Why do Danes Wear Black?

Wearing black is not a phenomena unique to Copenhagen — individuals across the globe wear black. But it’s become somewhat of an essential adjective when someone describes Copenhagen, especially when you’re trying to capture the essence of the crowd. And there’s a reason why. On a given morning or 4pm afternoon in Copenhagen, when traffic is the greatest especially around the central area, I feel like I’m literally being swept up by waves of Danes dressed in black. Black trench coats, black skin-tight pants, black beanies, black sneakers, black baggy sweaters — it’s astonishing and quite fantastic. Of course not literally every single human of the city wears black at all waking moments. From time to time you may spot individuals donning a shade of blue or grey, and a brave soul in red. But on the whole the color black persists. So the question arises — why exactly do so many Danes (atleast the ones in Copenhagen) wear black?

After living in the city for 4 months, I can offer my observations and opinions on some possible reasons, rooted essentially in cultural heritage, mentality and practicality.

1. Cultural heritage, the Jante Laws

These are basically what I call the “10 laws against standing out“, published in 1933 by the author Aksel Sandemose. They are quite a fascinating perspective on being a member of society, especially to somehow who comes from a culture that champions individualism. You can read more about them here. While they are no longer as taboo and enforced in Denmark, elements of the preaching have diffused into Danish society. It seems that on the most part, physical objects in Copenhagen are understated — tiny shop signs, hardly any existence of advertisements, minimalist interior details. And in reflection of this desire to maintain an understated image, which essentially appears to be the accepted norm, people living in Copenhagen play it safe by donning neutral-colored apparel. However, individuals can still stand out through details when you know where to look, like the trimmings of a coat, the silhouette of sneakers, or a flash of a piercing.

2. Politics

Denmark is a socialist-wellfare state, which is an economic model of distribution and NOT a means of communism. The government provides universal health care, paid maternal leave and unemployment cushioning. This may be a far-fetched, too-many-times removed theory, but I believe somehow this equal access shapes Dane’s mentality in that overall, no-one is more special than the next, no one is more entitled than the other. Of course this doesn’t mean that society is absent of poor and rich, but overall the middle-class dominates. And fashion follows this mentality. If everyone wears black/ neutral tones, no one in particular stands out or signals a divergence from the rest.

3. Tribe Mentality

After traveling around Europe, I have to admit that among the cities I toured, Copenhagen is one of the cities with the strongest identity and brand. In present day, we see this with the surge of the New Nordic Cuisine, a food movement spearheaded by Claus Meyer calling for a greater emphasis on ingredients local and unique to the region. There’s also now a Copenhagen film festival and fashion week…this attention to strengthening a Danish culture is rooted in history, after Denmark’s empire was beat and had essentially shrunk to the land mass it is today. In an attempt to rebuild national pride, the government followed the strategy of looking inward. Copenhagen is largely a homogenous community…with few foreigners. And as social psychology teaches us, you either follow the “tribe”, assimilate to the “tribe” or you’re out.

4. Practicality

This is probably my favorite explanation, as given by my Danish L+C professor, because it’s not immediately obvious but when you hear it, it makes sense. Why do so many Danes wear black? Because it keeps you warm! Especially in winter, when sunlight is sparse and temperatures dip. Black absorbs heat, and so wearing more black is a practical method of thermal isolation. Wow.

Those are my 4 thoughts! If you have theories of your own, I’m open for discussion.


Originally published at cphforecast.tumblr.com.