Traditional Icelandic lopapeysa wool sweater

Iceland is more than just incredible landscapes, road trips around the island, and unforgettable adventures. Iceland is also about tradition. And who would have ever thought, it’s also linked to fashion. The traditional Icelandic Lopapeysa wool sweater is the garment that Icelanders need to protect themselves from the local weather. But, what is the Lopapeysa? If you want to find out, then stay with us.

Traditional Icelandic lopapeysa wool sweaters in a shop

Our insular nation is located in the North Atlantic Ocean and close to the North Pole. And that means weather plays a significant role in the life of the locals; it affects our lives on a daily basis. Iceland is a humid and windy country, regardless of the season. Rain is present throughout the year. The wind can be mild or strong depending on the day. Regardless of its intensity, it is always there. Due to these circumstances, the locals needed to find a way to be more protected against the inclement weather. But at the same time, the solution had to be comfortable and allow workers to perform their jobs without issue. The answer came in the form of a cozy, beautiful wool sweater: the lopapeysa.

The Traditional Icelandic Lopapeysa Wool Sweater – Perfect for Cold Weather

The perfect way to stay warm in Iceland is wearing a cute Lopapeysa. Its name may sound complicated and weird. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have any magical powers. It also won’t turn you into some mighty Nordic God or superhero. Its name simply translates to “wool” (lopa) and “sweater” (peysa). It’s as easy as pie! But despite the simplicity of its name, there are loads of scientific reasons that explain why this sweater works perfectly. Wool is a natural fiber that keeps your body warm, and it has great insulation due to its chemical and physical properties.

When we feel cold, we are prone to cover ourselves up with any kind of thick clothing. Most of us think that this is the best way to keep the cold away from our body. But is that true? Well, the human body regulates its own temperature. When we feel hot, we begin to sweat to maintain our correct body temperature equilibrium. The same thing happens when it’s cold; our body starts to shiver to get warm and raise our body temperature. Choosing the wrong fabric (like cotton) can actually create a counterproductive effect. In this case, you can always trust wool. It’s the perfect material for cold and humid weather. And that is basically what Icelandic weather is like.

Up close detail of authentic Icelandic lopapeysa traditional wool sweater

The Icelandic Lopapeysa –  What it’s Made of and its Source.

Among the properties of wool fibers, we find:

Thermal Isolation

The fiber structure gives wool this property as it is both wavy and curled. The specific shape of the fiber creates an extra layer that allows air to circulate inside of the garment. This works as a thermic regulator, avoiding the loss of heat and allows the body to sweat. As a result, the sweater is both practical and makes for a great souvenir

It’s Hydrophobic

Wool repels water (up to a certain point, of course). Otherwise, it would be waterproof. The responsible component here is Lanolin, a hydrophobic molecule that is part of the chemical composition of this fiber. The beautiful lopapeysa would be nothing without this premium quality wool fiber. The source for this fantastic material is none other than our beloved Icelandic sheep. They not only provide us with meat and milk but also with high-quality merino wool. The Icelandic sheep wander freely in our green hills and pastures. You might even run into some along the Ring Road. They graze, play, and grow tons of wool each year. When the summer season arrives, the shepherds shear our fluffy friends. That pure wool is the one used for our Lopapeysa.

Icelandic sheep provide the wool for lopapeysa sweaters

The Icelandic Lopapeysa – Its History and How it’s Made

From the time of the settlements, the need to be warm and protected from the weather conditions was ever present. Back then, most of the settlers imported clothes from neighboring countries. Usually, shipments came from Scandinavian ones: most notably Sweden and Norway. It was not until the 16fh century when knitting came to Iceland, and with it, the Lopapeysa.

The Icelandic sheep population was large, and therefore wool was always available. But there was so much that it was constantly being wasted. Local people began to explore new ways of using this material, and they ended up creating the Lopapeysa. It remains unknown who invented it and where its original design comes from. Some state it is based on the woman’s traditional costumes of Greenland. Others see a resemblance to traditional Swedish clothes as well. Wherever it came from, the look is now iconic. It’s one of Iceland’s top souvenirs and is as associated with the island as our beloved puffins.

The sweaters are made by local knitters either at home or by small traditional knitting companies. The most common ones are all hand made. Depending on the experience of the knitter, it can take up to 5 days to make a whole sweater. Its design varies in color and shape, but it pretty much keeps the same Icelandic pattern: a wide decorative design around the neck.

Price varies depending on the size, as well as if they come with zippers, buttons, hoods, etc. They range from 90-220€ and up. They are not the cheapest piece of clothing you can buy in Iceland, but they are of very high quality. They’re 100% pure Icelandic wool, and they will last for years. If you are thinking about getting one, don’t hesitate, they’re worth every cent.  

The Traditional Icelandic Lopapeysa Wool Sweater – Stay Warm

Many visitors will think the Lopapeysa is just a sweater, but to Icelanders, it is more than that. It represents our culture, our history and it has played a role in constructing an Icelandic identity. If you buy one while in the Nordic nation, be sure it is indeed the perfect way to stay warm but also to own a piece of the culture and tradition of a whole country. It is important then to buy authentic Icelandic Lopapeysa from local knitters. The Handknitting Association of Iceland is a good place to start for quality assurance. Due to the recent tourism boom, some companies may sell sweaters made with industrial knitting machines. Their prices will be more affordable, but they lack the TLC and work that a local knitter put into every piece they make.

The Traditional Icelandic Lopapeysa Wool Sweater

Now you know, if you are looking for the perfect way to stay warm in Iceland, get yourself a pure wool lopapeysa wool sweater. It’s the perfect way to look like an Icelander, blend in with the locals, and mingle with the people around you.

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