The Cult of Scandinavian Style: How’d It Get So Good?
08.17.17
Ganni Spring/Summer ’18
Photo by Yuliya Christensen/Getty Images

It has been six whole days since Copenhagen Fashion Week ended, and I’m still mad I wasn’t there. Frankly, I might never not be mad. It was that cool.

However, though the industry has been lusting over Scandinavian style for a while, it took a while to get people to pay attention to Copenhagen’s dedicated week of fashion.

“Two seasons ago, people didn’t take Copenhagen Fashion Week seriously,” Barbara Potts, the 23-year-old co-designer of Saks Potts, told Business of Fashion.

“You would get a few editors, but now it really feels like everyone is here, and there’s a lot coming out of here in terms of fashion and food,” added her partner Cathrine Saks.

Business of Fashion reported on a number of reasons why the Danish fashion industry is thriving more than ever, including the cultural phenomenon of hygge, Ganni’s reinvention of Scandinavian style at a “surprisingly cool” price point, a rise in international press and buyers, and the country’s consortium of recognizable street style personalities.

There’s no doubt Scandinavia’s street style darlings have a lot going for them, but I found myself trying to unpack what made them so uniquely compelling compared to other cities’ roaming style wolf packs of late. For investigative purposes, I voluntarily entered a Scandinavian street style Instagram stalking vortex of my own design.

Sponsered | JACKET @raiine_official (thank you for the best performance @frejakirk) 💪🏾

A post shared by FREJA WEWER (@frejawewer) on

As I rabbit-holed, I took note of specific commonalities in how these women were outfitting themselves. There were lots of normcore gym sneakers, dresses over t-shirts, dresses over pants, motorcycle jackets, track pants and pajama-inspired daywear ensembles. As I jotted down this list, it struck me that these were all trends that peaked a few years ago in New York, Paris and London. (“Peaked” is my polite way of saying “chewed through, spat out and promptly dismissed” — an exhausting habit we’ve developed in response to items or ideas that become ubiquitous all at once, no doubt exacerbated by the internet’s powers of proliferation.)

That being said, the Scandinavian interpretation of these “passé” trends feels fresher than ever, so much so that it took me many minutes of staring to even realize I was looking at something familiar. Maybe because Scandinavia’s style cult isn’t actually “behind,” so to speak; rather, it’s comfortable staying put. It doesn’t feel the need to chew up and spit out trends at a rapid pace, which, in a funny way, almost makes it seem ahead. Because honestly, what is more cutting-edge than an innate understanding of what you really, truly want to wear, regardless of the churn of the zeitgeist?

🍒🍒 photo by @thestreetvibe

A post shared by Pernille Teisbaek (@pernilleteisbaek) on

Danish fashion influencer Pernille Teisbaek summarizes this sentiment in her new book, Dress Scandinavian: “[Scandinavian style] is not about investing in lots of expensive items; it’s about personalizing each item and reusing them over and over again, but in new ways.”

Now excuse me while I go fetch my white sneakers from the back of my closet.

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  • Jimena

    You should follow @thelocals on Instagram, he is the best street style photographer from Copenhagen 🙂

  • Esther Shechtman

    This is so good and comforting perspective for people like me who feel that insane anxiety to be ahead of the fashion curve at all times. Honestly, I think moving out of NYC has helped with that a bit. Also, when street style became a thing the first website i frequented was called Stockholm Streetstyle, not sure if it still exists. Also, also, definitely going to use the term rabit-holed, so thank you! 🙂

    • G De Siena

      How could I forget Stockholm Streetstyle!

  • Stine

    Harling, I live in Copenhagen. I work in fashion. You can visit anytime, I’ll give you the grand tour and show you all the hygge you could possibly process.

    • Abigail Larson

      Plz adopt me.

    • Harling Ross

      UMMMMM OKAY!!!!!!

      • You should really do it. Copenhagen is absolutely wonderful!

      • Julia Navratil

        Do it! Do it! Do it!

  • Voovoo

    Ooh, I was just browsing a website that I felt brought the Scandinavian talent for layering together with the whole relaxed, Eileen Fisher look, with some gypsy-bohemian color thrown in..GUDRUN SJODEN. http://www.gudrunsjoden.com/us/products/categories/clothes/show-all
    She’s a Swedish designer..the clothes are probably geared toward an older customer; but the website is just super happy-making, no matter your style. The models are unusual, the styling is great. It’s a world of organic cotton bubble pants, printed leggings, tunics..not sexy, not trendy; I love it.

    • Christine Dyson

      I love her designs too. They are ageless and beautiful, practical and comfortable. She clearly loves textiles and I love her use of traditional crafts like embroidery and knitting. She’s the Queen of Skandi boho and not wickedly expensive either.

      • Voovoo

        That’s so true; it isn’t Eileen Fisher level pricing at all…which is amazing. I live near Santa Fe, NM, which is full of artsy older ladies who donate their barely used clothes..So, although I have to dig through a lot of Chicos, I sometimes find a GS item in the heap, which is thrilling. 🙂 But the shoes/boots…those are lovely, and more pricey..

    • Kat

      My mum used to buy a few things from them, they were always so weird to wear… if you like COS-style odd clothing but want it more colourful and bohemian it’s a good choice.

      • Voovoo

        They do look a bit weird to wear; and I feel like one might have to have ALL the GS clothes, and wear them just like the pictures (matching hair dye, too).. Now all I want to wear is a mishmash of COS and GS. But I am not very stick-like, and sometimes feel like I avoid oversized clothes because I’m terrified of being matronly. Which is silly, and holds me back from wearing the tunics I long to wear…be them neutral or wildly patterned. 🙂

        • Kat

          I think if you’re curvy you’ll be fine – my mum’s quite small and straight up and down, and the clothes tended to swamp her. I think they are really designed for taller (or at least not petite-sized) women who aren’t stick-like.

  • Copenhagen, as an idea or an offering of style, was really my first foray into “street style” all those years ago. And, actually, I really believe they pioneered the whole sneaker mania thing, sticking with it even after “we” caught on so, so many years later, and even after “we” let the obsession sort of wane. I just remember logging on, back in middle school, to see women like Ingrid Munch do all sorts of wonderful pairings with gnarly, literal sneakers.

    And as for normcore, well, my hunch is that it started (or at least gained traction within a certain milieu, before it was named by that agency) with Norwegian girls like Emma Aars who took to Instagram quite early and before that, posted her pixelated but impeccable portraits and styles of mundanity to the likes of tumblr etc.

    Needless to say, the Scandiphile in me is very much convinced that the Nordic youth — beyond just the bigger, more internally-known bloggers/fixtures — have been quietly shaping the impulses of the fashion industry for a very, very long time.

  • Cristina

    100% stepping up my sneaker game and street style.
    Also, i just love the fresh faces of these models! What we call “minimalism” is just every day for them as far as makeup goes. I love it!

  • chouette

    I wonder if you can chart it against a diagram of Acne Studios getting really good again after a couple of stinky seasons. Scandinavian style usually doesn’t look victim-y to me, which I love, maybe it’s the constant comfy shoes.

  • Tess

    I begrudgingly love Scandinavian style. (Why begrudgingly, I’m honestly not sure, but something in me is so hesitant to full on love). However, according to Babba Canales (Swedish ultra cool girl) everyone really dresses the same. Cool, but homogenous. So, I’m still going to say NYC street style > Copenhagen street style.

    • Res

      This is so true, and this is my ‘problem’ with Scandinavian style (saying this with all the love, as a scandinavian). It is very trend-led, and I think the difference to the big fashion cities is that people lack the imagination/courage to be individual with the trends. Of course there are exceptions, but talking about the general approach here seen on the streets. This was painfully obvious a few years back when the minimal look was still going strong whereas today a seemingly individual look is a trend in and of itself, so at first glance it might seem like individualism is taking over but if you analyse the looks it’s all just the same outfit over and over. But yes, ‘en masse’ people do dress cool.

      What I love about scandinavian style is that it is accessible, it’s not about spending ridiculous amounts of money on designer items. This is reflected in the relatively affordable price points of many scandinavian brands, and is really a reflection on the whole culture I think. Equality, sensibility…

      Another point I really wanted to make was that people who haven’t experienced it propably do not understand the full effect of the climate we live in. New Yorkers and Londoners make a huge deal out of a bit of snow fall; for us that’s everyday life for at least 4 months out of the year. I recently moved back home from London and realised about 95% of my shoe collection is now wearable about 30% of the year. Of course I kind of knew this before moving, but you don’t really feel the full impact until you are putting together and outfit and gazing longingly at you favourite pair of loafers/pumps that you know would just MAKE the outfit, but the weather will only allow you to wear the same mangy heavy-duty boots you’ve been wearing for the past 4 months that you used to love in the beginning of the season but now have truly come to hate. (This was definitely a thing in London aswell, but now about 100 x worse).

      So our choices are heavily influenced by practicality and why I think we latch on to some trends for so long. Trainers; not so much a trend for us but a practical choice for all the walking and cycling we do, same goes for track pants etc. Biker jackets; perfect trans-seasonal piece (with 4 full seasons and chilly summers this is basically the rest of the year apart from winter). Layers, dresses over trousers; perfect for chilly weather. I think this is why scandinavian style is so popular as well, because it’s firmly rooted in reality and therefore more approachable than many of the looks you see from the big fashion weeks.

      Sorry I know I’m rambling! But I’m going through a bit of a personal style journey since moving from London and trying to find my style again in a new environment so this is very relevant to me atm haha! And I’m definitely looking at scandinavian style through a different perspective having moved back from London.

  • Mona

    I remember when the Scandinavian look was mostly monochrome and stark like Filippa K, Acne, Malene Birger. When did it turn its brightly patterned corner?

    • Amy Brumbpo Tungus

      I was in Copenhagen for a few weeks in winter last year…it was still mostly monochrome! Might be a fashion week/summer thing? I was wondering the same thing though

    • eizhowa

      Because Ganni started doing brightly patterned stuff 😉

  • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

    Scandinavian style looks really poor, Fashion to me is French design made in Italy, everything else is a derivative or rehypothecation. What will Americans do when the Chinese stop making t-shirts and sweatpants in a trade war with Trump, people will look crazy in the streets, Pfizer will issue fashion tips with its meds. Doctors writing prescriptions for Chanel covered by medicaid lol.

    • Emily C

      Girl, what the fuck are you talking about?

    • Christine Dyson

      Hmm, this all sounds very impressive. Have you heard of Great Britain? Vivian Westwood? Its quite possible that without her Jean Paul Gaultier could never have existed. As far as I can tell the Chinese have successfully dressed the whole world in t shirts and trackies. Of course French fashion is amazing but the idea that the French only wear French made clothes and that everyone else just copies them? Not true. By ‘poor’ what exactly do you mean? Chanel on prescription on the NHS is a great idea but Brexit will have put the kybosh on that.

      • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

        Too complicated for you, I’m afraid I’m going way over your head, please follow Andre Leon Talley, Anna Wintour or Leandra Medine. Too advanced for the young girl, you’d have live in Paris for years with multiple Phds with advanced art knowledge and like to read Tiqqun and FP and be a feminist. Too complicated sorry. I will keep it simple around these parts.

        • Christine Dyson

          Asking you to clarify what you meant by ‘poor’ was too difficult for you?

          • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

            words have definition, I’m clearly not creating a new one.

          • Christine Dyson

            No but by poor do you mean impoverished, poor quality, poorly designed, rubbish, or what because after that sweeping generalisation you then make another one regarding French fashion. The fact that you refuse to explain because ‘we wouldn’t understand’ as we don’t have multiple PHDs, well that’s a bit pathetic really. Finally, if I wasn’t a fan of Leandra Medine, I wouldn’t be following the Man Repeller blog. As for the ‘and be a feminist’, I’ve been a feminist since 1963 but its not actually helped with understanding what you’ve put. On a brighter note, this pseudo intellectual Paris based snob persona that you’ve devised has comic potential.

          • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

            I own feminism, if its not managed properly in a capitalist global consciousness it will fail totally and completely. No string of words can ‘take me down a notch’, I have the ability to make others cry with words or even just a quick look of contempt. I suggest you follow Diane Keaton or Tracee Ellis Ross. Its easier for your low-energy style.

        • Selina Moses

          Troll alert. What a waste of words

          • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

            learn
            something
            else

          • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

            I’m still the same same, no trollification, would you like to try something else?

  • Isabella

    that bubblegum car in the back of picture number 3 is my true inspO from this article

  • I thought Scandanavian street style was why the whole minimal cuts/ sports luxe/ monochratic look started in the first place? Black tank top, black jeans and a well cut black leather jacket with bleached stark blonde hair and ray bans was the thing like 10 years ago and it started to catch on throughout all of lookbook then the world.

  • Beatrice

    I remember visiting family in Denmark in 2006 ish and being totally captivated by the street style—I bought a pair of Kawasaki sneakers (the Danish teens’ must have of the early aughts, evidently) and my first pair of skinny jeans (!!!!), which my cousins convinced me to wear with a dress. I felt pretty baller, and I think I wore that outfit for the duration of my 3 week visit. Danish style continues to be a huge inspiration for me…I find it to be much more accessible and playful than that of other Scandinavian countries. Swedish style always strikes me as much more minimal and monochrome (NOT that that is a bad thing)—perhaps this playfulness and approachability make Copenhagen fashion week that much more popular.

  • Sarah Mårtensson

    I find that the scandinavians are quite shy when it comes to fashion, (I live in southern Sweden, an hour from Copenhagen=winning). I study fashion and i believe that we stick to these trends for soooooo long because it takes time for us to dare to put a dress over a t-shirt for example 🤔 BUT! I spy a change in the fashion industry, mostly in Denmark with Saks Potts and Ganni in the lead like you mentioned. We also wanna be cool just like you NY gals. Xoxo

  • Christina

    I think (not speaking for all Danes ofc) we are first of all very proud of our Danish design heritage – that goes for furniture as well as fashion and jewelry. We are a very very homogenous group, but we still interpret fashion individually.
    My boyfriend is Italian and visited me here in Copenhagen, and he thinks everyone looks the same; same hair, shape, clothes and makeup. That might be true, if you look from the outside, but we ourselves can definitely tell the difference 😉
    Fashion does move a lot slower, and we kind of tend to build on top of trends, rather than just switching to the next. Like normcore mom jeans and white sneakers with floral print dresses on top.

    So come to Denmark. The weather is shit, but otherwise it’s great!

    • Alice

      That’s really interesting because I visited Stockholm, Gothenburg and Copenhagen and people seemed to have a much more defined and personal sense of style than where I’m from in southern Europe. Here almost everyone has the same hair and clothes.
      I actually liked the weather. I’ve not been dealing well with heat this summer and my raincoat+a nice sandwich in a cosy cafe afterwards made me not be grumpy about the rain.

      • Christina

        I agree with you. When I am Italy (mainly) I feel like people dress impersonally, and I don’t get the sense of individual style as I do here (Copenhagen). But there are definitely items you will find in almost every Copenhagen Girl’s closet 😉

        • Alice

          What would you say are the staple items?

  • Marisa Clark

    I was just in Copenhagen and was literally screaming (internally; in the most over-exaggerated sense of the word) at the street outfits. Scandinavian girls have truly mastered and reinvented effortless, cool style.

  • Ana Beatriz Quinto

    I don`t know if it has influenced or not, but Norway hit series “Skam” showed to a lof of people more about the style in Scandinavia

    • eizhowa

      The people on that show (except Noora) all wore the stuff that all 17 year olds wear to “fit in”. It was not really a good example of personal style (except Noora, as I have said).

  • Tina Haagensen

    Our appearance is known for being rather homogenous, maybe we’re too strongly influenced by “the Law of Jante”. However, there are many Scandi individuals who have achieved great things and proved that just because a society is strongly based on a code beliefs, people can stand out and make a differenence.
    Regarding fashion and style, Copenhagen is most definitely the no 1 city in Scandi, Their heritage in design goes way back in time, and covers everything from garments to furnitures. Their style is relaxed, yet always with an edge. They master the mix of “absolutely everything”, and they look damn good!
    ‘Stockholmers’ are cool, clean, sharp and a bit more ‘business’, reflecting their innovative and ambitious spirit.
    The ‘Little Brother’ Oslo is (finally!) getting there! However, the fashion crowd is quite small, compared to the above. We used to have a strong teko industry, but along the way, we somehow lost track of our handycraft. Also, we tend to look to foreign brands and designers, before we invest (and believe!) in our own.
    Hesinki are the more silent part of Scandi, but proud of their long list of high quality art- and design heritage.
    And then Reykjavik; known for its avant garde quirkyness in fashion and style, soaking up bold trends from New York and London. I don’t think “the Law of Jante” ever reached the island of Iceland – good for them!
    “Scandi living” is seen upon as one common concept, favoured by several other cultures, like the Japanese – they cannot get enough! But even though we are a peaceful neighbourhood, tied to eachother, we are pretty different after all.

  • Selina Moses

    I generally find Scandi chic boring with all the monochrome and oversized stuff. But recently the colour I’m seeing from Scandi street style makes me happy. Nemesis babe is a Danish fashion blogger that is much more colourful than the usual and I recommend people follow her, her style is more fun and playful which I like. Ditto the blog my rainbow feeling. More colour and pattern please

  • Love this… what’s the point of blindly joining the bandwagon? Love how they’ve made it their own and look cool AF.

  • Natalie Redman

    Love the tracksuit and coat combo!

    http://www.upyourvlog.com

  • Yesss!! It’s so good, I’m obsessed.