I have had this post in the drafts folder for months now. But it’s been a awhile since the last What to wear post – besides, what would the Finnish Independence Day be without a proper Finland post? (You should also check out the truths&myths post that I wrote about Finland last year). And guess what – my humble little country has also been featured on Lonely Planet’s famous 2017 travel list!
Finland’s celebrating its centennial next year and if you haven’t visited yet, there are nothing but good reasons to do just that. After all, in 2016 Finland was the safest, greenest, best in freedom of speech and most literate country in the world in 2016 – just to name a few things.
So, to the guide. I’ve written two what to wear guides in the past and have been planning on expanding the series for months now. I’m one of those people that freaks out if she doesn’t know the exact dress code. It might be due to certain kind of shyness, the reluctance to stand out too much and be the centre of every stranger’s attention and thus the willingness to blend in; or perhaps it is less of a personal trait and more like Finnish humility that has rubbed onto me during all these years of being raised in this country. I’m not as much worried about offending with my choice of clothing than I am about seeming too outlandish for my surroundings.
So, in case there are other worriers out there or you’re just curious, here are a few tips on how to blend into the Finnish society like a pro during your visit here.
Winter – (December/) January to March
You guessed it – Finland is cold. However, the intensity of winter varies greatly from north to south. Southern Finland tends to be a lot warmer than the north, sometimes even with very little snow and temperatures in general not going below -15 c. The remote Lapland, however, can easily reach -40 c during the winter. Even in the south there’s usually a period of two or three weeks in January-February when the daily temperatures reach -30 c. Decembers don’t tend to be the coldest time of the year but usually there is snow on the ground in the middle and north parts of the country. If you’re looking for a white Christmas, maybe don’t stay in the south.
So, what to pack for the winter season?
- A warm hat. A beanie does a good job. You could also go for one of those furry hats but mostly Russians and true fashionistas use them. Unless they’ve got ear flaps – then they’ll make you look like a Finnish lumberjack.
- A few kinds of gloves. While regular, thick gloves or cozy mittens might protect your hands from the worst wrath of the winter, they won’t be hardcore enough to wear when the mercury drops below -30. Instead, wear thin gloves inside thick woollen mittens to reach the ultimate level of comfort and warmth.
- A warm coat. Duh, obviously. If you’re planning on visiting during the coldest time, make sure it’s a long coat that goes up to your thighs.
- Waterproof shoes. Yes, the warmth factor is definitely important as well, but since you can’t be sure whether you’ll be greeted by a crispy postcard landscape or a slushy, wet, rainy miserableness, make sure your shoes are up for the task.
- Reflectors. Seriously, don’t underestimate the importance of having two or three on you. During the winter it can be dark for 16 hours a day, and if you’re walking around poorly-lit or completely unlit areas, wearing a reflector can literally save your life. When I got my driver’s licence it was obligatory to go through a driving in darkness training, which really demonstrated the importance of being visible in the dark. Wearing a reflector could mean that a driver notices you from a hundred metres away, instead of having to hit the breaks one second before they’re about to hit you. You can purchase them in pretty much any shops in Finland. Attach them to your coat with a safety pin and make sure they’re dangling.
If there’s one great advice to give concerning Finnish winter, that would be layer up! Yes, you will look like a Michelin man. Will you be warm and cozy, though? Also yes.
Tip: fashion in Finland
If you’ve visited Finland during the winter months and wondered about the almost unanimous choice of fifty shades of black in locals’ clothing, don’t think you’ll get a colour pass when the sun peeks out again – blacks, greys and whites are a way of life for Finnish fashionistas all year round. I know, I can’t really explain it either.
In general, the fashion in Finland doesn’t focus on wild outfits and over-the-top decorations but relies on “less is more”. Blue jeans and a simple t-shirt with a one-colour cardigan will get you far in everyday life – obviously if you’re working here, your place of work will follow its own dress code. That seems to be rather relaxed too, though. My boyfriend, who is a teacher in England, has to wear a suit to work everyday, whereas Finnish teachers (and students, for that matter) wear whatever they feel comfortable in.
Spring – April and May
The spring in Finland comes sneaking. Day by day it slowly stops feeling like winter, and you notice that when the sun is out, it actually warms you instead of just blinding you. As the spring rolls around, Finns live like there’s no (spring) tomorrow: t-shirts come out on the first day that the warm sun does, and the first brave picnickers take their beers out to the park even if the wind was still giving them goosebumps. Finnish people know to enjoy it while it lasts, because the next day something we call takatalvi – the reoccuring winter – might shroud everything in a light coat of snow again. Granted, it probably melts away as soon as it hits the ground, but for that time it will feel like November all over again.
So, what to pack?
- A light jacket. Even if you’re unlucky and the sun stays in hiding, it’s not gonna get cold enough for you to wear your thick winter coats anymore. The temperature will probably vary between 0 and +15 C, so a leather jacket or similar will be enough.
- T-shirts, maybe sleeveless tops. Maybe.
- Long trousers. While Finns will be enjoying their sunshine, not many are yet brave enough to put on shorts because in a span of a few hours the weather might drastically change. So bring your jeans, or if you like skirts like me, be prepared to wear tights with them.
Tip: alternative fashion of Finland
You know when I was telling you earlier to dress up in black and grey? Scrap that. Finland is a sub-culture paradise where pink dreads, platform shoes and black lipsticks are anything but a rarity. (Honestly, I can name three people on the top of my head that have green hair.) While I’m not trying to pretend that “cool kids” don’t bully the alternative looking kids and some older folks don’t sneer at excessively tattooed people, the general atmosphere in Finland seems to be “you do you”. It’s a very Finnish trait to mind your own business, so even though some folks might rant about your emo hair or goth attire at home to their friends and families, you wouldn’t necessarily hear that much public commentary about the way you look. After all, it is the country of heavy metal and some of our national heroes include long-haired men wearing monster masks.
Summer – June to August (/September)
There’s a popular saying about the Finnish summer – that it’s the best day of the year. (So original… Surely it has never been said about any other place on Earth.) However, when it’s not raining, the Finnish summer is suberb. Trees and flowers are sporting bold, bright green; the temperature is just right; and the sun never goes down. Even though you can only experience proper midnight sun in the north, where I live in the south you still only get two, three hours of darkness.
What should you pack, then?
- Your normal summer gear. It’s not uncommon to get all the way up to +30 degrees, but mostly the temperature is a very pleasant +20-+25.
- A light coat and a pair of jeans in case of rain. (You think I’m joking, but last year Helsinki was actually warmer in December (+6 C) than in June (+4 C).)
- Insect repellent. Like all of it. You don’t get to be called the Land of a Million Lakes and not have any mozzies.
- Swimwear – the Finnish summer is all about cottages (called mökki in Finnish) on the lakeside! You will most likely get invited to a sauna as well, but even when Finns get stark naked (and they will), don’t feel obligated to follow (birthday) suit. You’re fine to go to the sauna in your swimwear or wrapped in a towel if you’re at someone’s cottage, but if you use the sauna facilities in public swimming halls it is actually prohibited to wear your swimsuit. This is because chlorine from the water sticks to your swimwear and can be toxic to breathe in as it evaporates.
Autumn – October and November
Autumn in Finland looks great until it doesn’t. All those trees changing leaves makes for an incredible colour show all around the country, the air starts to get a little bit nippier but just enough for the cozy sweaters to come out… For about two weeks. When the autumn winds pick up, trees are very soon bare and the sun barely comes out anymore from behind the stale grey clouds. If you want to visit Finland in the autumn, early October is the best time.
- Pack for rain because you’re going to get loads! Umbrella, wind and rain resistant coat, wellies…
- A cozy sweater or two, and if you find a good pair, bring woollen socks as well. Finnish houses in general have got very good insulation but a lot of the cheaper apartments, such as mine provided by the students’ housing association, don’t turn on the heating until well into November. (Thanks, guys.)
Tip: Shopping for clothes
While Finland is a host for various international brands such as H&M and Zara as well as decent national branches like Seppälä, the prices in those shops are notoriously out of backpacker’s range. (Twenty euros for a hoodie?? I miss Primark.) Luckily there are numerous charity and second-hand shops in the country to peep in and find amazing bargains. I shop at second-hand shops almost exclusively, and it gives me great pleasure to know that my whole outfit could’ve cost less than a tenner, from shoes to my earrings.
Charity shops are usually occupied by older folks so the selection of clothing tends to serve that demographic a bit more, but you can still find great vintage clothes and even stuff that’s more modern. My favourite one is UFF with shops all around Finland. They hold a clearance sale about every two months, during which their prices become progressively lower until the last day of the sale when everything goes for 1 euro. Second-hand shops are usually businesses where you can rent a table for a week or so, bring in your stuff and let them sell it for you. I can’t believe how rarely I’ve run into self-service second-hand shops abroad because they are the best thing in this universe! Shopping for second-hand clothes becomes a skill when you’re trying to dig up for the best prices, but sometimes you might just land a sweet maxi skirt for 60 cents or the perfect jacket for 3 euros – true story!
Nightlife dress code
The great thing about Finnish night life is that anything goes. Especially in the smaller towns it is not out of ordinary to have girls with mini skirts and killer heels mingling with old men in worn out windbreakers. There are bigger, fancier nightclubs in the bigger cities, but most bars and clubs would not enforce any kind of a dress code.
Hopefully you’ll find these tips useful! Have you ever been to Finland or are you planning a trip there?
(Considering that like half of my readership is probably Finnish, I can only assume that asking that question isn’t gonna go down all that well.)