The way Icelanders dress is, let’s say, somehow different. Everyone seems to be more… fashionable than elsewhere. After some observation and research, it becomes clear that there indeed is an “Icelandic look,” a dress code. And it has something – if not everything – to do with The Icelandic Soul. And Bubbi.
I returned to Reykjavík from Berlin some days ago and noticed what I always notice when I come to Iceland: the people in Reykjavík look as if they are about to strut along the catwalk, styled from tip to toe, while people in Berlin look like earthbound nature folks, hippies even, who seem as if they just put on some random beige or brown shirt that they’ve found in the closet that morning. Green, if the person is totally wacky. How come nothing that Icelanders wear seems to be randomly picked out of the closet?
The Cutie Pies
After closely observing this phenomenon for a while it dawned on me: in general, there are two groups of people. First, there are the alternative ones. They are also referred to as “cutie pies” (“krútt” in Icelandic – reminiscent of the nineties’ twee movement). They listen to more “sophisticated” music like Sígur Rós, Björk or múm, and wear a lot of colours. The girls, for example, wear red-green-striped tights with blue skirts or colourful dresses. They have modern haircuts with straight bangs and don’t mind going without make-up, save for a lurid red lipstick. The guys usually wear skinny jeans in blue, black or red, checked shirts, and preferably colourful scarves. Both, guys and girls like skinny jeans and loafers or slippers. Colourful, of course. Checked. Red. Yellow. Whatever colour is available.
If the “cute people” have glasses, they probably wear these big, black, round glasses, usually worn by the nerds in the movies. They obviously underline their ugly-cute, so “non-caring” charm. But the most important thing is that everything should look as if they just reluctantly put on “something” he or she found in the closet. Any garment should look as if it was bought in a second hand store or has already been worn by older siblings for generations. In fact, it was most likely bought in one of the hot designer-shops of downtown Reykjavík.
Attack of the Hair Gel People
The other group of folks, also easily spotted on a night on the town, are the so-called “hair gel people.” It is quite easy to distinguish them from the “cutie pies.” The most striking difference is that these people love black. Simply love it! They either like to dress up only in black or combine something black with another, plain, coloured garment. White is quite popular in this regard. But no patterns or colourful stripes. The girls like black, silver or golden leggings, preferably with an adorned part on the ends, like buttons or a pattern. They love dresses, big belts and high heels for any occasion, and don’t mind looking dressed-up. Actually, looking dressed-up is the purpose of getting dressed-up. That’s also why they put on a lot of make-up, the eye-shadow-colour matching the colour of blush and lipstick, of course.
Their hair is usually cut in layers and almost all of the ash-blond girls bleach it and/or have light strands. The guys like to wear black suits when they go out, complimented by collar shirts and a tie. In everyday life, they wear suit-trousers or khakis and collar or polo shirts. And yes, they do use hair gel. When it comes to music, they also have a quite different taste compared to the “cutie pies.” They usually don’t enjoy the music of Sigur Rós or Björk, but rather listen to fun pop music, like Sálin hans Jóns mins or Nýdönsk.
The search for an Icelandic look
Albeit very different in appearance, the two aforementioned groups do have something in common: they both put a lot of care and thought into their general look. So, despite all the differences, there is what could be called a typical “Icelandic look.”
Like everywhere else, Icelanders follow the fashion of their idols. In Iceland, musicians play an extremely important role in being icons for the people. In the 1980s, punk and disco music clashed in Iceland – and with it, different lifestyles and opinions collided. So people started imitating their idols by dressing up like them and thus expressing their unique take on life. Sara María Júliudóttir, owner of the fashion store Naked Ape on Bankastræti, agrees. “When I look at my friends, I realise that they dress like the people who make the music that they listen to and talk about the old punk bands and what Bubbi did.”
As for Bubbi Morthens, he is probably the most famous, at least the most consensually approved of songwriter in Iceland. No Icelandic musician has sold more albums than he on the local market. Before Bubbi Morthens reached out to the more commercial folk-pop-mix that most people know him for, he was a punk rocker. He was one of the leaders of the punk-front against the disco music in the 1980s, long before Björk with her colourful outfits, the godmother of the “cutie pies,” appeared on the horizon. Yes, it was a front against a front and Bubbi was in the first row. People chose sides by choosing outfits and this choice still lasts. And since “Icelanders thrive on their isolation,” as Sara María puts it, they go to great lengths and extremes in everything they do.
“Icelanders sometimes feel like a very isolated, small nation. Consequently, it is very important for us to be independent from other nations and stand out. There is a different kind of energy in Iceland, an energy that probably serves in making us more extreme in everything we do.” And it’s not a secret that Icelanders go to great length with whatever they do, no matter if it’s about the purchase of the biggest flat-screen-TV or the latest high-end Jeep, economic growth, the consumption of alcohol or, yes, clothing. It’s only natural that these extremes would be reflected in their clothing. The roots of these peculiar dress styles reach deep into the Icelandic soul. Make a statement! Show who you are and distinguish yourself from the others! And be extreme when you do that!
One can only imagine the identity crisis some people might go through being faced with these two modes of expressing oneself in Iceland. I mean, what do people do if they – by nature – are trapped between the two groups? If they like Sígur Rós and Abba? If they like wearing colours and hair gel? Well, there is always the possibility of becoming a hybrid. Some hybrids can already be found in the streets of Reykjavík. A hybrid is a person who has obviously not experienced the clash of cultures in the 80s – a teenager. One could also call them the second generation of “cutie pies” or “hair gel people”. They pick out whatever they like from both styles, so one could encounter a young girl combining colourful leggings with high-heels. Or one sees a young guy wearing a suit – but it is a colourful one and has a slim fit or sixties cut and it is also probably too small, true to the “cutie pie” motto: don’t look as if you if you tried.
Essentially, a hybrid is completely in love with his or her cell phone, which comes in all imaginable colours. In the end, there is no need for foreigners to feel lost when it comes to choosing the right clothes. Choose a side or become a hybrid. Just make sure it fits your lifestyle and music tastes. And always, always think about what you are about to fish out of the closet. That’s the Icelandic way of dressing!