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 thing 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.
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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Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2023