What does denim have to do with Danish design philosophy?

- - Fashion History

As a bit of a goodbye love letter to Copenhagen (I fly back to the U.S. next week), I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the Jante Law, a cultural norm in Denmark, but moreover a movement in fashion history all good students of design should be able to reference. The Jante Law was created by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose (featured on left in header) in 1933 in his novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. Sandemose writes about a small Danish town called Jante which adheres to the following ten laws:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
Minimalist design by Mads Nørgaard

Minimalist design by Danish designer, Mads Nørgaard

Today, these seemingly harsh laws translate to a Danish culture where no one person is any better or worse, or more highly regarded, than another. In terms of fashion, you see these laws played out in the minimalist, androgynous fashion on any given street in Copenhagen. Danish design is for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status and ostentatiousness is frowned upon. As a designer who comes from a “more is more” Kardashian culture, this way of approaching design and dressing comes as a much needed (and appreciated) breath of fresh air.

With more time to observe and think (an unexpected perk of not being able to speak Danish), I’ve had the chance to stop and consider whether or not the Jante Law shows up in American fashion. My conclusion – yes, kind of. Although the Jante Law is not necessarily the driving force behind the popularity of denim in the US, one could argue that denim, or more specifically a good pair of jeans, spans socioeconomic groups and crosses cultural boundaries like no other garment has in the U.S. In fact, denim in the U.S. is just as much a part of our cultural fabric as the Jante Law is a part of the Danish design direction.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.01.18 PMWhile we are on the topic of “historical movements all fashion designers should know,” did you know that denim was popularized in the US in 1849? Gold seekers were introduced to denim by none other than Levi Strauss (featured on right in header) who used the cotton twill fabric from France to create pants that thousands of men wore on their way west during the Gold Rush.  As a side note, on a recent weekend trip to Berlin, I found the perfect pair of Levis while thrift shopping – proof that you can take the American out of America, but you can’t take the love of denim out of the American.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.02.10 PMLevi Strauss was born in Bavaria, but immigrated to San Francisco at 20 years of age by way of New York where in 1849, he opened a dry goods store at the height of the California Gold Rush. He soon began manufacturing work pants made of a fabric called serge de Nimes (later called denim). In 1873, his company, Levi Strauss & Co., in collaboration with Jacob William Davis, patented the first pair of jeans with a buttonfly front and rivet reinforcements, called the 501®. In 1886, Levi Strauss & Co. created a stitching design on the back pockets to create the now famous “two-horse” design. In 1936, a red tab was added on the left pocket as a way to identify the brand at a distance, all of which are registered trademarks. You can bet it was that red tag that caught my eye during my recent thrifting trip in Berlin.

I feel very fortunate to have experienced the Jante Law first hand here in Denmark and have gained quite an appreciation for travel as inspiration. I recommend taking any opportunity you may have to become inspired in a new land. If you are traveling this summer, we would love to hear about your adventures in the comments below. Interested in guest blogging? We would love to know that as well.

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Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Style.com. Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.