Overalls: what are they and where to find them

Each country has its unique student culture, and if you didn’t know, Finland is famous for its student organisations and overalls. If you wanna know more about organisations and what they are, you can listen to the Colours of UniTurku podcast, but today I will tell you more about Finnish student clothes.

Two students in blue overalls

What are overalls?

When you think of overalls, perhaps images of construction workers or vintage fashion from the 1960s-70s come to mind. However, in the Finnish realm, overalls, or “haalarit” in Finnish, paint a different picture altogether. They are part of the student “uniform” usually worn for parties or other forms of social events. If you visit Turku during Vappu or Pikku Laskiainen celebrations, you will see many students in the city wearing them.

While the full overall does resemble construction clothes, they are usually tied on the waist and worn only showing pants. According to some people, only those who study technology are allowed to wear overalls up to the top. However, the Finns I met said that this is not true! You can still wear them on top, especially if you are cold, but it is less common.

Students in overalls

Why students wear overalls?

Because they are fun! Overalls are used to identify students from other adults and to build a sense of community. Different colour overalls unite students from different majors. Each student organisation, which represents a different degree program or field, has an overall of different colour with a logo on back.

So, when I see red overalls somewhere in the city of Turku, I always think these are KATKO people (organisation of Educational Sciences)! Although sometimes they could be from another major or university. As there are limited colours existing, colours, of course, repeat between universities, cities and even organisations 😀 The easiest way to recognise them is to check the logo in the back.

Back logos on student overalls

Overalls from left to right: dark blue (East Asian studies), yellow (Biomedicine), light blue (Materials Engineering), red (Educational sciences)

How to decorate an overall?

Another fun thing about having an overall is to decorate them with patches. Known as “haalarimerkit” in Finnish, these patches are acquired at student fairs or various events like parties or approt. Some you can also buy at your student organisation or at other shops, you can find them everywhere! They’re then sewn onto your overalls, serving as tangible memories along your student journey. But make sure you sew them manually, cause using a sewing machine or glueing is absolutely prohibited!

Close up on overall patches

The more patches you accumulate, the more vibrant and rich your student life appears to be. However, it’s worth noting that while Finns typically study for five years, they end up having a lot. International Master’s students may only have a two-year time to collect their patches.

My overall is rather empty, but I have accumulated quite some patches. I mostly struggle to sew them on and find time to do it. The best way to do it is to gather with friends or attend some sewing events, where students gather together to chat and work on their overall decorations.

Close up of patches on student overalls

You can also decorate overall with keychains, lanyards, bows and anything which comes to your mind! For example, you can order a special cocktail in Night club Marilyn which comes with a chain of colourful beads, and many students wear them on their overalls. As always, the more the merrier 😀 

Close up of patches and chains on student overalls

Are there any rules about overalls?

Yes, overall culture has lots of rules connected to them, which might be confusing to foreigners! Some I already mentioned above, but here are some more:

  • Do not cover the logo on the back! This shows your belonging to the organisation, so it needs to be visible at all times.
  • Overalls cannot be washed! Stains and dirt also “show off” your student experience. In case you have to, students suggest swimming in the river in your overalls or taking a shower while wearing it.
  • You shouldn’t use other people’s overalls, and you shouldn’t lend your own overalls to others either!
    • However, in some student circles, it is customary to exchange part of the overall leg with their dating partner.
Two students in overalls

Where and how to get an overall

I hope you are convinced enough by now, that overalls are fun and would be a great memory from your student time in Finland! Now you are probably wondering how to get them.

First step is to find a student organisation which represents your program. Ask your student tutor or refer to the list of subject organisations! The sales for overalls happen during orientation weeks in mid-August, so it is worth knowing who to reach in advance.

Then, you sign up for the overall and choose a size. Make sure you become a member of your organisation before getting overall! Each organisation has a different process to buy an overall, for example, KATKO sends out a Google Form to its members. They also do size fitting days, so it is easier for you to know what to order. However, overalls can be a bit baggy, as they are often worn on top of other clothes.

Payment comes next! Usually overalls cost around 20-40 €, depending on how many sponsors there are this year. The ordered overalls come within a month or two, and then you can start decorating.

Students in overalls

If you wanna know more about active student life in Finland, check out this blog or you can always reach out to UTU Ambassadors and ask them for their experiences!