The moon gradually advances, slowly covering the pale disc that is the sun. Some bystanders take a picture as it reaches its final destination at around three quarters.
The crowd is not impressed. Far more important than the sky’s somewhat darker grey is the queue. A procession of jostling youngsters fills the pavement, all shoving their way to the entrance of Beyond Retro’s garage sale. We are standing in the first quarter of the queue, hoping that it won’t take us too long to reach the shop’s buzzing warmth.
After twenty minutes, the rain starts in heavy, icy aggregates coming down on us. Soon, the drops convert into proto-flakes. We longingly stare at the saving door. I, the only non-Swede around, take the opportunity to wonder. The young urban population of Stockholm is something I am not used to. In my ignorance, I’d like to call them all ‘hipsters’, but I know this wouldn’t do them justice. Still, I’ve never seen people going through such hardship for a couple of second-hand garments. And there’s so many of them! Amid the certainly more than hundred people queueing, no two seem to ascribe to exactly the same dress code. Even the plainest outfit is topped with an accessory that designates some ideological affiliation or looks like found in a long-forgotten attic. Some are outright eccentric.
We slowly process, hopping around to defy the cold. I seriously pity the girl next to me only wearing tights below her skirt. Apart from feeling cold, I also feel alien. Even though I could pass as Scandinavian, something else (at least internally) sets me apart. Everyone in this crowd must have put so much effort into their style. And while, in a way, diversity is appreciated, this counts only for the cool kids. In a slightly disturbing way, everyone looks the same.
On the other hand, I also encounter serious dedication and inspiration while staying in Stockholm. The SSU, the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League, is the most active political youth group I’ve ever seen. Having grown up in an environment where political engagement is not considered cool at all, this is quite a new experience to me. As part of the biggest party in Sweden, the SSU does not lack funds. Moreover, it is the coolness, this urban self confidence that comes in handy here. I have the chance to assist in designing the division’s magazine and hanging out in their headquarters for a while. The chief editor is a slender figure with long blond hair. The first time I meet him, he is wearing a pair of hoop earrings and pink lip gloss, along with a fine smile. This edition’s theme is ‘nation’, and the whole district was invited to send in articles. No article is rejected, the magazine serving as some kind of public notice board on which to share thoughts and discuss among like-minded. At the end of two sessions, the magazine is ready to be printed, 50 pages that will be read by young party members and senior politicians alike. I am impressed at how professional it looks.
In the end, it takes us a whole hour to enter the shop and to crawl finally through people and discounted shirts and fur coats. Seeing the frantic fashion-grabbing and heaps of clothes on the floor no one has the time to clean up, I suddenly don’t want anything else than a calm space. Who am I to care about what is considered cool here or elsewhere? I think about the people who use their appearance – like everyone else – to signal something. Like following norms of fashion to demonstrate how little they have to care about what others think. I mind the paradox a bit less if only they’d have other things in mind than fashion. The good message is that they do.