When it comes to enduring style tropes, the mythical “French girl” might exude nonchalant chic, but the just-as-elusive “Danish girl” is the cool one you’d want to be best friends with. And borrow all of her clothes. Even if you can never quite figure out how she makes such disparate items work so perfectly together.
Of course, just as you might go to Paris and find not every woman is a basket-toting, chain-smoking, Simone de Beauvoir-reading ingénue in a perfectly knotted trench coat, so too is the Danish girl something of a broad-brush generalisation.
Yet style stereotypes exist for a reason, and as Copenhagen Fashion Week showed in August, there is a thread in Danish style. How to define it? Perhaps it is an innate sense of the playful, be it a propensity toward print clashes, unexpected colour combinations, or pushing proportion to new limits with super-oversized silhouettes or meringue-esque puffy sleeves.
A quick scan of the real, mismatched kind of street style (welcome back!) from this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Week reveals a joyful willingness to contrast and exaggerate. Indeed, if I was to try and sum up Danish style I’d think of perhaps someone wearing a baseball cap with strappy high-heel sandals or a cloudlike puff sleeved dress in, say, vivid Kermit green, worn with New Balance sneakers.
In any case, the first time I visited Copenhagen, within around five minutes I had bought a pair of striped, metallic lurex socks and a fuzzy bubblegum pink Ganni sweater with a giant bow at the back. These were slightly incongruous additions to a wardrobe of mainly black, navy and white, and quite truthfully, no move a self-confident Dane sure of her own style would ever make anyway.
Practicality comes into play too, be that because many Danish women ride a bicycle everywhere or because the weather is unpredictable. The “Danish girl”, then, so happens to meld the practical with the playful in a way that provides ideal conditions for trends.
Think how many fashion trends, especially unlikely ones, started with Danish fashion leaders. The unlikely return of rubber flip flops a few summers ago certainly springs to mind.
Denmark’s best-known brands, think Saks Potts , Stine Goya, Cecilie Bahnsen and By Malene Birger , all offer chicness with a twist of the unexpected – another reason Copenhagen Fashion Week is always a (sunny yellow) bright patch on the fashion calendar.
Ditte Reffstrup, co-founder and creative director of the ultimate Danish it-girl brand Ganni, says getting dressed Danish style is more about attitude than anything else, though she agrees that defining what it is, exactly, is almost impossible.
“You can’t quite put your finger on what it is. It’s an energy, rather than a look. They’re comfortable in their own skin and don’t try too hard. They have something effortless over them. I am always so inspired by the people I see around Copenhagen,” she says.
“Copenhagen people never look too polished, they have this sense of natural beauty to them – full of confidence and always having fun with fashion. And they dress practical, often in flats and on their bikes. Rain clothes are a must-have too.”
Anine Bing, who is Danish but now lives in Los Angeles, where she heads up her eponymous label, agrees there is a sense of ease to how Danish women get dressed.
“It is effortlessly chic. Danish women invest in timeless pieces that they will want to wear over and over again. Danish style is about building a perfect capsule wardrobe or as I like to call it, a uniform, then accessorising each look to speak to your individual style and personality.”
Maja Dixdotter, creative director at minimalist Danish brand By Malene Birger, agrees Danish style reflects individuality, but that it’s also fashion for getting things done in.
“I really admire how Danish girls dare to dress and style themselves in such a unique way. There’s a huge focus on comfort here, which feels really strong,” she says.
Personality, individual takes and mood matters to the new Instagram account Copenhageners in Copenhagen, which has 50,000 followers and counting. Its founder is dedicated to documenting the real style of people living in the Danish capital.
“I try to capture a mood rather than just the outfit – although in many situations the latter is shaped by the former,” writes the account’s creator over email. “I work a lot with this relationship between the character, the outfit and the surroundings when taking pictures.
“This is not always an easy task as I take all my pictures spontaneously, hence I depend on the behaviour, location and expression of the person, which is always unpredictable.”
Inspired by the popular Parisiennes in Paris Instagram account, the founder takes anonymous snaps of people who catch the eye. Like Parisiennes in Paris, the founder, who doesn’t work in fashion, wants to stay anonymous. At least for now.
“I want the pictures and the account to be in focus and speak for itself and allow people’s own imagination to decide who is behind the account – just like you imagine the characters when reading a book.”
If attitude, optimism and a strong sense of individual personal style is something Danish style represents, it is entirely reflected at Copenhagen Fashion Week too.
This year’s event was one of the first to return to a mainly IRL format and ultimately it was an exercise in hopefulness and looking on the bright side. This included trends such as orange splice hues, candy-coloured slouchy suits and actually desirable takes on the sweatpants many of us can’t quite let go of.
But it was also in the week’s focus on supporting its community, sustainability (including its Sustainability Action Plan and Requirements for 2023) and forward-thinking fashion. When you consider that, well who wouldn’t want to be a Danish girl?
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.