Postcard from Stockholm

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So here's the weird thing about Stockholm: nothing is weird. Everything feels normal. 

No one wears a mask, and while there’s still social distancing, it's minimal and feels almost like politeness. People do sanitise their hands frequently, and there are restrictions on the numbers in shops. But on the surface, it feels like the pandemic doesn’t exist. 

Indeed I’m told that back in April, a lot of Europe’s rich came to Stockholm and stayed for several months. A couple of the big hotels were full of them. 

Of course, below the surface Sweden is still suffering. Its GDP may have dropped less than elsewhere, but it still suffered its biggest fall in 40 years during that second quarter this year. 

People are working from home more; they are shopping less. One menswear shop I visited had cut its staff from four to one, with those on furlough unlikely to return. 

I was there for two days last week, to see a handful of brands I wanted (and from a business perspective, probably need) to cover. 

I went to see Saman and Dag from Saman Amel - principally to see their new store, which is almost finished. 

It’s a small shop, but well appointed and a big step up from their current two-room sub-basement. There is a nice green-marble frontage, with a faded wooden frame around the large window and similar effect on the door. The kind of tasteful building that Stockholm is full of - largely built in the 1920s. 

If you want a stylish, coherent city, it’s so helpful to have a splurge of building in one short period. Paris benefits from the same effect thanks to Hausmann a half-century earlier. London, for all its charm, is a series of old villages gradually cobbled together.

The nicest thing for me about these trips is that so many of these guys are now friends. Saman, Dag and I went out for dinner that first evening, after going to a gallery opening; we even played tennis together the next morning. 

I came to Stockholm three times with my old job (as a legal journalist) and the contrast could not be more stark: back then I was on my own, knew nobody, and spent my days interviewing corporate lawyers. 

I became very good at finding restaurants where it didn’t look odd to read a book while having dinner. 

The following morning I spent time with Oliver and Carl of Rubato, to produce an upcoming article about vintage clothing. Both Oliver and Carl worked in a local vintage store before moving to Skoaktiebolaget, and it still informs the clothing their doing with Rubato today.

We talked about their new pieces from Rubato too, and I tried on a few. The camel hair knitwear feels lovely: luxurious softness but more heft than most cashmere; the one-inch belts are great in that they complete the look both Oliver and Carl wear, and I know others will want to replicate. The shirts are fine but less unusual. 

I was very taken with the chinos though, and it will be interesting to get a pair when those are available, and put them through a few weeks of wash-and-wear. The colours and the cloth are perfect; they’re a little higher in the waist than I would normally wear, but might be OK; the rise is similar the Armoury’s new Army chinos in that respect, though different in having a denser, crisper cloth and being a little narrower in the leg. 

A reader asked recently which city had the best-dressed people. I’ve changed my mind: I think Stockholm has the best, on average. 

You see far more men doing sports-jacket-and-trousers well. There are very few suits, but also less very scruffy clothing. They’re the best example of a consistent smart/casual look. 

Smart trainers are everywhere. Not always successfully: there were a few too many wearing black ones with regular worsted suits, as if that was a straight swap. But there were also many doing it nicely, for example with neat chinos, a shirt and gilet; or in a more fashion-forward black suit, with rather shorter trousers. 

Basically, the men in Stockholm are all trying hard - putting in more effort than elsewhere. To an ungenerous mind (such as that of a Finnish friend) it’s because they’re all very self-conscious and desperately want to be Italian. To my more generous perspective, it was one of the most pleasing displays of menswear I’ve seen in a city. 

I popped into a few stores, including Gabucci and Skoaktiebolaget. The former so I could try some Alden jumper boots that no one stocks in London; the latter to try a few more of the Lof & Tung shoes that weren’t at our pop-up last year. 

I also went to Nitty Gritty on the other side of town, and found it interesting the different pieces it buys compared to classic stores like Gabucci. The two have several brands in common (the Gigi, Massimo Alba) but while one buys safer, conservative designs, the other has more unusual ones. 

This doesn’t mean just fashion. Nitty Gritty had some nice pieces from J Press (Japan) for example, such as Shaggy Dog sweaters in just slightly unusual colours mixes. 

And the women’s version of Nitty Gritty (above) was more interesting still, if anything. Nothing I could wear, of course, but quite conservative colours, just unusual cuts. And from brands we know from menswear, such as Barena or Harris Wharf. 

The trip was finished off by a couple of hours with Andreas Larsson of Berg & Berg. And a quick goodbye walk with Milad Abedi, who had shot the whole trip. 

It was a lovely change, highly enjoyable, and for that I have all these members of the Swedish menswear scene to thank. Thank you. 

Below: Stained glass and decorated elevator cage in The Sparrow hotel (which I'd highly recommend).

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Anonymous

New Army chinos?! Now you have piqued my interest. Are they the same as the old ones that sold out?

Steve

I think you have mentioned tailors traveling to different cities to hold appointments. Are there Neapolitan tailors that travel to the US? How would I find out about that sort of thing?

Gab

Hi Simon, very nice article, very enjoyable to read when Paris is going back into restrictions again. Did you have the opportunity to try Berg & Berg tailoring?

Nick

What did you think of the Alden jumper boots? I have the same issue with not being able to try them on, and Gabucci and frans Boone are the only stores I know that stock them..

Felix Sylvester Eggert

Dear Simon,

in reply to this I would kindly ask you for your advice (readers feel free to chime in too):

I am currently looking for a sturdy pair or boots which is versatile and goes especially well with jeans and chinos, therefor: leans more towards the casual side. In my opinion there are two makers that are particularly good at this kind of style: Alden and Enzo Bonafe.

Which maker would you go for and why?

Cheers
Felix

Andrew Eckhardt

Felix, May I recommend Red Wing? I think their Classic Moc boot is quite a nice choice with casual chinos and jeans. Very workwear, but isn’t that the point if you’re wearing denim? I’ve had a pair of their 1907 style for just over seven years (with one resoling), and I’ve found them quite comfortable and easy to wear.

Perhaps another option further down the rabbit hole to consider would be Viberg. They make an excellent, if somewhat less accessible product.

Chris

Glad you had a great time Simon. What a good group of people are in Stockholm at the moment.
Regarding your comments in passing, I’m always curious when you talk about the rise on trousers. Its something I massively struggle with when buying. I actually think it deserves that updated piece you mentioned earlier in the year.. it really is such a key detail.
I find the definition of high and mid rise extremely interchangeable, including where exactly the natural waist is.. equally the tailors I have spoken to’s perspective of what is flattering is extremely pretty unscientific too, especially if you are not an entirely standard body shape. I for example am reasonably in shape but have slightly larger hips and slightly shorter legs than probably the average man, due i assume to my Eastern European heritage.. I have had literally all three rise opinions presented at this point to me by different tailors. I find low rise and tighter more flattering if not wearing a jacket, but high rise most flattering with a jacket. Mid rise seems to make my hips extra large unless the shirt is very fitted. Would be curious as to your perspective, it’s been something of a curse throughout my whole life!

Chris

Thanks Simon,
Yes that was the follow up article I was mentioning – great to hear its still on the cards.
I think you’re right, focussing on the style is an easier, and more manageable direction to go. Making something more flattering once the style is defined is easier than a fully open book on something as subjective as how one should look. Thankyyou for the insight – it makes a lot of sense to me.

Nigel C

This was a great read. You have me wanting to visit just as soon as practicable. Your Finnish cynic comment made me smile – I’d like to be Italian myself so I think that’s a plus! It is nice to think that a nation, or at least a city, makes an effort to dress well. On many occasions I’ve been out in the melee in London where shopping seems to be carried out with almost religious fervour and everyone looks a dowdy mess. Could just some of them please wear those new clothes they are buying?
Best wishes N

Anonymous

Hi Simon, lovely article.
When you say smart trainers…do you mean like white Common Projects? Or something different?
Are you a fan of brown or black leather sneakers (like with a white sole)?
In terms of formality scale, jeans to say grey flannel trousers, do you think brown or black leather trainers can work higher up the formality scale or still sit alongside white trainers?

Matt

Very nice article. Your description of being a legal / finance journalist hits close to home. Business trips in the finance industry can be lonely experiences, and it’s often hard to see more of a city than the inside of a conference room.

Ondřej Ručka

Hi Simon, I would like to know, whether you are going to cover Europe behind the former Iron Curtain one day. As much as I see, making a trip to India, Japan or similar distant places is quite a normal thing for you, but you never write anything about Prague, Budapest, Bucharest nor Kyiv, as if they were nonexistent or out of anyones reach.

Ken

Simon – are you going to review Alex Kraft’s new Monte Carlo collection? It looks right up your autostrada as it were. Perhaps even a ‘Postcard from MC’ – with some gratuitous shots of negronis & cigars?

James

I assume the same goes for the Rake Tailored collection? Milad and others seemed pretty enamoured with their suits on Instagram…

Simon Crompton

When did you last see someone say something that wasn’t 100% positive on Instagram?

Clive Durrell

Agreed, Simon.
The Kraft MC website & brand look quite cheesy to be honest. Seems to be a bit of an ego trip and the clothes are not interesting at all.
Better the products you are doing here

Carl

Nice that you visited Stockholm. I am really looked forward to see Dag and Samans new shop. I am waiting for a pair of chinos in pre-washed cotton from them.

JB

Meaning they’re machine washable? If so, that’s something I’ll make sure to ask them about next time I see them.

Carl

Yes they are machine washable. They are in style quite like Incotex but with higher-rise and with MTO fit. (I think Incotex are way to slim and too low-rise).

Rondell

Stockholm may appear normal but it is not. We have zero covid 19 cases in Nova
Scotia. Everyone wears a mask, including toddlers. Stockholm is such a beautiful, stylish city. Such naiveté.

EL

I think the science is pretty clear that masks help. I understand that you don’t want to get in a political debate in the comments section, but casting doubt on masks is sowing disinformation that is potentially harmful. Sure, there are many other factors as well, and what all these other factors comprehend is still unclear, but with regards to masks it is pretty clear that they work.

EL

Right, they are not foolproof. Nor are seatbelts. It’s about probabilities. However, as far as I know, assuming mask-wearing doesn’t change other behaviors, there are no downsides to wearing them, only upsides.

Jorge Lallemand

Learning from the Guru…… !
Perfect answer.

CMW

Hi Simon. Nice article. I used to visit Stockholm for work. I always enjoyed my trips. It’s a beautiful city, and there are many well-dressed men and women. It’s good to see. What I like is that you don’t feel that you stick out so much when you dress nicely there, like in other cities. It’s just normal, and people just appreciate good style.

Leo Oettingen

Simon – happy to hear Rubato is sticking around, feared they had gone under as their website is down and states they will be back in August of this year. Any idea what that’s about/if they plan to start selling online again?

Oliver

Dear Leo,

We’re still here! We closed for vacation during the summer but opened up in August again. As Simon pointed out or Instagram (atemporubato) is a great way of receiving updates!

Kind regards,

Oliver

Rubato

Stuart

Great article Simon and I agree with your thoughts about Stockholm. By the way, the butterfly strap loafers in the first shot look amazing! I have been looking for a while for a good pair so was wondering if you can point me in the right direction? Thanks

Andrew Eckhardt

Simon, you mention that you tried on a few things in stores without purchasing, for example the Alden boots. This brings to mind a question that I have oft considered. How do you go about walking away from a purchase in the most courteous way possible? It’s something I think we all experience from time to time. I don’t like everything I try on, and sometimes I don’t find anything at a store that I’m ready to buy. Perhaps the answer is simply to be a respectful human being, but maybe you have some insight into this etiquette? Thanks!

Peter O

Isn’t it possible when asking to try on Alden boots to include the condition not to buy them? In other words: May I try on without necessarily purchasing anything? I add: I need time to sleep over my decision.

Rondell

Just to clarify Simon, I was not directing the naiveté statement at you personally .

Dimitri

Simon, a lovely post. I think the simple act of putting on a proper pair of trousers, shirt, blazer and shoes – even if it’s just for a walk – will make you feel better. I’m no medical expert. I’m no politician. But I know that we all need a pick-me-up right now. For me, it’s dressing up to go for a walk to grab my paper and a coffee, before i return and try to maintain what’s left of my business. My best wishes to you and all PS readers.

Laurent

Hi Simon, any comment/review about the Lof & Tung shoes?

Josh

I have to agree on the stylish city point. So many menswear brands I aspire to or am inspired by are Swedish, including most of the ones you mentioned. And lovely to hear your trips these days are more socially fulfilling!

Anonymous

Thanks, Simon, for the armchair visit to Stockholm – most enjoyable. I particularly liked the opening photograph featuring great loafers with neutral trousers. My overly detailed/Virgo-centric question centers on the socks.

Although I have gotten sloppy lately, on a good day I typically mirror the leg on the left – attempting to match the socks to the trousers, which is harder than it looks with neutral colors. The center pairing of socks (I think they may be pale grey) is lighter and a different color than the trousers and the right pairing of socks I think is darker and a different color than the trousers. However, I actually think all three of these neutral combinations look fine.

I understand that I cannot see what these undoubtedly well-dressed guys are wearing on the top half, but is there any strategy with options two and three that I am missing and which of the three do you prefer? Thanks in advance.

Anonymous

Much appreciated. Have taken a screen shot of your response for future reference.

Burt

Found that olive socks work well with brown shoes on the one hand and cream, tan or brown trousers on the other.

Sam

As a Stockholm resident, I always find it interesting when people visiting the city comment on how well dressed people here are.

My purely anecdotal observation is that people VISITING Stockholm seem to comment on how well dressed people are, while my expat friends LIVING here often comment on how dull they find Swedish dress. My guess would be that there are relatively few Swedes that are truly poorly dressed (the combination of a relatively high standard of living and a long history of affordable clothes – it’s the home of H&M after all), but the historically strong element of socialism has ment that people try not to stick out too much, though that has definitely began to change.

Out of curiosity, were you mostly around Östermalm? The stores you mention seem to indicate so. Being the “old money” district, I find people there are far more traditionally upscale in their sense of dress. On Södermalm, people look at me like an alien if I wear a tie.

Lucas Nicholson

I was in Sodermalm as well, hence the Nitty Gritty reference, and yes I could notice a difference there, perhaps more like Mayfair vs areas of East London.

Someone else actually mentioned to me that while the average of men’s style in Stockholm is high, there probably are fewer stand-out dressers, and I can see that. I guess the average is always going to strike the visitor first, and most strongly.

I think you do still see some very well-dressed men in London and Manhattan, for example in structured bespoke tailoring and an old style that is rarely seen in Stockholm. And you do also see a good number of much more fashion-driven dressers. But the average is certainly worse.

Fredrik

Lots of expensive beards in Södermalm though!

Countalma

Never seen a decorated elevator cage before. Wow! Looks great.
I think the worst (on average) dressed city, among the famous metropolises of the world, is New York. Most people are just horribly dressed. Especially men. Yes, there is Wall Street and there are private clubs, some of which maintain very strict dress codes, New York is still home to some of the most formal social events in the United States, some of which are open to anyone who purchases a ticket, so, basically, anyone who can afford it (and it isn’t too expensive, really) can attend white/black tie events, at least 5 times a year, without even being a member or guest of private clubs. But the average, regular subway-riding Newyorker must be one of the worst-dressed examples in the world.

New Yorker

Long time reader, first time for comment. Thanks for the well written article, Simon. Stockholm is indeed a special place. I recommend Prinsen Restaurant for traditional Swedish food and atmosphere. A short walk to the west is the Hestra Concept Store. Their gloves are a nice and utilitarian souvenir of the city.