Lopapeysa: The Icelandic Wool Sweater

December 3rd, 2019

Written by:

Ragnheiður Harpa Haraldsdóttir

4 min read

The image many have of the Icelander is someone with fair skin, blonde hair, husky blue eyes, and possibly freckles. The stereotypical dressing would then be layers and layers of clothing made from local materials like wool and leather.

In fact, the Icelandic wool sweater or lopapeysa as the locals call it has become somewhat of an Icelandic icon.

June in Iceland

The traditional lopapeysa comes in natural colors: black, white, brown, gray, and beige. Those are made from uncolored wool. The most popular patterns are zig-zagged once but with increased popularity, in recent years the pattern creations have taken a new life.

Nowadays you’ll see children wearing them with incredible animal ribbons, adults with different threads in contrast with the wool and sometimes the patterns even make up landscapes or fan-art. 

Furthermore, you can get them with a zipper, buttons, hoodie, long sleeves, and short sleeves. 

Today you can buy them all around the country, at farmers’ markets, second-hand stores, Handknitting Association of Iceland shops, and some tourist-aimed locations like Gullfoss and Geysir.

If you’re planning on getting one, do it early in your trip. There is nothing that will keep you as warm, dry, and breathe as nicely as a wool sweater when traveling around Iceland!  

What makes Icelandic wool so unique?

Icelandic wool sweaters are solely made from the wool of Icelandic sheep: a breed of sheep that has been isolated for over 1,100 years and adapted to the incredibly harsh weather rand sub-Arctic climate.

As a result, their wool, which is truly compatible with any other kinds of wool, is made up of a distinctive mixture of inner and outer fibers. Of which the inner fibers are fine, soft, and insulating, while the outer fibers are longer, tough, and glossy, making them water-resistant.

The combination of the two makes for the perfect layer of clothing for cold climate. Which is exactly something you will be dealing with when visiting Iceland. 

children in in reykjavik

Additionally, the wool comes in many different colors, so when knitted together the patterns become unbelievably beautiful. 

What colors can you get the sweaters in?

The wool is now artificially colored in any color of the rainbow so you can get sweaters in just about any pigment you want. However, if you are looking to get an Icelandic sweater in an au naturel color, you might want to keep on reading. Especially if you want to see some of the strangest words found in the Icelandic language! 

Icelandic sheep

The colors of the Icelandic sheep are split into three categories. There are the colors, the patterns, and the two-colored sheep. 

There are only 4 natural colors: white, yellow, black, and rusty brown, but there are 6 patterns, and the 2-colored ones appear in numerous ways. Just for the fun of it, I’ll show you the Icelandic names of those colors. 

First the patterns:

  • hvítt
  • grátt (grámórautt)
  • golsótt (mógolsótt)
  • botnótt (móbotnótt)
  • grábotnótt (grámórubotnótt)
  • svart (mórautt) án mynsturs

And then the various two-colored ways the sheep can appear in:

  • Baugótt
  • Dropótt
  • Kjömmubíldótt
  • Höttukápótt
  • Hosótt
  • Leistótt
  • Krögubíldótt
  • Jakobsbíldótt
  • Huppukápublesótt
  • Krúnuleistótt
  • Hosukrögótt
  • Arnhöfðótt
  • And the list just goes on! 

Are wool sweaters only for tourists?

There was a time when I was growing up when these amazingly warm garments weren’t in style, but when the economy crashed in 2008 Icelanders went back to their old ways. They started making home-made blood and liver pudding and equal in cultural significance, started knitting wool sweaters.

Since then, brands like Farmers Market and Geysir have popped up, taking the conventional sweaters and making them cool again. Now you’ll see even the most stylish of fashionistas wearing the sweaters!

Fun facts about the Icelandic lopapeysa

  • Some say that Auður Laxness is the designer behind the first Icelandic lopapeysa. She was the wife of Halldór Laxness who was the first and only Icelander to win a Nobel prize. 
  • You can get them with a zipper, buttons, a hoodie, long and short!
  • Lopi means wool and peysa means sweater, ergo lopapeysa means wool-sweater. 
  • The lopapeysa isn’t an ancient tradition but was only first made in the mid-20th century!  
  • The traditional lopi be a bit itchy, but you can ask for softer yarn sweaters or simply wear a turtleneck underneath. 
  • The Icelandic wool sweaters are all handknitted and can not be machine-made. 
  • You can buy a lopapeysa in many second-hand shops or at the Kolaportið flea market for a lower price! 
  • Icelandic parents dress their children in wool from the day they are born. This makes most Icelanders completely resistant to the itching!
  • Icelanders like to keep wool the closest when dressing to stay warm. The closer the better!

How much does a lopapeysa cost?

The cost depends on 2 major factors. These are the location in Iceland, and whether or not you are willing to buy a used one.

Used ones start at about ISK 8,000, but they do go up to about ISK 20,000 when bought new in downtown Reykjavík. However, if you head further out of the city the prices often go down. Local farmers’ markets in smaller towns and villages, for example, are a great place to buy one. Especially since then the chances are the person selling it is the one who made it!


How to clean an Icelandic lopapeysa

The sweaters are hand-wash only in lukewarm water (30°C/86°F). Soak in the water with a few drops of laundry detergent and be careful not to rub or wring too much but softly squeeze the liquid through.

Now, try to wring out the garment to release the water. If needed, you can spin it in the dryer for about 1–3 minutes to remove excess moisture. Leave to dry on top of a towel. 


Other popular Icelandic wool products

  • Wool socks
  • Wool blankets
  • Fur rugs
  • Wool gloves

Find out more about Icelandic souvenirs to take home!


Written by:

Ragnheiður Harpa Haraldsdóttir