The Finns are very casual about dress code. If you see a Finn wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a coloured tie, he is probably not Finnish, or he is Finnish, but in another country! Finnish managers may wear slacks, jacket, shirt (and tie) for work. This is what they call in their terms, “city wear”. A suit is for “sunday best”, for big family occasions or business visits in foreign countries. A large proportion of men will wear jeans and a jumper. In winter, it is quite acceptable for managers to wear roll-neck sweaters under their jackets and be accepted as smart.
There are no hard and fast rules about what you should wear. In summer, Finnish men tend to wear lovat-coloured jackets; although these are colourful, they are not bright. However, their blend of colours is unique to Finnish fashion. Women dress casually too. It is more usual to see women wearing trousers than a skirt. Topped with a jumper, this is quite acceptable for work and is far more casual than you will find in the UK. In summer, a cool cotton summer dress works fine. On the whole, Finnish women wear very little makeup, hardly ever wear coloured nail varnish, and jewellery is discreet.
There can only be few places in Finland to visit where you feel the need to look ultra smart or particularly glamorous. The Finns will accept you however you are dressed, and judge you little by your appearance. A French colleague of mine felt quite insecure when she first came to Finland. The Finns would avert their gaze from her, and she was quite sure that something disastrous had happened to her appearance. Nothing of the sort had taken place.
It was just that the Finns rarely engage in eye contact, and even more rarely express an opinion about somebody’s appearance. It is very unusual for anybody to pass comment on a pair of earrings, or a dress, or a nice pair of shoes. This tends to make you think that they just don’t notice. However, all boils down to the fact that Finns don’t engage in small talk, and probably feel it would be very intrusive to make personal remarks. Anyway, the Finns are very pragmatic; they take you for who you are, not for how you dress.
It does seem that the vast majority of Finns conform in their manner of dress, which emphasises their national trait of not wanting to stand out from the crowd. However, there are a very few “odd balls” about. It is possible to see men with long hair and wearing a ponytail. You might see someone wearing an outrageously coloured outfit, or even the odd hippie walking the streets.
However, these are very rare phenomena. In Helsinki, you may see women who are beautifully made-up and wearing designer outfits. However, that there is no pressure to compete. For the handful of women who are dressed like this, there are hundreds that are not. Generally speaking, clothing for the Finns is practical; it’s what they use to cover themselves up and keep themselves warm.
If you are visiting very good friends in the summertime, it will be quite normal to find your hosts in swimwear and a shirt. If you are visiting someone that you do not know very well, you are still expected to dress informally, but there will be a fairly smart element to this. It seems that jeans would be perfectly acceptable and expected at an informal gathering. If you are visiting a restaurant with family or friends, then smart casual or jacket and tie would be required. Suits are rarely worn. But whatever the choice of attire, it should reflect “calmly-dressed”.
So, what happens when people go out at night? I have been to a few informal occasions, such as barbecues, and have found the Finnish men rather formally dressed compared with what I would expect to find in Britain. I am told that open-necked tee shirts or polo shirts would be the norm, but I haven’t seen them being worn. Although very few restaurants insist on men wearing ties, the majority of times I’ve been to a restaurant, men have been wearing them. However, I do make a distinction here between restaurants and fast-food or chain restaurants. Women especially like to dress up, and I have seen some ladies turn up in wonderful eveningwear for special occasions. (They’ve had their boots on when arriving and their best shoes in a bag, and changed on arrival.) The local mid-week dance is a time when everyone tries to look smart—without “dressing up”.
The overwhelming impression I have of a Finnish dress code is that people dress to suit themselves. This tends to be very pragmatic and sensible with nothing making themselves stand out from the crowd. Jewellery is minimal, though exquisitely designed.