A guide to second-hand shopping in Sweden

If you're low on cash but still keen to upgrade your wardrobe, second-hand shopping may be the solution. Contributor Clara Guibourg investigates what Sweden has to offer in the way of vintage.

A guide to second-hand shopping in Sweden

If funds are running low in a post-Christmas economic slump, but you still want to upgrade your wardrobe with some new togs for a new year, there may be a solution. Why not try your hand at shopping for second-hand clothes, and check out what Sweden has to offer in the way of vintage?

While hardly a new concept, the market for used clothing has really exploded in Sweden over the past years, to the point that shopping second-hand has become something of a status marker for the hippest among us, as a quick glance down any street in the trendy SoFo district in Stockholm can confirm.

This is Vintage Central, where twenty-something hipsters bearing scarves and sweaters almost certainly knitted before they were born flock with bohemian girls in worn artsy dresses that proudly show their age.

It’s also the part of Stockholm with the highest density of second-hand stores per block. Small vintage boutiques are constantly popping up from out of nowhere to join established chains such as Beyond Retro, Myrorna and Stadsmissionen as part of the Swedish capital’s ever-expanding possibilities for shopping second-hand.

“I think the attraction lies in the possibility of finding more personal clothes second-hand than you can in regular shops,” explains Josefin Hagström, Beyond Retro’s press assistant, when asked about Swedes’ fascination with used clothing. She notes that if you want to look for your own unique style, second-hand stores have more to offer.

Beyond Retro have established themselves as one of Sweden’s best-known vintage chains since opening their first store in Stockholm in 2005, and now have enormous stores at three Stockholm addresses, and one more in Gothenburg. These stores are filled with colourful and exotic clothes that range from party dresses to outrageous accessories.

The allure of finding a skirt you’ll never risk inadvertently matching with your friend’s at a party, or a jacket unlike any on offer at more mainstream high street shops, is easy to understand. Are there any other advantages to going for second-hand clothes?

“You get a chance to re-use old things that come with a history, if you’re interested in that sort of thing,” says Josefin Hagström, and goes on to point out the eco-friendly Brownie points that accompany any foray into the world of vintage – shopping second-hand is far less damaging to the environment than buying new items.

Beyond Retro’s prices will burn a slightly deeper hole in your pocket than many other second-hand stores. In fact, today it is quite possible to update your wardrobe with brand new items from high street stores for less than it would cost at Beyond Retro, although the result won’t be nearly as retro chic, of course.

The same applies at Stockholm’s more exclusive second-hand boutiques, such as Judits Secondhand (Hornsgatan 75) and Lisa Larsson (Bondegatan 48). These boutiques offer carefully selected vintage clothing from decades past, so if you’re looking for a dress from the 1950’s, you’re likely to find it here.

The fact that the vintage clothes at these stores have already been selected by buyers is a large part of the reason for the higher prices, and as Josefin Hagström points out, many customers appreciate not having to do all the work themselves, by picking through piles of used clothing with little merit.

“People know that there are many different types of clothes, and at the same time know that we’ve selected only the best stuff, so that you can always find something when you come in here.”

Arguably, though, for many one of the main enjoyments of shopping for second-hand clothing is sifting through pounds of unwearable but hilarious rubbish before being rewarded for your hunt with a real gem.

So if you would rather save a few extra bucks, and don’t mind putting in a little extra time and effort, the chains Myrorna and Stadsmissionen, both run by charities and available in several locations throughout Sweden, may be just the thing. You’ve got a chance of making some great finds here, but you’re also likely to have to first search through some fairly interesting-looking togs, to say the least. How about a canary yellow quilted two-piece suit?

Don’t want to put in any time at all, and preferably not leave your house either? Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there is an option for you too: Blocket and Tradera are two major Swedish websites of the eBay variety, where you can buy everything – and I mean everything – including an astonishing array of cast-off clothing.

If you got a well-meant but unfortunate-looking sweater from Grandma last Christmas, the Internet is also the right place to get rid of it. Simply sign up for an account of your own, and within minutes all your discarded clothes can be on the market!

For a more complete listing of Sweden’s second-hand stores, look here.

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‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing? 

The pandemic cut-off Norway from its neighbours, putting a temporary end to border shopping. Now ‘harryhandel’ trips are allowed again businesses in the country fear they will lose out as shoppers look abroad for cheaper groceries. 

Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge.
Will the return of border shopping have a negative affect on the country? Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge. Photo by Petter Bernsten/AFP.

In eastern Norway, particularly along the border with Sweden, cross-border shopping has long been common for residents looking for cheaper groceries and a better selection of products. 

Norway’s Covid-19 rules effectively put a stop to that until this summer. The closed border meant a record year for food and beverage sales in Norway. 

“Due to the fact that there was little action and that people did not travel, we noticed that our sales increased greatly during the entire period,” Øyvind Berg, production manager at Norwegian dairy firm Synnøve Finden, explained to public broadcaster NRK.

Now producers and supermarkets fear the impact of cross-border shopping being up and running again. 

“Our challenge is that we see that more than half of the food and beverage producers, i.e. the industrial companies, fear that they will lose market share because cross-border trade will return in full,” Petter Brubakk, director of food and beverage at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), informed NRK. 

The majority of those who go shopping across borders in Norway will do so in Sweden. However, in the north, some will also venture into Finland or Russia.

Further south people will also travel to Germany or Denmark. 

Why do people go to other countries for shopping? 

Overall the main appeal of cross-border shopping is that its much better for consumers than shopping domestically. 

Norway’s EEA agreement with the EU means that most foods, drinks, tobacco products, alcohol and other agricultural products are more expensive than they are within the EU as custom duties are required to import them into Norwegian supermarkets. 

Not just that, but there is a much wider selection of products than in Norway due to laws that protect Norwegian products. For example, cheeses such as Cheddar are more readily available, cheaper and generally of better quality in other countries than those found in Norway. 

READ MORE: What is ‘harryhandel’, and why do Norwegians love it so much?

Is border shopping a bad thing for Norway?

Norwegian businesses argue that crossing the border to shop affects the whole value chain, negatively impacting everyone from Norwegian farms and producers to supermarket employees, not just companies profit margins. 

“My advice is to encourage Norwegians to buy Norwegian food, and help secure Norwegian jobs throughout the value chain,” food and agriculture minister Sandra Borch told NRK. 

In addition, shopping domestically means more tax revenue for the Norwegian system to use to fund its generous welfare state. 

While shopping domestically protects domestic jobs, shopping abroad protects jobs there, which rely on people hopping the border to get their groceries. 

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions left a black hole in some of these economies reliant on shoppers from the Norwegian side of the border. For example, in Strömstad, a Swedish town close to the border where many travel to shop, unemployment rose by around 75 percent after Norway closed its borders with Sweden.