Meet The Swedes Who Love To Dress Like They're From The Deep South

By Mattie Kahn

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ALL PHOTOGRAPHED BY LINUS SUNDAHL - DJERF.

As 20th-century London can attest, subcultures tend to be the inventions of youth. More than their parents, teens and twentysomethings are ready to experiment and innovate and tear up old clothes. But the Swedish raggare movement is an exception. “It is something carried down through generations,” observes Linus Sundahl-Djerf. According to the photographer, the population that celebrates hot rods, Confederate memorabilia, and midcentury American pop has had a presence in Sweden for decades. 

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“Anyone growing up in a small town in Sweden has some kind of connection,” he explains. “Either you have friends who are part of it, or you have friends who hate it, or you’ve just seen them driving through town screaming while someone’s naked butt is sticking out the car window.” Like American greasers and Cyndi Lauper, the raggare just want to have fun.

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And every year, they do just that at the Power Big Meet. Located on the outskirts of the town of Västerås, the event is said to be the largest gathering of classic cars in the world. On site, Swedes divide. A portion sticks to pristine lawns, parading immaculate cars and cultivated reputations. The rest move to Swine Camp, which The New York Times hazarded was named for the septic “standards of those who choose to stay there.”

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To give us a peek into the beer-strewn grounds, Sundahl-Djerf shared his photos of the raggare who run the territory of the less polished playground at the Power Big Meet.

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What were your initial impressions of the Power Big Meet?
“We wanted to focus more on the people than on the cars, and during three days we mainly wandered the muddy paths between tents, passed-out people, and empty beer cans. Here, we found the outlaws of the car show — with jalopies [they] called pilsner cars that looked like they wouldn’t make it another mile. Some pilsner cars definitely had given up. But for others, the style is a thought-through fashion statement, and under the hood there’s often a brand-new engine hiding. At night, we slept in my Saab and woke to Swedish songs with sexist, perverse lyrics, blasting from the after-parties that never seemed to have an end.”

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The crescendo of the weekend is a big cruise through town, lasting for hours and hours. For some, it’s certainly an opportunity to show off your car. But to most of the raggare, it’s a moment of strong belonging. Normally being an outsider, for three days you’re suddenly representing the majority.

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Why do you think this sort of “vintage Americanism” is so popular in Sweden?
“I think we have always had some kind of big-brother complex towards the U.S. Growing up with American TV shows and pop culture, we look towards the West with big eyes. I believe this specific style of raggare connects to the American Dream. In a time where trends come and go, fashion, cars, the whole society is on speed, stepping into a time that has passed can be a way to escape this stress.”

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Do people who attend Power Big Meet feel like part of a community?
Yes, absolutely. But there are different communities within the raggare culture. There are the ones who spend tens of thousands of dollars to import an American vintage car, fixing it all up and making it look like new. Apart from having a very expensive hobby, they probably live a normal life. Then there are the ones who go full in and live the lifestyle, who wear their leather vests to work, who turn a piece of junk into a functionally working piece of junk (as long as it’s an American piece of junk), who spend their weekends cruising the streets in rust ships. Those two groups are both raggare, but while the first has the car in center, the community and sense of belonging is definitively the more important part for the second one.

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How do attendees use fashion as a mode of expression?
The most common attribute is probably the leather vest, resembling a lot of the ones biker gang members wear, with your club’s name on the back. From there it can vary a bit, some go all in rockabilly style, while some are focusing more on their car, letting it be their fashion statement. A common way many describe themselves is actually white trash.

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Something that bothers me, though, and that we felt we couldn’t get a clear answer to, is the use of the Confederate flag. There are quite a few people we spoke with that share a lot of the far-right-wing/anti-immigration policies that sweep through Europe at the moment, but there were also many others who didn’t know the history to the flag and who just saw it as a fashion detail.

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How did this photo series develop? What did you want to capture?
“As I mentioned in the beginning, this came out of a personal project I had been working on called Big Block, where I followed one specific club. For the Times, we tried to focus more on the phenomena of Sweden’s fascination with the vintage American dream.”

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