For me, packing for vacations has always been an emotional process. It’s no secret that I love to dress almost as much as I love to travel. I like changing outfits, I like being nicely and appropriately dressed for every occasion. Call it vanity, but before you judge me remember that I was born and raised in a big European city, where you rarely see anyone that isn’t well-dressed. Even if you don’t share my passion for clothes, when you travel you most likely want to fit in and not look too much like a tourist. With that in mind, I decided to put together a packing guide for Europe. But before you decide what to wear on your next trip to Europe, there are a few things you need to know about this culture.
While in North America we tend to favor comfort over fashion, in Europe people are way more concerned about the way they look. They have the culture of chic. You don’t see many Parisians wearing something ill-fitting or unflattering. Traditionally, clothing is much more expensive in Europe than in other parts of the world. However, the quality is also very different. I still wear a pair of Italian shoes that I bought in Florence 10 years ago. The European women don’t own many clothes, but what they have is of good quality, perfectly put-together and chic. Depending what parts of Europe you are traveling to, dressing may be more or less stressful. In Italy and France you’ll surely feel underdressed, while in Germany or Switzerland you may blend in more easily. Surprisingly enough, in the Eastern European countries women tend to wear very expensive designer clothes and accessories. Maybe a reminiscence of “behind the iron curtain” inferiority complex. I certainly feel underdressed when I visit Romania!
What NOT to Wear in Europe
Unless you are planning to hike the Alps or the Carpathians, Shorts, T-shirts and sweat pants will be frowned upon in most European cities. Aside from looking touristy, you are likely to be denied admission to sites such as concert halls, churches, museums, or fine restaurants.
Sneakers, Converse and Flip-Flops may be popular among the youngsters in many countries, but nothing screams ‘tourist’ like bouncing down the cobbled streets of Europe in Flip-Flops or your white tennis shoes with your socks pulled up to your knee.
Clothing embellished with flags, patriotic slogans, or flashy logos are seen as ostentatious and perceived as a lack of class. Americans love to wear strong colors and patterns, but Europeans like wearing clothing of more subtle colors. Wearing bright colors will signal that you are a tourist from a mile away.
We all love to take home digital memories from our travels, but having your camera hang around your neck wherever you walk is broadcasting to everyone that you are a tourist. Besides, flaunting an expensive camera may increase your risk of attracting thieves. It’s best to keep your camera in a bag and take it out only when you are planning to use it.
What You Should Wear in Europe as a Female
When traveling to Europe remember that people seeing you briefly for the first time will judge you completely by your appearance and will treat you accordingly. As a traveler, most of your personal contact will be with hotel clerks and restaurant waiters. To get a good table and good service you need to dress as if you deserve it. Finding the perfect balance between comfort and style may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Comfortable shoes. European streets, subways and busses are very crowded so open toe shoes or are not a good choice, even if it’s hot. I prefer brands like Clarks, Eco, Merrell or Born, whose shoes have the best cushion, elasticity and durability.
Depending on the season, you should bring three or four short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirts or blouses, some dress pants, a dress, a skirt or a nice suit that you could wear in the evening for dining or a performance.For fall or spring, a trench coat or a nice blazer that you can wear over your dress or with any pair of pants, will always make you look dressed up.
I have a great collection of scarfs that I take with me when I travel. They are a great accessory that will add color and style to any outfit and they are light and easy to carry around.
What You Should Wear in Europe as a Male
European men are equally preoccupied by their appearance as women. You might have gotten used to seeing shorts and flip-flops everywhere in the West but remember, in Europe you’ll be judged by the way you look and dress. I’m sure that distinguished-looking, sharply dressed Parisian caught your eye as you came out of the airport! Wouldn’t you like to look like that?
While there is plenty of advice for women, the male fashion guides out there are pretty vague. When traveling to Europe you’ll need to make a little investment and buy some good quality clothes. Think basic luxury. Keep leather, cashmere, denim, cotton and linen, but reconsider synthetics.
A couple of pairs of slacks, a few casual shirts and a nice blazer will do the trick. If you travel during the cold season, a good quality coat (which may be a bit pricier), a cashmere turtleneck and a wool scarf will really give you an edge. And one more thing: make sure your clothes fit nicely and don’t sag. Europeans love their clothes to fit a little slimmer, almost tight. If you want to look Parisian, layer up. European male really loves to layer: shirt, sweater and coat on top.
Also, grab some leather pointed shoes in neutral colors, like blacks and browns, and make sure they are always polished and clean.
If you live in a small town where it’s difficult to find fancy clothes, don’t panic. European boutiques may seem outrageously expensive, but don’t just window-shop. Get in and look through their inventory. You’ll be surprised to find great deals even in the most sophisticated stores. In fact, I would strongly encourage you to buy some clothing in Europe. You’ll be guaranteed to turn some heads when you come back home.