One evening I was having dinner with an Icelandic family at their home. We were going to have dessert (skyr with berries, of course) outside on their patio. As the various flavors of skyr, berries, cream, and bowls were spread on the outdoor table, everyone realized that it was getting a little chilly so they each went indoors to get sweaters. All five of them returned wearing lopapeysa sweaters. The only thing that might have made the moment feel more Icelandic would have been if a puffin walked by.
The lopapeysa has become the iconic symbol of Iceland, however, its history in the country is about as old as the poodle skirt. Although the origins of the sweater are not clear, it is believed that the wife of Halldór Laxness, Auður Sveinsdóttir, brought the sweater pattern back after a visit from Greenland in either the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. It is a sweater that is currently worn by the young and hip as well as the old and unhip. It seems that the lopapeysa has increased in popularity since the kreppa as a way of connecting with the more humble roots of Iceland. The lopapeysa yoked pattern is everywhere in Iceland – you can now even find paper napkins wearing the lopapeysa pattern, as well as iphone cases and chocolate bars. When you see this distinctive pattern, you think, “Iceland.”
Since they are attractive and warm sweaters, and also a symbol for Iceland, the lopapeysa is a popular souvenir. The Lopi wool is unique to Iceland and both insulates and repels water, making it perfect for Icelandic weather. If you need clothing for your time in Iceland and you are hoping to fit in with the locals, the sweater just might help you do that as people are wearing them everywhere. It can also be practical to wear at home if you live in a cold climate (and if want to send a subtle message to the other cool kids who have also been to Iceland…).
So, once you have made the decision to buy a sweater, where should you buy one? You probably want a truly authentic sweater, one that the locals wear, right? It would make sense to just go to the same store where the local Reykjavikians buy their sweaters. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. As Icelanders are a nation of knitters, most knit their own sweaters. All boys and girls learn to knit in school so the sweaters that are for sale are for the tourists. The sweaters are somewhat expensive so the cost might impact where you purchase a sweater, or whether you decide to indulge in one.
The most deluxe option in terms of overall experience and being able to choose exactly what you want would be to have a sweater custom made for you. If you go this route, you could consult with your knitter and choose the colors and pattern. It would be made to measure your body perfectly. If you don’t have the time to wait for a sweater to be made for you, another great option is to buy a sweater at the Handknitting Association of Iceland. The organization hires Icelanders to knit the sweaters in a wide range of sizes. The store can be found on Skólavörðustígur 19, down the street from Hallgrimskirkja church. The store is overflowing with sweaters so you most certainly should be able to find something that fits your taste and body. You also may want to consider Thorvaldsen’s Bazar, one of the oldest stores in Reykjavik that was created to support women’s charities (today the business supports children’s charities). Look around at all the options – some stores are very expensive and there are also sometimes sweaters available in places you wouldn’t expect, like a gas station in the middle of nowhere! There is quite a range in price from place to place (and also based on whether or not you choose a cardigan or sweater with a zipper) but you can expect to pay around 17,000-22,000 kr for the above options. If you find a sweater that is significantly higher in price, you may want to keep looking.
If you are looking to save a little money, you may want to consider buying a secondhand lopapeysa. If you choose this option, you may acquire a sweater that was once loved by Siggi or Friða but now is available to receive your love. You can check out the Kolaportið flea market by the harbor where you will find a variety of options. You can also try second-hand shops such as the Red Cross shops (there is one on Laugavegur 12).
What if you spent all of your money on hot dogs and rare albums at 12 Tónar, so you had to go home lopapeysa-less? What should you do if you spend your evenings gazing longingly at the happy lopapeysa-clad people on instagram when you search for #lopapeysa? Do you have to wait for your next trip to Iceland? No, not necessarily. You can either order a sweater from a store and have it sent to you….If you are looking for a less expensive option you can also have a look on ebay. I saw some sweaters that were selling for around $40-$50 in the states and comparable prices on the UK ebay site. You could also purchase some Lopi wool (either in Iceland or online) and knit a lopapeysa yourself with the Knit Your Own Lopapeysa DVD. And, if you are allergic to wool but are dying to see yourself in that trademark Icelandic look…there is always photoshop.
The cover photo is from Tiny Iceland and the group photo is from Modern Farmer.