyed trying out for myself.

I’m not ready to ditch my neutrals, but I’m now the proud owner of an orange hat and a bright green jacket. And that’s pretty Swedish if you ask me.  


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