Went to Sweden, found Mississippi

The Anglo-American Experience will be a Swedish-American experience for the next week or so.

A mannequin wears one of Veronica's designs for Mississippi in the Visby shop.

A mannequin wears one of Veronica’s designs for Mississippi in the Visby shop.

A couple of days ago I got lost in an unfamiliar city and stumbled across a shop called Mississippi.  That might not have been too surprising, except that I’m on an island in the Baltic.

I’ve lucked into 10 days of vacation (UK: holiday) in the World Heritage town of Visby, on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island.  Vikings lived here in the 12th century, it was a hub of international trade through the middle ages, and today Visby is the best-preserved of the fortified trading cities of Northern Europe, full of medieval stone buildings and surrounded by a 13th century city wall.

Peach-coloured summer dresses, which the English would call frocks.

Peach-coloured summer dresses, which the English would call frocks.

Inside that wall—all 3.6 kilometres, or about 2 ¼ miles of it, largely intact—lots of trading goes on to this day.  Pedestrians and (a few) cars share stone-paved streets lined with any number of boutiques and shops, with many of the shops selling hand-made goods you won’t find elsewhere.  Lots of these only open seasonally, because the population burgeons in the summer as Scandinavians come here for the beaches and cruise ships stop in, until it all culminates in an 8-day festival called Medieval Week, with jesters and jousting and—well, if this were a tourist brochure, I’d have to come up with a third item beginning with J, jollity or some such, but as this is a blog about finding Mississippi in the Baltic, I’d better get back to the point.

Staffan himself, in front of some of the merchandise at Mississippi

Staffan himself, in front of some of the merchandise at Mississippi

I went back to the Mississippi boutique today—on purpose this time—and spoke to Staffan, one of the proprietors, who had only opened for the season a couple of days before.  He was suffering in the cold, having just arrived from Bali; he and his wife, Veronica, designer of their clothing lines, live in Indonesia in the winters and have a second shop there.

They’ve been in business over 25 years, and never intended to call the place Mississippi at all.  Veronica’s mother came from Mississippi, and Veronica holds a US passport, though she’s never been there.  Staffan told me how, when they were first opening the shop, they were on the phone (presumably to some official in charge of registering new businesses) and found that the name they’d planned on using wasn’t available, so they had to come up with something else, right there and then, before they even hung up the phone.  Mississippi simply came to mind; Mississippi it has been ever since, although they’ve played around with other names, including Mrs. Hippy (say it out loud and you’ll get the connection), which I rather like.

Dresses in the doorway of the shop

Dresses in the doorway of the shop

I loved their clothing, though they don’t make it in a size for the likes of me, and I have to admit I’m a bit too old for the styles; Mississippi’s creations are for younger Misses.  The items are so distinctive that customers can recognize each other; if they happen across someone wearing a similar sort of dress as they walk along in Stockholm, they’ll say “I see you’ve been to Visby!”

The shop itself -- if you hurry, you can get 50% off last year's styles!

The shop itself — if you hurry, you can get 50% off last year’s styles!

So Mississippi’s brand-new styles change hands inside the medieval city walls that have seen centuries of trading, and I sit here—I’m in the public library, which doubles as the university library—and write about it for you to read wherever you are.  This is globalization, I suppose, but in a good way.  If you get as far as Visby, stop in and do some Mississippi shopping.  Just remember to pack for the climate; this ain’t the bayou.  And if global warming keeps upsetting the weather patterns, you may need a cardigan over your beautiful summer dress from Mississippi.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Went to Sweden, found Mississippi

  1. Malcolm

    I envy you even so short a stay in Sweden, Mary Ellen. I lived there for three years back in the 1950s and even then it was hard to resist the thought that, if there is an earthly paradise, they had already invented it (and I was just south of the Arctic Circle). The fact that they didn’t seem too happy themselves was a real puzzle. I had to conclude that they were disgruntled at not being able to work out how to have 1.7 children, like in the official statistics.

  2. I love Sweden. Stockholm is the place for me. It’s the only city where I’ve been able to eat an entire pig’s head, minus the skull of course. I only did it for a bet but it’s quite addictive when washed down with multiple pints of dark beer.
    I know, sad, but I’m trying to get a life.

  3. Cathy Villa

    This brings back memories of being an exchange student in Lulea, just south of the Arctic Circle. At the end of our year abroad, we bicycled around Gotland before experiencing the culture shock of returning to the US. Ah, youth!

    • I had no idea you’d lived here! Were you studying in English or did you learn Swedish (or Sami?)

      • Cathy Villa

        This was between high school and college. I lived with a Swedish family and went to “gymnasiet” (high school) with my Swedish sister. So, yes, I learned Swedish but I didn’t study very hard.

      • That must have been a real adventure, especially in–what? The earliest 80s?

        That’s further north than I’ve ever been — closest I’ve gotten is Helsinki, and I was only there to change ferries. And you’ve even got Ernest beat by 40 miles or so; at least, I think the farthest north he’s been is Oulo (Finland).

  4. Jocelyn

    There’s a clothing shop called Ohio in a Swedish town – I’m trying to remember which. Upplands Väsby? Somewhere like that. (Insert snarky comment about midwest from native Californian here.)

  5. Candida

    Lucky you! And I bet the Baltic wasn’t even any colder than the UK has been these last couple of weeks.
    The other Swedish designer of very distinctive clothes in natural fibres, but perhaps more for older Misses who like their hemlines a little further from their knicker lines, is Gudrun Sjöden. Some of her prints are just beautiful, and she even opened a London shop last year.
    One quibble in passing, though: frock? I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say frock EVER outside of a period drama like Call the Midwife, unless it’s in a slightly camp formulaic phrase like “get your party frock/glad rags on”, beloved of magazine journalists. Women wore frocks in the 1950s, surely, with petticoats? Do they really still wear them in Guildford?

    • Yep, lots of English people around where we live say ‘frock’. I refer you also to an Alan Davies sketch about how the fashion industry wants women to be as skinny as possible, but that’s not what men want. I remember him referring to a skeleton in a biology lab and saying “Way-hay! Put a frock on that and you’re done!”

      Perhaps Cornwall is leading the way into our linguistic future, dumping the frock.

      • Eleane Tweedly.

        I was hesitating to comment on the use of the word frock but seeing Candida started it ……! Even when we lived in Ash (until 1977) I never heard the word “frock” used by anyone under 70 unless they were
        Sloane Rangers types or their wannabees. I certainly can’t remember the last time I heard it used in Scotland but I do know it always got people’s attention when they heard it. Again, it’s invariably used by older people or younger people who went to expensive girls schools. Not sure I’ve heard a boy say it, certainly as far as I can remember & I don’t think I’ve heard a man call a dress a frock since the 50s!

      • Well, Candida grew up in Ireland and Eleane in Scotland, so you surely know more about British English than I do, but I hear “frock” used as a regular, everyday word. What can I say? I may be missing irony or class issues or whatever when I hear someone say it, but it certainly seems to be a normal word where I live. Other than that Alan Davies routine, and current newspapers, I don’t know what to tell you.

        but through the wonders of modern technology, I did a quick search on Infotrac’s newspaper database and got by my count 43 hits on “frock” in the pages of the Times, Sunday Times, Guardian, and Observer, since Jan 1 of this year. There is the odd mention of cardinal’s robes as frocks, or of a man’s frock coat, but they are in the main just normal uses, as far as I can tell, of frock.

        Here’s a selection:

        —-
        Fashion article headline: MORE TEA PLEASE; IT’S THE FROCK BOTH YOU AND YOUR 17-YEAR-OLD NIECE CAN WEAR AND LOOK FABULOUS IN. SHANE WATSON CELEBRATES THE TEA DRESS

        Review of a pop concert:

        The star: “visits her bit of aural Armageddon on MBV’s borderline-masochistic listening public wearing a frock of classy teal and heels as high as champagne flutes.”

        Feature on whether your screen saver can affect your attitude to life:
        “HAVE you ever noticed what screen-savers people choose for themselves? …Sometimes it’s aspirational stuff – perhaps a fast car for a young man, or jewellery and frocks for a material girl.”

        Book review:
        “From now on, she declares, women of the world must “Think Pink!” It’s not just a question of frocks, but of repainting the entire feminine world. A cutaway shot suggests that, from now on, even shampoo should be rosy.”

        Report on the Academy Awards:
        “Long after the Californian sun rose, the Oscar winners and losers were waking up after a night of loud applause and louder frocks, hilarious acceptance speeches and dire jokes.”

        Interview with child actress:
        “…is certainly happier polishing off bun and mayo than discussing her Oscars frock. “It’s all a secret, a seee-crrrr-etttt,” the nine-yearold…”

        I’m happy to hear whatever it is that I’m missing, but in everyday life and in the papers, well, I hear and see frock…all the time!

      • James

        My tuppence worth…

        I’d say “frock” is a lot less commonly used than “dress”, but that’s not to say I never/rarely hear or read it. We’ve just had the Grand National meeting here in Liverpool, and plenty of women of all ages will have bought themselves a new frock to wear. I mention that because in my experience a frock is not just *any* dress, and (around here at least) I’d be surprised to hear a woman refer to the kind of summer dresses in the picture as frocks. Actually they look more like “maxi-dresses”, for which there was a craze a couple of summers ago.

        I most often hear the word paired with “posh” as in “I need a posh frock for the Christmas do/Aintree/our Brian’s wedding.” So to me the word has an association with getting really dressed up for a special occasion, and is more likely to refer to an evening gown or the kind of dress worn at an event where a hat is also standard attire.

        By contrast, I wouldn’t expect a dress worn to work, or for an afternoon in the park with the kids, to be referred to as a frock.

      • Ah, frocks are posh! That fits with most of my examples, too. Maybe we’re getting to grips with it.

        There’s a maxi dress prominent in one photo, but I think almost all of the others are minidresses; those garments behind Staffan on the rack may look like tops, but they are minidresses. Staffan is *really* really tall, so that can fool the eye!

      • James

        Though, as with many things, there may be wide regional variations. It’s clear commenters from elsewhere think it’s an unusual or anachronistic word to use at all, and maybe in other areas of the UK frocks are more common in both senses of the word.

        “There’s a maxi dress prominent in one photo”

        Sorry, I didn’t make it clear I meant that one, but I did (cos’ it’s the one with the caption saying English people would call them frocks).

  6. The last time I heard the word “frock” it was uttered rudely, & it was followed by “off.” But I ignored the directive & kept my frock ON.

  7. Serena Cole

    Do you have the contact information for Mississippi store? There is a dress I would like to get that I saw on someone. Many thanks.

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