Shopping sustainably: when in doubt, do it like the Danes

If you’ve ever flicked through the fashion pages of a newspaper or glossy, you’ve most likely come across the phrase “trés chic” before. If this prompts you to side-eye à la Michelle Obama, then you’re not alone, girl. Arguably the most overused phrase in fashion journalism, there’s actually a very good reason why writers are so obsessed with it. 

Since the turn of the 19th century, Paris has been considered the epicentre of modern sartorial elegance. The birthplace of haute couture, custom-made outfits were à la mode for French women of that era. From Louis Vuitton’s signature luggage print to Christian Dior’s “New Look” which revolutionized the industry post-Second World War, Parisian designers - to use another journalistic cliché - have historically set the tone for what’s hot and what’s not within womenswear.

Copenhagen Fashion Week

Copenhagen Fashion Week

The Big Four

Over the decades, however, another three cities have come to make up the famed fashion week circuit. Milan is often considered to be on an even level with Paris. Home to a number of high-end houses, brands such as Givenchy, Valentino and Fendi have mastered the art of appealing to an ever-changing customer base. Back in the 1950s, Hollywood actresses Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor routinely wore luxurious Italian designs, whereas nowadays, it’s popular rappers that propagate the same labels (Lil Pump’s ‘Gucci Gang’ will tell you all you need to know).

On the other end of the spectrum, you have London and New York. Although the English capital is well-known for long-established houses such as Burberry and Aquascutum, it’s the boundary-pushing designers that I think really put the city on the map. Often hailed as the queen of punk, Vivienne Westwood’s knack for designing ahead of the curve has kept her at the forefront of British fashion, while Alexander McQueen’s work is still as poignant today as it was during his lifetime. Similarly, New York has given rise to cutting-edge brands like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren which feel distinctly American while still retaining a super-sleek aesthetic. 

Alexandrina dress by  Baum und Pferdgarten

Alexandrina dress by Baum und Pferdgarten

Despite their differences, these cities have combined to form the “Big Four”: the fashion capitals which the world looks to for inspiration and design cues. But as tastes diversify and the industry continues to expand, other regions have started to make themselves known. Stretching from Johannesburg to Berlin, the Big Four have some healthy competition - but, in my humble opinion, no capital looks quite as strong, stylistically speaking, as Copenhagen. 

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Less is more

The Scandinavian countries are known for their effortless, minimal way of dressing which has been popularised on Instagram by a number of Danish influencers. Thora Valdimars and Jeaneatte Madsen have graced the pages of Vogue on several occasions (usually in impressively coordinated outfits), while models of the moment like Freja Wewer and Frederikke Sofie continue to captivate their audiences (myself included) with their brand of nonchalant coolness. What’s noticeable, is that Danish women have a “less is more” mentality - both in the way that they dress and how they opt to shop.

In recent years, there’s been a tangible shift away from fast fashion. Market-focused publications such as The Business of Fashion and WGSN have widely written about unsustainable practices within the industry, questioning whether accountability lies with the producer or the consumer. High street retailers have responded by developing sustainable diffusion lines, which seem a little, well, ironic. H&M, for example, offers a range of organic and sustainable pieces intended to “make you look and feel good”, yet allegedly burns 12 tonnes of unsold clothing per year. So, when faced with such a moral quandary, what’s an aspiring fashionista to do?

Well, I’ve found that the answer is to do your research. There are currently a number of online resources with the sole intention of inspiring people to shop more consciously. It’s now possible to see how your favourite retailer is performing when it comes to sustainability by checking out rankabrand.org, and you can also learn how to wash your clothes in the least harmful way with tips from ecocult.com. So, there’s no excuse to sit on your laurels and let the world edge closer to impending doom. And, if you thought that was dramatic, watch an episode of Our Planet and still ask for a straw with your G&T - I dare you. 

How to create a Capsule Collection

But if all else fails and you're still looking for a guiding spirit (I’m not talking about gin anymore, FYI), just learn how to do it like the Danes. A wander around Copenhagen’s more affluent neighbourhoods, Østerbro and Frederiksberg, is basically akin to spending an afternoon in the V&A. Women wearing cross-body vintage Chanel bags and Celiné shades (yes, before Hedi Slimane became head honcho), look top-notch without trying too hard. 

Moon Top variation -  By Signe

Moon Top variation - By Signe

The trick is to say no to cheap tat and invest in high-quality accessories that will have you looking expensive without breaking the riverbank. It’s not about dressing head to toe in obvious branded gear; it’s about tastefully combining pieces that are crafted to last generations with your go-to staple items. That doesn’t mean that you have to spend a small fortune on a brand-new Prada tote – either shop for second-hand designer pieces or have a nosy on Instagram to find handmade products that are guaranteed to be sweatshop-free.

  • Now, when it comes to buying new clothes, try to envision yourself building a capsule wardrobe – tell that little voice in your head that you don’t need another dress because you’ve already posted two photos of yourself in that one on Instagram (guilty).

  • Go for staple silhouettes that you can mix ’n’ match with what you already have, rather than shopping spontaneously and inadvertently filling yet another charity bag. This doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself to dark colours or forgo patterns, but it should mean you should try to only buy pieces that you love. At the end of the day, it pays off to be more selective – as appealing as a Cher Horrowitz-style wardrobe may seem, it’s not going to do you or the planet any favours. 

  • In order to become a more savvy shopper, it’s wise to start mentally bookmarking some sustainable brands. In Denmark, By Signe is known for its “feminine easywear” – in layman’s terms, that’s loungewear made from organic materials that’s fancy enough to leave the house in. Take a stab at the underwear as outwear trend, and team a “Moon Top” from the brand with your trusty pair of going-out jeans.

  • Conversely, if you’re looking for something more smart, Fonnesbech should have you covered. Elegant and work-appropriate, a pair of wide-leg pants made from organic wool crepe could easily be styled with a pair of trainers or mules. 

So, as you can probably tell, the key to dressing as great as the Danes is to consider versatility. Danish women place the importance on purchasing interchangeable items that will last. By adhering to the principles of opting for basic shapes and selecting timeless garments, you’ll soon be on your way to owning a wardrobe that won’t take a chunk out of your bank balance but will take a weight off your mind. When in doubt, go back to that age-old adage we were taught as children: “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.” I don’t know about you, but that’s a saying I can most certainly get behind. 

Trousers by  Fonnesbech

Trousers by Fonnesbech