How to survive a Swedish winter in style

My worst nightmare?

Although it’s apparently been unseasonably warm for November, with the clocks turning back last week and the country plunged into darkness by 4 p.m. (for the time being) winter is nigh. Like you didn’t already know, but sub-sub-sub-zero temperatures, Arctic winds, metres of snow and tonnes of nasty brown grit depressingly await us. Hoo…ray.

I trust, however, that I’m not the only one who also dreads winter in Sweden for its exceptional sartorial challenges. For example:

  • How does one stay stylish at -20˚C when you abhor down jackets?
  • Gloves or mittens?
  • How do you avoid “hat head”?
  • Can giant insulated boots really be the only option?

Formidable and sensible as she is, Mother Nature demands her children wear proper winter gear. So last winter I caved and got some puffy monstrosity that really tries to mimic shape with a nipped-in waist, but frustratingly no handbag (high and low) looks right with. (Don’t even get me started on “designer” down jackets – such a waste of money, in my opinion.) As for the accessories, Mamma wins again. Mittens are warmer, you tie your hair back the entire season and yes, those giant insulated boots are it.

I am a somewhat defiant child, though. Consequently I have a few tricks that allow me to resemble a stylish person and more importantly, still keep me warm.

  1. So this might be cheating, but for as long as it’s possible, I layer like a maniac under a wool coat. This usually means starting with a t-shirt, followed by a wool jumper, a so-called “thinsulate” jacket and then the coat. I balance the bulk on my top half with skinny jeans (worn with knee-high socks underneath for another layer of warmth).
  2. Don’t be afraid of colour. If I had to do it all over again, I would have picked something other than a black down jacket. But working with what I have, my hat, scarf and mittens are always brightly coloured or printed because they add interest and keep me sane in the sea of black.
  3. Silk thermals. Nice to touch and as thin and smooth a layer as you can get, I highly recommend investing in these babies. They are so warm and imperceptible, I could almost do away with that down jacket…

Do you have any other tricks for surviving Swedish winters in style?

  • Kate

    Love this!! When I get sick of jeans, I also wear giant skirts that I pair with high boots… they hide all sorts of long underwear underneath. That and wearing silk thermal tops underneath high-collared shirts and sweaters… no one will ever know! Or at least, I hope not…

  • Anonymous

    Very helpful info…I am about to move there and at a loss at what I will need to wear to stay warm. Thanks for the tips!

  • Kristin Lund

    This is one of my favorite posts by you. Everyone seems to have a black jacket here–certainly all the men at least. And so I always remember you pointing out that you wish you hadn’t bought a black jacket every time I look for my friend on the train platform and see a sea of black! Thanks for the good tips.

  • jsongnaps

    Next month, I’m heading to Sweden for a semester! I’m really trying to economize my packing space. Does anyone have recommendations about footwear? I’m torn between my warm and comfortable UGG-style boots, warm and not-so-comfortable tall Sorel boots, warm and not-so-comfortable rain boots, and not-so-warm and not-so-comfortable leather boots. It looks like I don’t own much comfortable footwear….

    • Mariah

      Hi! I am moving to Sweden on the 19th for a semester abroad. I have been seriously struggling with the concept of packing for a Swedish winter with limited space.
      I met a girl who studied abroad in Sweden and she recommended paying the extra money to check an extra bag on your flight – one just for shoes, sweaters, coats, mittens, etc. She said it was definitely worth it, considering buying those things in Sweden can be quite expensive.

      I have a pair of Ilse Jacobsen rain boots, a pair of uggs, and a pair of leather walking boots – all of which I am trying to squeeze in.

      What have you decided on?

  • Ameenmitwally

    I just moved to Sweden and im not used to the winters here. Do the Coats have to be the really big waterproof material like or if i dress the layering way, can I wear a fashionable coat on top ?