It's the Nordic lifestyle that went viral in 2017 - which is not very lagom at all. Loosely meaning "not too little, not too much, but just enough", lagom is a way to live in fairness and balance. Unlike its Danish neighbour hygge, which is all about feelings, lagom is a social code that's all-pervasive in Swedish society - steering everything from to-the-point conversations to the fact that no one ever takes the last biscuit. Here, in an extract from her new book, Linnea Dunne - a Swedish writer living in Dublin - explains how applying the law of lagom to your fashion choices results not just in minimalist design, but in comfort, sustainability, and a 'buy less, buy better' philosophy.
Fashion follows the lagom suit
In the world of Swedish fashion, the full range of designs from affordable to exclusive are represented by renowned brands including H&M, Weekday, WeSC, Acne Studios, Tiger of Sweden, Rodebjer, COS, Boomerang and Filippa K. Known primarily for a similar design expression as the furniture and interiors pioneers IKEA, the fashion scene is also huge, especially recently, on unisex and agender. In this industry, too, the throwaway attitude is actively resisted, with many brands introducing more durable and organic ranges and allowing customers to hire catwalk garments.
H&M, which is occasionally dismissed with similar criticisms as those directed against IKEA, has in fact, since 2011, been phasing out the use of hazardous chemicals with the aim of reaching zero discharge by 2020. Through reuse and recycling, the brand is hoping to become a fully circular enterprise.
Over at the Swedish Fashion Council, another step towards a sustainable industry was taken this year with the launch of a Swedish Fashion Ethical Charter. Covering the entire industry - from modelling and advertising agencies to stylists and designers - the initiative is unique and aims to provide guidelines for a more socially sustainable industry.
A sustainable legacy
Modern Swedish design is lagom in more ways than one. It perfectly balances an innovative, forward-thinking streak with a proud heritage, and it puts functionality and sustainability first - regardless of the price. What IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad said is food for thought. If affordability and quality aren't mutually exclusive, perhaps the throwaway culture came about as a result of affordable products and not in response to their lacking in quality. If you look after those IKEA Billy bookcases, they may well last for life.
TIPS FROM THE STYLIST
on 'comfy chic', upcycling and a bold approach to lagom
Anna Lidström (pictured above) runs Another Studio, and works as a consultant, designer, stylist and lecturer in the areas of advertising, fashion and home furnishing, as well as the arts. See @anotherblog.se on Instagram.
On Swedish style & 'comfy chic'
"As a fashion nation, we're very good at a comfortable, basic style with varied details and understated cuts. Our clothes are designed to allow us to pop outside quickly, so we've become experts at dressing practically. We stand out the lagom way - a tiny bit, but not too much. At home, the trend-conscious part of the population is somewhat like a monochrome mass, but if you go abroad, you can immediately spot a Swede in a crowd - in that context, the low-key style almost seems extravagant."
On lagom fashion
"Swedes have rarely used garments as a canvas for colours, patterns or messages - that visual luxury you see in Italian fashion history. We've never had big fashion houses to splash out on; here, functionalism and frugality have always been virtues. Clothes are viewed as consumables, good-to-have items. They're for everyone, and things that are for everyone must be lagom - not too colourful, not too crazy. It can be a bit boring, but also quite liberating; it's like casual Friday every day, and everyone can relax more."
On saving as a virtue
"There's this inherent celebrating of frugality in Sweden. We like affordable clothes because it's a bit vulgar to splash out. But there's a balance to be struck, because our respect for material things is directly linked to their price - we're more likely to fix a broken zip on a coat from Acne than on one from an affordable high-street chain. It's too easy to buy cheap and just replace everything."
On upcycling and creativity
"Most of us just want to renew ourselves and our style. There's been a huge trend recently in making the most of what you already have, allowing you to follow fast-changing trends by reinventing yourself using your own wardrobe finds."
Anna's top tips
1 Give your wardrobe a facelift
As the fashion scene moves on and your style with it, the way you look at your clothes might change. Review the contents of your wardrobe regularly, but don't just focus on passing things on. You might rediscover an old skirt and realise that it works perfectly as a quirky petticoat for an old dress that needed a lift. Take snapshots of yourself and sleep on it, and that will help you evaluate your finds.
2 Dust off that sewing machine
We're throwing away our pianos and sewing machines, and with them, we're throwing out the skills and knowledge. Learn to sew on a button, then a zip and eventually you might even dare to adapt an old garment into something new. There are plenty of great tutorials on YouTube!
3 Re-evaluate your capsule wardrobe
Having a base of useful clothes you love to wear over and over again is great, but we should move away from this idea of a set capsule wardrobe for everyone. Maybe your perfect base is 11 floral-print dresses, while someone else is all about a reliable range of waxed coats and trainers.
4 Be brave and dare to 'ugly match'
I often talk about "ugly matching", that it can be liberating to try out something, get it wrong and learn to live with it. It's only by experimenting that you'll truly discover your own personal expression and learn to trust your instinct with regard to style. Who knows, you might find that you love something that current trends would dismiss as ugly.
How to go functional
1 Care for your clothes
To survive rain and freezing cold, you need quality stuff - but to get quality, you need to splash out. Think long term and really look after your clothes. Whether it's rewaxing that five-year-old coat or spraying those boots, a bit of care will pay off.
2 Forget fads
Thinking long term means forgetting about short-lived trends and learning to buy things you really like. Not to say you can't be on trend. Colourful rainwear, for example, has never gone out of style, yet it still keeps you dry.
3 Put comfort first
Nothing ruins a day like cut heels or bleeding toes, so buy shoes that are truly comfortable. Then you're more likely to opt for walking, too - the perfect lagom way to get both fresh air and light exercise.
Adopting the functionalist mindset
- on a practical wardrobe and rational shopping
You may have heard of the Swedish proverb declaring: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes." Swedes jokingly refer to this when chatting to tourists about the freezing winters, but the attitude is very real indeed. Swedes have perfected the art of living in sub-zero conditions and weathering extreme seasonal changes. Everyone knows that the secret to staying warm is layering up; everyone knows that a layer of wool goes closest to the skin. Call it a lagom approach to survival - making your home stylish and cosy enough to enjoy staying in, but ensuring that your wardrobe is up to the challenge when it's time to face the elements.
It took me months to get used to living without a thermometer in the window when I first moved abroad. Swedes have a wardrobe per season, often along with an attic storage system for replacing one seasonal box with the next. As such, there really is no bad weather - because with a thermometer in the window, you can make sure you always choose the appropriate clothes to wear.
'Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living' by Linnea Dunne, published by Gaia, is out now, priced €14.