You are currently viewing Fashion History – The Unexpected Roots of the Lice Jacket

This post gives a brief overview of the history of the Norwegian Lice Jacket. It describes the knitting technique, traditional colors and patterns as well as embellishments. Furthermore, it includes a discussion how to style the garment. Learn also in which climate zones the piece is worth the investment, and how to get one when Norway is not on your travel list.

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Contents

  1. The Norwegian lusekofte Goes Back to the 8th Century
  2. The Sweater Jacket Is a Business Attire
  3. Description of the Traditional Knitting Technique and Embellishments
  4. The Norwegian Lice Jacket Is Great for Rainy/Snowy Cool/Cold Winter Climates
  5. How to Get a Norwegian Lice Jackets Outside of Norway?
  6. References

 

Updated: 1/15/2021

The Norwegian Lusekofte Goes Back to the 8th Century

A traditional and probably the most famous Norwegian sweater is the so-called Norwegian lusekofte (“lice jacket”) sweater. This sweater type goes back to the Setesdal, a region along the Otra river valley in southern Norway. Therefore, it is also referred to as “setesdalgenser” which means Setesdal sweater in English.

In the 8th to 11th, i.e. prior to the Vikings, this region consisted of petty kingdoms leading to the development of local traditions for identification. While complex terrain and many borders (with customs) mean difficult travel and trade and isolation, they also preserve traditional culture. Therefore, one can find many different pattern to knit this type of sweater.

 

The Sweater Jacket Is a Business Attire

Traditionally, these sweaters were men’s working clothes. Still today, wearing this sweater with a shirt and tie counts as business attire in Norway. Today they are worn by men and women alike. Paintings and photographs suggest that variations of this type of sweater existed already in the 19th century. The interested reader is referred to Annemor Sundbø’s (2001) book or her webpage. She collected many old photographs and newspaper articles of lusekofte designs.

 

details of a Norwegian lice jacket
Zoom-in on a lice jacket in white and green with embroidery on the collar and cuffs. The jacket has hooks for closure.

 

 

Description of the Traditional Knitting Technique and Embellishments

Norwegian sweaters and jackets were hand-knitted on round needles or five double pointed needles applying a similar knitting technique as for the original Fair Isle sweaters to create the pattern. Today, a variety of colors, and often more than two colors are used. According to old paintings and photos, originally the Norwegian sweater had white wool on the bottom, and the pattern was knitted with two yarns, usually black/gray and white.

The alternative use and catching of the yarns creates the pattern and insulation* for the wearer. This means the jacket provides thermal comfort for a longer time than a single yarn knitted jacket. Norwegian jackets also have unique decorative embroidery that surrounds the neck, closure, and cuffs. Traditionally the embroidery differed among regions. Typically, silver colored hooks sewed on both sides of the jacket serve as closure. Note that in history, Norwegian clothes relied on brooches or hooks rather than buttons for closure. See photos of Norwegian attire in this post.

 

 

The Norwegian Lice Jacket Is Great for Rainy/Snowy Cool/Cold Winter Climates

Norway has three different climate regions. At high altitudes and in Spitzbergen snow and ice dominate. In Norway, precipitation varies between 19.7 and 118.1 inches (500 and 3000 mmm) per year with most of the rain along the coastal areas. Less rain and snow fall inland. The southern part has warm temperated humid climate. Four or more months have a monthly average temperature above 50F (10°C). The mid and nothern part experience less than four months with a monthly average temperature above this threshold. Therefore, this jacket works also well in regions with similar weather conditions like Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, just to mention a few.

Norwegian sweaters look great. In cold climate regions, they are office appropriate with wool slacks or wool skirts, boots and tights in business casual style work place. In these regions, the lice jacket styled with dark blue or colored jeans is also a great alternative for Casual Friday outfits (like shown below).

 

guy in Norwegian lice jacket styled in a business casual way
Example of how to style a lice jacket with bow tie, shirt, colored jeans and boots shoes. The shirt, colored jeans and red shoes pick up colors of the embroidery.

 

 

How to Get a Norwegian Lice Jackets Outside of Norway?

Many large cities have outdoor related stores with traditional clothing lines like Dale of Norway.
On Etsy, you can find sellers that knit custom-made versions. There you can also look for vintage original Norwegian Lice Jackets on Etsy at affordable pieces. Search, for instance, for Dale of Norway. When you want a new piece from this brand, check Zappos lice jackets.

Net-A-Porter in the US as well as Net-A-Porter in the UK sell Norwegian Sweaters eventhough the pieces may be incorretly labeled as Fair Isle sweaters.

When you want to knit the jacket yourself, you can buy an affordable book on the pattern.

Do you like the lice jackets? Do you own one? How do you style yours? Just curious.

You can read about the fashion history of the cable knit sweater or the origins of the pea coat at the links.

 

References

Kottek, M.,  Grieser, N., Beck, C., Rudolf, B., and Rubel, F., 2006. World Map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification updated. Meteorologische Zeitschrift, Vol. 15, No. 3, 259-263.

Mölders, N., 2019. Outdoor Universal Thermal Comfort Index Climatology for Alaska, Atmosphere and Climate Sciences, DOI: 10.4236/acs.2019.94036

Roald, W., Sibbern Bohn, A., 2020. Norwegian Knitting Designs – 90 Years Later: A New Look at the Classic Collection of Scandinavian Motifs and Patterns. Trafalgar Square Books. pp. 227.

Sundbø, A., 2001. Setesdal Sweaters the History of the Norwegian Lice Pattern. Torridal Tweed, pp. 159.

Photos: N. Mölders

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