Lopapeysa- The Icelandic Wool Sweaters


Lopapeysa, also known as the lopi sweater, is the famous traditional sweater of Icelanders. Though the lowland winter climate is mitigated by the North Atlantic and Irminger currents, the highlands of the north experience lows of -25 to -30° C (-13 to -22° F). The wool sweaters are therefore a must-haves in Iceland.



Lopi is made from Icelandic sheep wool, giving its name Lopapeysa. Popularity began around the 1950s when wool was first utilized for warmth. Who designed it? No one knows. Rumors spread that housewives helped each other making sweaters out of sheep wool for their families. The original colors were earthy monotones: black, brown, grey and white. Therefore, the lopapeysa was not really appreciated in the beginning of the century.
Soon enough, Icelandic mothers made unique and colorful patterns for the sweater. In the 1950s up to the 1970s, vibrant colors were the stylish ones. Only then did lopapeysa emerge into the limelight. In contemporary times, everyone can procure lopapeysa in virtually every commercial street in Reykjavik and all other towns. If you enjoy knitting and want to make your own lopapeysa, you can purchase lopi wool at knitting stores in various colours. Some tourist shops also offer wool. One of them is Álafoss in Mosfellsbær, a 20-minute drive from Reykjavik. Álafoss first began producing wool in 1896 . Later, they named a wool variant after the store. The name “Álafoss lopi” stuck and became interchangeable with knitting a lopapeysa.



One of the reasons why lopapeysa is so popular among Icelanders is its unique yoke design. Wide bands of contrasting colors and patterns circle the neck and shoulder areas. For symmetry, the front and back designs are exactly the same, varying slightly only when buttons or zippers are added. Narrower trim of the same design is often added around the wrist and below the mid line. Being made out of Icelandic sheep wool, lopi is not spun, meaning it has better insulation than spun yarn. It also repels water. However lopi is more difficult to deal with than spun yarn. Due to the demand for bright colors and disappointing merchandising experiences from the 1950s to the 1970s, natives selling lopapeysa decided to dye them, to give them a more fresh and fashionable look. Even with the weak demand for natural-colored sweaters, they never stopped making them because some still prefer a functional garment with the plain, unadorned look.

Who Uses Them?


Since winters are long and bitterly cold, sweaters are a must-have for Icelanders. Needing a stylish way to keep warm, children like the lopapeysa for frolicking outdoors, hip teenagers use it to be fashionable and grownups cover up when doing chores in the open air.
Lopapeysa has not always been trendy or an everyday item of clothing. It was more like a sweater to wear on national feast days and public celebrations. It was reserved for national holidays like Culture Night, Independence Day and gatherings in the countryside.
Just before the trans-Atlantic Great Recession, the fad for wearing lopi sweaters accelerated. First Lady Dorrit Moussaief spearheaded the fad by wearing the lopapeysa in public. So fashionable did the garment become that residents were going downtown in winter, simply to slip on and show off their lopi sweaters.
When visiting Iceland, get yourself an authentic lopapeysa. The capital is the best place to procure this sweater, but you can also find it in any tourist stores around the country. Be in with the crowd and at the same time enjoy its warmth while taking in the sights around Iceland.