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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Finnish Winter Fashion

No, I'm not setting that up as an oxymoron, despite the Finns constant impression that their country is style handicapped.  Really, it seems like all I hear is how slovenly they are compared to Italians and Spaniards!  Then again, Italians and Spaniards rarely have to deal with snow like this, and I'll bet that those in the Alps and Pyrenees that do don't dress that much differently.

Actually, this entry is in praise of the amazing ability of Finns, particularly Finnish women to navigate through ice and biting cold wearing anything that remotely looks fashionable.  I'd like to bow before what much be supernaturally strong ankles and senses of balance.  This is assuredly one area where I could never adapt!

What do I mean?  Well, this is an example of the type of outfit I would see around Helsinki right now, that is, with weather in the teens.


Take a good close look, something I know the guys reading this won't find too difficult to do.  Yes, those are woolen leggings tucked into knee boots with heels and a long(ish) sweater.  Hey, she has gloves, a big scarf and a hat--she's ready for -20C!

Lest you think I'm joking or this is only something that women in their 20s do for the sake of fashion, meet one of the ladies with whom I was waiting for a tram.


Okay, this one has a coat on, but it's just a basic black wool one, very different from the Burgundy duvet (and she was maybe 5 years younger than me).


It's the details that make this particularly impressive.  Not the lightweight black tights and the heels on the boots.

In fact, Finnish women of all ages seem to be able to wear heels of all sorts on the snow/ice/glaciers that constitute Finnish sidewalks.  Honestly.  I mean, people have this image of northern European women in the winter as looking like this.  (and, no, I didn't take this picture, so they're not giving me the stink eye).



Not so at all.  While there are lots of more practical snowboots of the type I wear, I've also seen lots of heels up to a good 3"--and almost no casts and crutches.  Moreover, even some older women get into the act.


I know it's hard to tell here, but this lady was probably in her 60s and was wearing 2-3" pumps in the snow. 

Probably most impressive to me, though, was this even older lady who was walking ahead of me towards the tram on one of the mornings with a -20+F wind chill.  I was so astounded I dug through my backpack to get my cell and tried to get a picture before she got too far away.


Take a really close look.  Yes, it's -20+F and, yes, she already has a cane.  She's wearing practical shoes, albeit without ice grips, but notice something missing there?  Something rather major?  Yes, she was wearing plain, ordinary, thin nylons, and the gap between her boots and skirt was probably close to a foot.

Helsinki women--made of tougher stuff than me!

Even Finnish me get into the act some, although far less than the women.  In helps that most of the shoes that are in style for men are also practical in snow and that they even make this men's shoes that look like hiking boots but have retractable spikes embedded into them.  (I think of them as stealth ice cleats.  You can walk securely and still be cool).  That being said, I've also seen guys running around in Converse high tops and boat shoes in the snow, which has to be close to suicidal.  The worst, though, are the few guys who insist on wearing stylish, Italian or Italian-inspired shoes in the snow.


If you'd see these in person, you'd have just cried. They looked like gorgeous Italian leather and surely wouldn't after a few more days in the snow.  I also kept trying to imagine how he walked on them given the leather soles they assuredly had!  I've come to the conclusion that Finns just skate all winter; it's just that sometimes the skates have wider surfaces touching the ice.

One piece of winter clothing that is ubiquitous even when wearing high heels, Italian shoes, or plain nylons that it seems no Finn would do without and that is enormously practical is the hat.  They are EVERYWHERE, and it does make it easy to style your hair in the winter: you just give up!  While many are mundane and practical, like my wool caps, some have real character.  There's a grown-up version of the little kids' elf caps with pom-poms (see my earlier post on kids' clothes) that just crack me up, particularly on men.  The ones that can be really fun and quite charming on the right person are these fur-lined bomber hats.


Those things must be a God-send if you have short hair.  Me, though, I'm quite happy with my down hood.

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