The trademark of Icelandic fashion is undoubtedly the woolen sweater, lopapeysa in Icelandic. The sweater with its traditional design has even become a symbol for Iceland itself.
Despite Iceland’s long knitting tradition is the typical wool sweater a rather new addition as it originates around the 1950s, although some people believe it to be older. At the beginning of the 20th imports to Iceland increased, introducing foreign clothing as well as new designs to the people. This led to the creation of newly inspired Icelandic clothing. During World War II, the only yarn available in Iceland was lopi, which is traditional, loosely spun wool from Icelandic sheep. Therefore a lot of woolen products were designed during that period. Woolen sweaters with yokes supposedly first appeared in Iceland shortly after the end of the war.
The question of the origin of the lopapeysa’s characteristic pattern remains unsettled, some believe the design derives from traditional Greenlandic wome’'s costumes, other theories base the style on Swedish or even Turkish textile patterns. The lopi sweater is characterized by patterned borders and a yoke design, which is a wide, decorative circle surrounding the neck opening. In the make, one knits in a non-varying circle so that there is basically no difference between front and back, unless a zipper or buttons are added. The yarn used is said lopi. This fiber is remarkable and unique to Iceland, as it combines both the outer coat and the inner coat of the fleece. The outer fibers are longer, glossy, tough and water-repellent, while the inner fibers are fine, soft and insulating. Unlike most other wool, the lopi is spun only loosely and contains therefore more air than conventional wool.
All these characteristics provide great insulation, make the sweater breathable and offer a high resistance against the cold. In short, the lopapeysa is the ideal clothing for Iceland’s sub-Arctic climate keeping its wearer warm and dry. Traditionally, the sweater colors are those of the sheep fleece, which are white, black, grey and brown, but nowadays almost all colors are available. Icelanders of all ages don their lopapeysa with love and pride, therefore it can be worn at any occasion, during the day with casual clothes or with an elegant evening attire. When coming to Iceland, visitors will notice that almost every other person is wearing such a wool sweater. Knitting is a popular hobby in Iceland, even among teenagers, and most Icelanders like to knit their lopapeysas themselves. People design their own patterns, develop new techniques and meet up with other knitting aficionados to exchange tricks and tips. Needless to say that this beautiful piece of clothing also enjoys great popularity with tourists, every tourist shop in Iceland sells woolen sweaters nowadays. Due to the high demand many of the lopapeysas in those stores are sadly made in China and have little to do with Iceland.
If one wants to purchase an original lopapeysa made in Iceland it is best to go directly to the people making the sweaters such as The Handknitting Association of Iceland. Their store in downtown Reykjavík sports vast arrays of lopapeysas, one can choose between traditional colors or more vibrant shades and between styles such as cardigans with buttons or zippers, hoodies, ponchos, vests etc. Custom-made sweater can also be commissioned. In stores the Icelandic sweater will cost around 20,000 to 35,000 ÍSK (about 125 €\ 162 $ to 220 €\ 184 $), private knitters sell their products significantly cheaper. Anyhow, if a sweater is properly cared for it can last for decades.
Images Courtesy of Farmers Market \ Ístex, provided by Iceland Design Centre