All you need to know about the Icelandic Lopapeysa, the hype around this sweater, and why it is a good idea to have one.
Whether you have been browsing through photos of Iceland from the comfort of your home miles and miles away, or you’ve just stepped foot on the island awaiting your Nordical adventure to begin, one thing is for sure: you have certainly come across flocks of people wearing what seems to be the same ‘copy-paste’ woolen garment: The Lopapeysa. From locals strolling down the streets of Reykjavík enjoying a cup of coffee and newspaper in hand to farmers going on with their daily tasks, it truly seems that everyone and their dog has this type of sweater.
In short, the Lopapeysa is none other than a traditional Icelandic sheep wool sweater. When wearing it abroad, its originality is a true showstopper while in Iceland, having one is both a statement and a necessity during harsher weather conditions.
The traditional Lopapeysa displays a mix of soft neutral colors often combined with a dab of Viking symbols and other symmetrical shapes, with a raw yet charming finishing look. Some can be fully zipped, whilst others come without any zipper options. One thing is for sure, whatever sweater your heart desires, you’re guaranteed to find it!
How is a Lopapeysa made, and what makes it so special?
The Lopapeysa, quite simply, means ‘unspun wool sweater’. These garments are solely made from pure Icelandic unspun sheep wool that has been carefully selected for its unique durability and warmth. The country’s sheep have naturally adjusted and adapted to Iceland’s sub-Arctic temperatures over the centuries, making their two-layered wool one like no other. The inner fibers are soft and insulating whilst the outer ones are rugged and water-resistant making them a perfect fit for all four seasons. Lopapeysas come in various natural sheep colors, from off-white to black and all in between. Nowadays, an array of different dyed colors has been added to the mix and the sweaters can truly come in any form, differing from the traditional look but adding a pinch of character and individuality. As the pattern is made in non-varying circles, the front of the sweater is identical to its back. The large decorative pattern on top, called the ‘yoke’, is often preserved with the evolution of the Lopapeysa over time. Even though the colors change, its superior quality and long-lasting wear have stayed the same year in, year out.
The history behind the famed Lopapeysa
If you’ve ever been to Iceland before, you might have noticed that knitting plays a large role in the daily life of Icelanders. For many, making sure they’ve packed their knitting needles and a few balls of yarn in their purses before jetting off for the day is as important as taking their phones with them before leaving the house. True story – you see knitters everywhere! At cafés, on a park bench, and even in bars! It’s like an unstoppable army of creative creatures.
It is believed that Auður Laxness, wife of Halldór Laxness – the first and only Icelander to win a Nobel Prize, was behind the design of the original Icelandic Lopapeysa. The rise of worldwide industrialization in the 20th century, helped Iceland in many various ways however, more ships with materials and goods coming into the country meant that hand-knitting was slowly starting to take a back seat. Iceland suddenly found itself with too much high-quality local wool and voilà… This is how the Lopapeysa movement came to life.
Back in the day, fishermen and farmers wore this garment due to its high water-resistant and insulation properties however, nowadays, you can see it being enjoyed by children and adults from all walks of life both here in Iceland and abroad.
Where can I buy one, and how much do they cost?
The good news is that Lopapeysas are readily available in near all corners of the country. Dozens of shops sell them in downtown Reykjavík, and you can even find them in local farmer markets in smaller towns. The bad news is they might set you back with a couple of hundred dollars or so.
If you want a truly authentic hand-knitted Lopapeysa, it is strongly recommended to check out the Hand Knitting Society store in Reykjavík, where you would surely and most definitely find what you’re looking for. They have all the colors, sizes, and shapes that could ever exist and in the slight chance you simply cannot find the perfect fit, you’re more than welcome to order one handcrafted just for you! You receive the sweater with the name of the person that made it for you, guaranteed authenticity of your purchase, as well as supporting the local hand-knitting association! A Lopapeysa like this would cost around 15-30,000 ISK (or about $150-200).
If you’re short of money or simply want to go another route, why not head towards some favorite local thrift shops. Spúútnik, Kolaportid, and Gyllti Kötturinn are good places to start hunting for some good deals.
How do I take care of a Lopapeysa
Repeat after me: Do not wash a Lopapeysa in the laundry! We’ve all been there and, certainly, all made this mistake at least once, if not a couple of times. Lopapeysas are from unspun wool, meaning if you wash it with warmer water or add laundry softener, not to mention accidentally put it on a harsher cycle, the fibers will bind together and what was your lovely large adult sweater will eventually shrink into a play doll’s garment in front of your very own eyes.
It’s best to handwash with mild water, specially designated detergent, and leave it flat to dry. Bear in mind that the wool is extremely durable to outer elements and only needs to be washed a few times per year!
Whatever color, shape, or style you choose to get, rest assured that you’d be taking back with you a true Icelandic National symbol that would keep you warm and happy for years to come!