From the exhibition Power of Fashion

Power of Fashion

300 years of clothing
On display: 
26 Feb 201012 Aug 2018

The power of fashion is strong

All social groups use clothing to create their identity. Meet people from three decades, the 1780s, 1860s and 1960s, times when the economy, currents of ideas and technical developments clearly affected clothing and fashion.

The objects in Power of Fashion – 300 years of clothing belongs, with some exceptions, to Nordiska museet's collections and have been used by people who have lived in Sweden. Both objects and pictures are, if nothing else is indicated, the property of Nordiska museet.

A database provides more information about the objects on display. You can find it at the far end of the gallery. Additional information can be obtained in the library, downstairs on the museum’s ground floor. Here you will find a complete catalogue of all the objects and pictures on display in the exhibition, and you will also have the opportunity to continue your search in Nordiska museet's large objects database.

An exhibition catalogue is available for purchase in the museum shop. 

Excerpts from the exhibition

Forbidden luxury

The imbalance in Sweden’s foreign trade was blamed on imports of foreign luxury clothing. To support Swedish manufacturing, an import ban was implemented. The court sought to set a good example, and Gustav III introduced the Swedish national costume in 1778. It was a uniform outfit intended for the nobility and the middle class alike, made of Swedish materials.

Excess and luxury were regulated and often prohibited by 18th century sumptuary laws. With the aid of foreign expertise, Swedish textile manufacture started early, with production at spinning mills, dyeworks, textile mills and cotton-printing mills. In spite of ambitions to reach up to international standards of quality, the fabric produced did not meet expectations. Fashionable clothing was also manufactured from prohibited material that was smuggled in.


Torn clothing signalled carelessness or poverty, but mended clothing was acceptable. Today young people buy torn clothing or put holes in clothing – a provocation to those who remember another era.
Improved private finances, more women in the workforce and new materials contributed to growing clothing sales from the middle of the 20th century onwards. Today’s inexpensive clothing is mass-produced, and changes of fashion control people’s interest in shopping. Recycling is on the rise in reaction against exaggerated consumption and in hopes of creating a better environment. To some extent, this is also a fashion trend.

Youth fashion

American jeans with a “perfect fit” were an eagerly awaited new item in the mid-20th century. Screen idols like James Dean and Marlon Brando made jeans a youth fashion. During the ban of American jeans imports 1947–1960, young people had to make do with Swedish-made Algots jeans, side-zipped on the girls’ styles. American jeans arrived in Sweden in 1960, and the style took off. Pop and rock musicians were the trendsetters. In the 21st century, several Swedish clothing companies have designed jeans that performed very well in the international fashion market.