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Style Advice

Our guide to Scandinavian style

Our guide to Scandinavian style

Image courtesy of Fredrik Risvik @fredrikrisvik

Scandinavian style falls in the sweet spot in terms of aesthetics: it’s cool, effortless, minimal yet not too intimidating to pull off. So it’s no wonder our stylists get a steady stream of questions from customers asking what it is and how to ace it.

Luckily Thread stylist Luke McDonald has spent a lot of time studying Scandi style's rise in popularity over the years, so we asked him to give a crash course in the aesthetic – from its history to the brands you should welcome into your wardrobe. Over to you, Luke. 

The origins of "Scandi" style 

The Scandinavian countries (officially Sweden, Denmark and Norway, but, often Finland and Iceland too) have long been renowned for their egalitarian, socially democratic societies, as well as their architecture and interior design. So it’s really no surprise that a culture with its strong emphasis on design, accessibility, and pragmatism has become a key player in fashion and retail.

"Scandi" brands are quickly becoming household names alongside the marquee brands of Milan, Paris and New York. But it wasn’t always this way. 

Up until the 1990s, Scandinavia was perceived as a sartorial backwater with few brands making international impressions (save for Finnish print specialists Marimekko, who had a big moment in the 1960s). This perception began to change in the 1990s when a new wave of designers emerged, and by the end of the decade, brands like the arch minimalist Filippa K, the artsy ACNE studios, and the denim-obsessed Nudie Jeans completely changed the Scandi reputation and put cities like Copenhagen on the map.

At the same time, there was the massive expansion of the high street H&M group and its sister company COS, both doing for Scandinavian style what IKEA had done for interior design a generation earlier.

It helped that these brands seemed to evoke the same qualities that had made Scandinavian society so attractive to outsiders. They tended to be wearable, unpretentious, and relatively affordable, especially in comparison to their brand peers in Paris, Milan or New York. 

The Scandi look in a nutshell 

Image courtesy of Fredrik Risvik @Fredrik Risvik

While Scandinavian style started to make an impact in the 1990s, it wasn't until the mid-00s that it became a distinctively Scandinavian aesthetic. The palette consisted of white, black, and beige with occasional pops of soft colour. There was also an absence of logos or extraneous branding.

For men, this took the form of raw, unbranded denim, minimalist trainers, and dark or camel coloured wool overcoats, plain coloured accessories and pale, boxy, block coloured t-shirts.

There was more of an emphasis on silhouette and quality of basics than on pattern or flashy detailing. Influencers like Fredrik Risvik, Minimal With Me, and Nordic Style further popularised and codified this style.

Image courtesy of Fredrik Risvik @Fredrik Risvik

It's a testament to the influence of the trend, which especially took hold on Instagram, that the Scandi staples like the minimal trainers have become ubiquitous both in luxury and high-end retailers.

Not that Scandinavian style only came from Scandinavian sources. Some of the brands and items most associated with Scandi style, like the Commes Des Garcon logo t-shirt, Common Projects 'Achilles' trainer, or A.P.C. jeans aren't from the region at all. But they fit the mould in terms of how they are styled and put together.

So what are the key pieces you should look out for when weaving Scandi style into your wardrobe? Start with minimal trainers, unbranded denim, boxy tees and jersey in pale hues, oversized topcoats, and plain baseball hats and beanies. 

Image courtesy of Rasmus Foli Knudsen @minimalwithme

3 Scandi fashion brands you should know 

1. ACNE Studios

Photographed: Acne Fairview Face Crew Sweat ($251)

ACNE was born in Sweden in 1996 almost as an accidental denim brand (the original ACNE was a multi-disciplinary creative agency that produced 100 pairs of raw denim as a gift for friends and clients). It quickly became known for its strong creative campaigns, sharp tailoring, and jersey basics. Then in the late 2000s, it shifted away from its core assortment of denim and basics towards a more high-fashion aesthetic.

2. Norse Projects

In 2004, this Scandi brand was founded in Copenhagen as a private label of the original Norse Projects skateboard shop / art gallery. They have since become one of the most consistent and wearable Scandinavian menswear brands and are known for their solid basics (jersey and chinos are particularly great) and strong outerwear.

3. Wood Wood

Photographed: Wood Wood Foam Hand Tee ($41)

Wood Wood was founded in Copenhagen in 2002 as a streetwear brand with roots in music and Skateboarding subculture. The Danish brand is on the more playful, relaxed end of Scandinavian menswear and carries more of an emphasis on colour, pattern, and graphic prints, so if you’re not colour shy, this is the brand for you. They are also known for their collaborations with notable brands like Nike, Barbour, Eastpak, and Adidas.

Words: Luke McDonald