Gender-Bending Fashion of The Danish Girl

By Nandini Khetan | Sep. 07, 2020

Back in the 1920s, as the world moved forward from WW1 towards a liberated and revolutionary society, artist Lili Elbe’s (transgender women and among the first few known recipients of sex reassignment surgery) portraits by Gerda Wegener and her sartorial elegance attracted serious attention making her an icon of that period and inspiring many artists of today. This inspiration also led to the publication of a book and a film loosely based on her life called The Danish Girl. The film received many accolades while the image of the latter left an imprint on our minds through the costumes which led Costume Designer Paco Delgado to widespread acclaim as he decorated the entire cast in classic ensembles roaring twenties.

Set in Copenhagen, this story begins with the unveiling of Einar Wegener’s (played by Eddie Redmayne) gender identity as a woman while posing for her wife Gerda Wegener (played by Alicia Vikander). This event leaves Einar feeling imprisoned within her own body, thus beginning Einar’s transition into her life as Lili Elbe. Paco Delgado portrays Lili’s frustration through the stiffness of Edwardian suits and slim-fit tailoring in British wool and Gabardine textiles. Paco used mostly shades of blue, gray, and black color palettes. Lili’s initial wardrobe included a waistcoat and tie, or on occasions, a pinstripe shirt (a classic from this era of men’s fashion) and bretelles paired with high-waisted trousers. All of this topped off with the famed fedora hat. Hoping for freedom from the boundaries of masculine attire, Lili’s wardrobe softens as she relocates to Paris and donned suits with a more feminine approach. From cream-colored oxford bag trousers to a pink cravat and fur-lined coat, the audience witnesses the unfurling of Lili’s character. Lili’s outfits witnessed the influence of shapeless silhouettes by celebrated designers of that period such as Lanvin, Poiret, and Chanel who often disagreed with the notion of dressing women in restricted corsets, which defined the waist by hiding it completely in loose chemise dress from the shoulders to knees (the most coveted trend of the 20s). This trend is seen on Lili in throughout the film in different colors and fabrics paired with nude or gray stockings and Cuban-heeled court shoes. The fabrics adorned by her are exclusively expensive from chiffon, sheer, velvet, and silk encrusted with beads and jewelry. There are also instances of flower embroidery and lace trimmings emphasizing her beauty while the figure; no curves and flat chest, emphasized the look of ‘shapelessness’ an ode to the Flappers and resembled Designer’s Callot Soeurs muse.

Actor Eddie Redmayne as Einar
Actor Eddie Redmayne as Lili

Lili’s wardrobe color palette glorified her appeal furthermore from apricot to gemstone hues. Her accessories varied from hats with quills and ribbons to Gatsby-inspired bags and gloves. Her oversize coat with voluminous armholes and her finger waved wig, bold lip color and scarf captivated the on-goers.

Einar posing as Ulla the ballerina for Gerda’s painting

As Lili fancied all things Parisian, Gerda followed suit in a classic Cloche hat and Art Deco-inspired prints. Her core colors comprised the likes of blue and browns, decorating a dropped-waist chemise dress with a scoop neck and a short-hem wrap coat with a straight calf-length skirt. This look was paired with lace-up boots. Her outerwear was a variation of Opera coats (a shared look between Lili and Gerda) and fur coat, her hair short in waves which she accessorized in a long beaded neck-piece, and her entire appearance hinted to the likings of designer’s Jean Patou women of the 20s.

Actress Alicia Vikander as Gerda
R: Actress Alicia Vikander as Gerda L: Actor Eddie Redmayne as Lili

The portrayal of Lili’s freedom from her previous self is vivid as she skims her fingers through the rack of sumptuous seeming clothes and observes the tying of a corset with fascination as the movie unfolds, setting an urge inside Lili to find her true self. Paco Delgado worked his own magic to translate Lili’s acceptance through her clothes.

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