It was early in Michaelmas when a friend of mine told me that my outfit that particular day “looked so Scandinavian”. I took this as a huge compliment, as I attach a very positive connotation to this expression. Even though Finland, where I come from, is not strictly speaking a part of Scandinavia, but is in fact a Nordic country, I agree that the styles you see in Helsinki often align with those you could encounter in our neighboring Scandinavian countries. After this incident, I wondered if my friend would associate my style with the Nordic look even if she didn’t know I was Finnish.
The distinctive feature of the Nordic style tends to be its minimalism. Colour schemes are quite subtle – and so are prints. Indeed, when you search ‘Scandinavian fashion’, you find outfits with clean lines and earthy colour schemes. However, make no mistake, in Helsinki you can see everything from styles based mainly on tracksuits and sneakers, to high fluting minimalist pieces.
Overall, there is a significant difference between the styles that you see in the streets of Helsinki and Oxford. The Acne-scarf boom that has been persisting for a few winters in Finland is non-existent in the UK, while Marimekko, one of the most popular brands in Finland, is unheard of. Another obvious difference between Finnish and British fashion trends is in shoes. Loafers, and heels on a night out, are definitely more prevalent here in the UK.
One obvious reason for this difference is that many of the brands popular in the Nordic region are rare in the UK. Even some high street brands that you take as a given in Helsinki are almost nonexistent. Similarly, Finland doesn’t have Topshop, or American Apparel (although Sweden does). I also feel like the flea market and vintage culture is more popular in the UK. Perhaps the diversity of choice available to British consumers is the reason I’ve encountered a large variety of styles in Oxford.
The climate also contributes to these differences in looks. In Finland, it’s a struggle every winter to wear what you want when it’s freezing outside. The long winters limit the ways one can dress and create a trade-off between staying warm and dressing up creatively. Wearing heels, for one, becomes gradually more difficult as the winter goes on. To me, the change to the milder climate of Oxford is very enjoyable. On the other hand, I feel like the Brits in Oxford are more Nordic at heart than me, considering the numerous times I’ve observed people walking in t-shirts when I’m freezing in a jacket.
Perhaps my friend could have guessed I was from a Nordic country based on my clothing. I believe that one’s style reflects his or her cultural identity. My status as a Finnish citizen, for example, is reflected in my wearing of Finnish brands, use of subtle colour schemes, and preference for simpler pieces of clothing. I also pay more attention to wearing clothes that keep me warm as it gets colder. It’s a question of judgment whether one considers that Scandinavian or not. For me, wearing or carrying something that has a Finnish nametag reminds me of home. Perhaps dressing up ‘Nordic’ is a subconscious way of curing homesickness.