Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Fashion: All the colors of the Danish landscape

I can’t remember exactly what the social occasion was, but when I was fairly new to Copenhagen I met a man who was a refugee from a country in Sub-Saharan Africa. He had escaped his homeland – I also can’t quite remember which country that was – by way of Cairo, Egypt, and ended up in Denmark.

What I do remember is his account of what it was like to come to Copenhagen after living in busy, colorful city like Cairo. He asked another refugee, a guy who’d been here longer, to show him downtown Copenhagen.

The guy drove him to, I don’t know, Gammel Strand on a Tuesday night in February, and there was no one there. All the Danes were home enjoying their hygge, and the streets were dark and empty. My friend got very angry at the other refugee. Said he’d tricked him. Where is the city! This is not the city! he said. But it was.

The same grey sweater
Anyway, I also remember this African refugee’s comments about Danish fashion. He said he had trouble shopping here, because Danish clothes all look alike. He said, Every store you go to, it’s got same grey sweater.

Now, that’s not entirely true. You could also find a navy blue sweater. I’ve even seen green sweaters.

But what is true is that Danes dress to match the Danish landscape. That means grey. And brown, and green, and some blue. Maybe some beige for the adventurous types.

If you find yourself wearing purple or orange, or hot pink, you will stand out in Denmark. Those colors are worn by children, or sometimes by middle-aged ladies trying to make a statement.

Danish fashion is not what your average Dane wears
Now, there is such a think as Danish Fashion, and there is a Danish Fashion Week. Designers like Malene Birger, Bruuns Bazaar, and Day Birger Mikkelsen have made a name for themselves internationally. But what they design is not what your average Dane wears.

What the average Dane wears is outerwear. It’s cold in Denmark, so people’s wardrobes are heavy on sweaters, boots, and coats and jackets. There’s even a category of outerwear I never knew in the United States called rain gear.

Rain gear is like a plastic jogging suit, and it goes over your clothes and allows you to bicycle or walk around in the rain without getting wet. It’s like galoshes for your body. It comes in all the Danish fashion colors – grey, green, blue, beige, and brown for the adventurous.

Now I understand scarves
Anyway, if you really do need some color in your life, scarves are very big. When I was growing up in the United States, colorful neck scarves were always something worn by the foreign exchange student with the funny name. I never understood why.

Now that **I** am the foreigner, I do understand. It’s cold here, and rooms are not overheated the way they sometimes are in the US. A scarf keeps you from shivering. A scarf saves you from a sore throat. Personally, I now own summer scarves, light cotton, fall scarves, which are thin, flat wool, and winter scarves, which are about the thickness of a boa constrictor around my neck. On a cold, windy, rainy day in November, you’ll WANT that boa constrictor.

Danish fish
Speaking of wildlife, Copenhagen recently opened a beautiful new aquarium. It’s full of tropical fish in gorgeous tropical colors – hot magenta, lemon yellow, vibrant orange, brought to Denmark from all over the world.

But what many people don’t know is that there is another aquarium, in Helsingor – one for fish from local waters. It shows brown fish, and beige fish, and slightly grey fish. These are the Danish fish.

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Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.






Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2021

Working in Denmark or hoping to find a job in Denmark? Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for tips on finding a job, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-8-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, including special orders with your company logo. You can also plan a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

How to Live in Denmark is the updated version of our very first book based on the popular podcast and the essays you’ll see on this site. You can purchase it on Amazon and Saxo.com, or get the original book on Google Play in English, Chinese, and Arabic. You can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage an event tailored for your company or organization, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show, a great way for Danes and internationals to have fun together.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Noblecascade September 20, 2013 at 2:11 am

    I have been following Princess Mary and the royal family for years and they sure don’t dress in greys and browns. They always have beautiful, colorful clothes AND I have actually seen them in summer short sleeve outfits.

    • Avatar
      Reply Kay Xander Mellish September 21, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      You are absolutely right about the Royal Family’s colorful fashion choices. The Danish royals also wear fancy hats, satin sashes, 19th century military uniforms and elephant medals, other looks that are rarely seen among ordinary Danes.

      • Avatar
        Reply Judy November 8, 2013 at 11:05 pm

        Your site is amazing! Really love it! With the super-globalized world that we have now, would it be that weird for a common Danish to see someone wearing different colors? Would they laugh at you or something? hahaha I’m just curious about it!!

  • Avatar
    Reply Ioana January 23, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I just discovered your webpage and I’m hooked. Since I’ve been living in Denmark (1 year and a half) I’ve experienced one of the weirdest cultures I was given the chance to observe. I come from a latin country and the way I see life is so much different from how the typical Dane sees it. Don’t get me wrong, I do like this country and I am trying as much as possible to integrate, but as you mentioned in one of the articles, I cannot follow all their weird stuff blindly just because it is required by society.

    The planned hangover is so so true. When I told my Danish boss I do not enjoy the taste of alcohol and neither the aftermath of a heavy drinking night, he starred at me in complete and utter surprise.

    Also about their fashion: they dress horribly most of them. I’ve seen so much class and elegance in Sweden. It’s not the case, though in Denmark. Women dress poorly in terms of taste and they wear the horrifying skirt with sport shoes combination with a lot of confidence.

    But on the other hand, this country is awesome and apart from some people that are not welcoming to foreigners, people here are friendly and always willing to help you.

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