Dress and Clothing Considerations

Despite what you may imagine from its location on the map, the Finnish climate is generally less severe than that of America’s upper Midwest.

Away from coastal areas, the cold months are usually dry, and in the south the thermometer seldom falls below zero Fahrenheit. Moreover, Finnish homes and public transportation are very well-insulated and heated.

Daily Wear

For daily wear at university, lecturers normally wear casual suits, sport coats, or even sweaters and ties (skirts and blouses, slacks and sweaters, pantsuits). Student wear is similar to that in the United States, but graduate grantees should bring some nice options for interviews, dinner invitations, or special occasions. Wearing running shoes or hiking boots with suits or dresses is a phenomenon that has not found its way to Finland.

Formal Wear

You may need formalwear (dark suit or dress) on occasion, including receptions, the opening ceremonies of the academic year, and invitations to the homes of your university rector or host professor. To wear turtlenecks, sport coats or light-colored suits at such occasions may be considered inappropriate by both the hosts and other guests. It all depends on the situation; it is quite okay, and recommended, to ask your host.

Dress for the Season

As is the case in any country, it is important to dress for the climate. This is especially true in a country like Finland that experiences all of the seasons to some degree. For autumn, early spring, and winter you will need sturdy, insulated walking shoes. A raincoat and rubber boots will be useful for the rainy period of October through early December, and for early spring when the snows are melting. Woolen socks will also be useful. In the winter men will need long underwear, and women long underwear, woolen tights, or long woolen stockings when outside.

Dressing in layers is wise. You will often move from well-heated buildings out into the cold and wet and then back. Headwear is essential in the winter though if you do not normally wear a hat or cap you might wait and purchase one in Finland so you will have something appropriate for the climate.

Hanger Loops for Jackets

If you bring coats or down jackets from the United States, make sure they have hanger loops on the inside collar. This is especially necessary for hanging up children’s outerwear at schools or day-care centers. Every restaurant, school or other coat-check facility will have an attendant who will take your coat and try to hang it by the hanger-loop provided in all coats sold in Finland. Coats without loops soon fall off the peg and may end up on the floor. Dry cleaning bills are considerably more expensive than hanger loop installation!

Shoes

If your feet are narrower than the B width sold in the United States, bring enough shoe styles for all occasions. Finns are well-endowed with sturdy feet; there is little market demand for narrow-width shoes. Most narrow shoes made in Finland are exported to the high-fashion market. They are beautiful, but expensive. If you have regular or wide feet, the selection of Finnish footwear is abundant. Imported Italian shoes are usually narrower.

Finnish Fashion

Finnish fashion design has an international reputation, especially in women’s wear. There are also many hand woven items of unique design and styling. Impressive bargains can be found on high-quality, fashionable leather and furs, particularly during post-Christmas and spring sales. However, clothing in general is more expensive. You may want to keep this in mind when planning your clothing needs.

Some of the best buys in winter wear are found at the flea markets, where it is often possible to pick up coats in new condition at bargain prices. Every city has its own area where locals go bargain-hunting –ask your colleagues and friends.

Children's Clothing

Children dress more or less the same way for school in Finland as they do in America. Blue jeans are common; these and pants are useful for both boys and girls for playwear. Girls often wear woolen stockings or leotards to school, and use ski pants or pants for sports in winter. Long underwear in winter is a must for boys, especially for sports. Snow suits for children are of good quality. School children need book and accessory bags, and soft slippers for wear in the schoolroom; these can be easily purchased in Finland.

Remember that younger children seldom wish to stand out by dressing differently from their peers. Finnish tradition and climate result in the popularity of certain types of clothing and accessories. It is best not to ship extra clothing for your younger children; wait until you are familiar with what their Finnish classmates or playmates are wearing. Perhaps you could arrange for a friend to mail over reserve boxes of extra clothing if the situation warrants, rather than bringing everything with you, only to end up acquiring in Finland most of what your child will actually wear.

Laundry and Dry Cleaning

Bring along as much wash-and-wear clothing as possible. Dressing in layers is advisable rather than lots of thick, woolen garments that require dry cleaning.

Although dry cleaning is easily available, it is considerably more expensive than in the United States. Easily-dried fabrics are preferable. Clothes dryers are getting more common, but hang-drying is still the rule.

Clothes-washing in general takes longer in Finland. Washing machines first take in cold water, then heat the water, then wash the clothes, and then spin after the rinse cycle. European washing machines also have smaller capacities, and they process the fabric longer and more thoroughly than most American machines. Many washing machines have a separate option for a short cycle that lasts from 20 to 60 minutes.

When washing a load of laundry by machine, expect it to take longer than in the U.S. Add to this the time required to hang-dry and you are led to certain conclusions about the types of clothing you should bring along, and how long you will spend doing laundry. Commercial self-service laundry facilities, Laundromats, are quite rare. Student housing and many apartment buildings include laundry facilities, and housing supplied for lecturers and research scholars will often have a washing machine. If your housing does not include one, plan on hand-washing your clothing until an alternative can be found.