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DANISH HABITS

‘Black, black and more black’: Six tips on how to dress like a Dane

Danes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Denmark. The Local asked Danes and foreigners living in Denmark to help us figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Dane.

'Black, black and more black': Six tips on how to dress like a Dane
People walking in central Copenhagen in August 2021. What constitutes the typical Danish dress sense? Photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Praised for its simple, understated and classic lines, but bemoaned for a lack of colour and individuality, there’s no doubt that Danish fashion style has made a mark on our readers in Denmark.

We asked you to let us know what you thought constituted the classic Danish look and give us your tips for the quintessential items. Thank you to all who took the time to get in touch. 

Black, black and more black

“Black. Black. Black” wrote one reader, Linda, when we asked for a typical feature of Danish fashion. The sentiment is a fair reflection of how most people see Danes’ dress sense – for better or for worse.

“Danes have a wonderfully casual style. As for worst aspects, there are more colours than black and brown!”, wrote Louis.

“Black, black and more black – with a hint of grey,” were the observations of Nicholas in Copenhagen.

A Danish model in black clothing. File photo: Søren Bidstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Really? Just black?

“Most women prefer black, grey or white. If they ‘want to wear colour’, they’ll wear a small colourful bracelet or scarf or something small,” said Samantha, a project manager who has lived in Copenhagen for over 10 years.  

“Most teenage girls will wear black leather jackets and blue jeans. In the summer is the only time when Danish women will wear some colour, usually in the form of flowery dresses which tend to be very nice,” Samantha said.

Danish fashion is sometimes criticised for lacking individual expression, but Samantha said it is there if you look closely.

“The personality is in the details. Danes like to dress alike on the surface, but like to have small details that give them personality,” she said.

“Jewellery is usually thin and lightweight. Very nice, but never large – thin necklaces, thin bracelets, small stones, very little colour here as well,” she said.

“I am a male – slim fit, tight pants or jeans, open collar button down shirts,” reader Marc Peltier, a defence manager from Copenhagen, said.

“When a tie is worn, it is a dark colour and thin. Colours are dark (black, blue, dark green), no patterns. Striped T-shirts,” he said.

Scarves and raincoats: Mix style with practical needs

Marc’s tip for an essential – or, at least, popular – Danish clothing item is a raincoat from the brand Rains, which describes itself on its website as having a “conceptual-meets-functional design approach”.

Regardless of the brand you choose, having a purpose outer layer for wet weather is certainly a choice that makes sense in Denmark.

“Beautiful long coats in beige, navy and black” were cited by reader Nico as a particularly popular choice for Danes.

Scarves were another item which many picked out as a Danish essential and a hugely popular item that can cross seasonal divides.

Photo by Karen Cantú Q on Unsplash

“A great scarf that goes with everything… everyone needs one,” Glen wrote.

Items like these don’t necessarily mean breaking the bank, although some did say the high price of Danish-made clothes put them off new purchases.

“Wear ‘quality’ items of clothing… even if recycled,” Glen wrote.

Contrasting trainers

I was once told by a Dane that you can get away with wearing almost anything, no matter how scruffy or worn, as long as you have a smart pair of shoes.

However, it may be that trainers – possibly white ones to contrast with the dark prominent in the rest of the outfit – are the key to successfully pulling off Danish style.

“Wearing trainers – no matter what the rest of the outfit is” is a typical choice, Edward Horton, an automation scientist who lives in Copenhagen, said.

“Comfortable shoes trump style choices,” Edward said.

Reader Linda (not the same Linda quoted earlier) said that footwear featured a “rejection of high heels even with evening gowns”.

A “long large dress with running shoes” is a common pick for women, Ana wrote.

Those wanting to take inspiration from this style should “find a long nice long dress, or nice jeans with a nice viscose shirt (but try find it in a non-Danish brand because it’s always too long or too broad)”, she said.

“Also try to go for the sneakers (instead of the running shoes),” she said.

Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

“I am really not a fan of the Danish fashion but I like the fact that people can dress freely without too much pressure,” she added.

If you don’t want to wear trainers, Birkenstock sandals might be a strong summer alternative, having been cited by several of our readers as a typical footwear choice for Danes.

Don’t show off

“Minimal style, monochromatic clothes, oversized t-shirts, straight lines. People don’t usually show off brands,” wrote Andrea from Italy who lives in Copenhagen.

“Go for simple outfits and keep it laid back” if you want to look like a Dane, Andrea said.

“Not too many patterns, no high heels for women. Wear a nice shirt or t-shirt, cozy pants and sneakers. Don’t mix too many colours but match one or two in a pleasant way.”

“The best aspect is that Danish fashion is oriented towards coziness and effectiveness, and the fact that nobody generally shows off how expensive their clothes are contributes to convey a general feeling of equality in society,” Andrea said.

“On the other hand, this means there is little room for creativity and ‘crazy’ outfits if you like them. You can of course still wear them but you would stand out (and not necessarily in a good way).”

Get the fit right

Avoid “overly tight clothes and poorly fitted garments,” reader Nico said.

One of the weaker aspects of Danish fashion in Nico’s view is “sometimes the silhouette of the body can be lost in overly shapeless garments”, he said.

Others, such as Ann, a scientist from Copenhagen, said that using “oversized items” along with neutral colours would be the best way to mimic the Danish style.

While many praised Danish clothing for its well-cut designs, many observed the popularity of baggy items.

“Oversized blazers, muted colour pallet, New Balance sneakers, or Nike AF1 in triple white” were the best tips Vijay, an ICT Officer in Copenhagen, would give to someone who wanted to dress like a Dane.

He questioned the choice of oversized blazers: “why though? Nineties is back?”

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For members

FOOD&DRINK

Five classic Danish cakes you need to try

You may have tasted kanelsnegle, romkugler and tebirkes, but have you tried these hard-to-find cakes yet? If not, you're missing out.

Five classic Danish cakes you need to try

Napoleonshat

Literally translating as “Napoleon’s hat”, this pastry, which consists of a ball of marzipan baked on top of a shortbread biscuit, folded in the shape of a tricorne hat and dipped in dark chocolate, dates all the way back to 1856.

In the early 19th century, Denmark sided with France in the Napoleonic wars, which proved to be a bad idea: the UK bombed Copenhagen, stole the Danes’ entire naval fleet and Denmark was forced to concede Norway to Sweden following the Treaty of Kiel in 1814.

At least the Danes got a pastry out of it: and the triangular marzipan-flavoured pastries – somewhere between a cake and a biscuit – are still popular in Denmark as a great afternoon treat with a cup of coffee.

napoleonshat should not be confused with the equally delicious napoleonskage, which is a cake similar to a French millefeuille, a dessert consisting of two layers of puff pastry filled with cream and raspberry jam and glazed with white or brown icing.

Kartoffelkage

 
 
 
 
 
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Despite the name, you’ll be pleased to know that a kartoffelkage (literally: “potato cake”) does not include potatoes, with the cake instead getting its name due to its resemblance to a freshly-dug potato.

Kartoffelkager are a classic Danish cream cake or flødeskumskage, consisting of choux pastry (vandbakkelse) filled with crème pâtissière, known as kagecreme or “cake cream” in Danish.

They are then topped with a disc of marzipan and dusted with cocoa powder, giving them the appearance of a muddy potato fresh out of the ground.

Best eaten as fresh as possible and using a fork, it’s easy to understand how this cake, with the bitter cocoa powder, smooth vanilla-flavoured kagecreme and obligatory marzipan has become a classic.

Kajkage

The kajkage. Photo: Kjersti Hjelmen/NF/Ritzau Scanpix

From one classic to another, the kajkage is an essential Danish cake which you’re unlikely to find in hip Copenhagen bakeries.

This cake, shaped like a frog and covered in lime-green marzipan, is easier to find outside of Denmark’s larger cities, where you’re likely to see it in the shop windows of smaller local bakeries who aren’t too snobbish to stock the less-than-elegant pastry.

Originally referred to as a simple frøkage (frog cake), legend has it that an enterprising baker in Holstebro in western Jutland started marketing the cake under the name kajkage in the 1980s, after Kaj the frog, from popular children’s TV series Kaj og Andrea (Kaj and Andrea).

kajkage consists of a macaron-style base, known as a mazarinbunde in Danish, where marzipan (yes, the Danes love marzipan if you haven’t already figured that out), is mixed with egg, flour, sugar and butter and baked into a thin cake.

This is then cut out into rounds and topped with a layer of raspberry jam, then a layer of buttercream, which is then covered in green marzipan. A slice is then cut into the marzipan for the frog’s mouth with an optional red marzipan tongue, and two googly eyes are piped on to finish the cake.

Understandably popular with children, you should try a kajkage at least once in your life – if only to impress any Danes you know from more rural areas of Denmark with your local cake knowledge.

Medaljer

 
 
 
 
 
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Another classic, medaljer (medals) are the first cake on this list which do not include marzipan.

They have fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years, but join kartoffelkager as one of the essential flødekager, which became popular at the turn of the 20th century when new technological advances made it possible to keep dairy products cold.

Medaljer, unlike kajkager, are extremely elegant, consisting of two discs of shortcrust pastry filled with a ring of either whipped cream or crème pâtissière, filled with some sort of compote or jam, usually a sour flavour to cut through the rich cream like raspberry or apple. They are then topped with icing or dark chocolate, and some sort of decoration, like a piped blob of cream or some fresh fruit.

Despite their often simple appearance, medaljer are surprisingly difficult to make, as the texture of the cream and compote filling must be stiff enough to ensure it can hold up the biscuit on top, while not being over-whipped.

Gåsebryst

 
 
 
 
 
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The final cake on this list, invented in western Sjælland at the beginning of the 1900s, is a gåsebryst (goose breast).

It gets its name from the domed shape and texture of the white marzipan topping. When marzipan was still made and rolled-out by hand, it was difficult to get it completely smooth, with the texture ending up similar to the feathers on a goose’s breast.

gåsebryst is a somewhat old-fashioned cake which you are more likely to find at a konditor than a standard bakery.

It consists of a base made of sponge cake or puff pastry, spread with some kind of fruit compote or jam (usually raspberry, more traditionally prune), and a dome of cream and kagecreme, formed into a long log. The log is then topped with uncoloured marzipan and drizzled with chocolate, then sliced into individual slices so the cross-section of the cake is visible.

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