Ready to spend a couple of weeks in Europe but still struggling with your packing list? Most of us care how we look and how others perceive us. But even if looking sharp is not your main priority, blending in with the locals and not being labeled a tourist is always a good idea when you travel. In this guide I will give you some guidance on how to dress like a European and avoid embarrassing fashion mistakes.
But before I tell you what to pack for your trip to Europe, there are a few things you need to know about the European dress style.
Table of Contents
- European Fashion
- European Dress Style is All About the Fit
- How to Dress Like a European
- Can You Be Fashionable on a Budget?
- Packing List for Europe
- What You Should NOT Wear in Europe
- Where to Buy Good Quality Clothes in Europe
- How to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist
If this is your first time in Europe, there may be a few things that will surprise you. And one of them is how the Europeans dress. You will notice that Europeans always seem nicely dressed and well put-together. While in North America we tend to favor comfort over style, in Europe people are way more concerned about the way they look.
While there isn’t a dress code per se, the European dress style is first about chic and then about comfort. You don’t see many Parisians wearing something ill-fitting or unflattering just because it’s comfortable!
Traditionally, clothing is much more expensive in Europe than in other parts of the world. But it’s also of very good quality. European women may not have many outfits, but what they have is of good quality and it fits nicely.
European Dress Style is All About the Fit
If you want to dress like a European woman, think chic and elegant. You don’t need to wear a cocktail dress or high heel shoes in order to be elegant. All you need is pair up your clothes in such a way that you don’t look like a hiker.
There is a great variety of clothes and shoes which can be both comfy and chic. Keep it simple. You don’t need a hole lot of cloths, but what you wear should make a statement.
How to Dress Like a European
What I need to make clear from the start is that I’m not a fashionista. However, as someone born and raised in Europe, I can give you some good advice about how to dress like a European.
I also need to clarify that in this article I basically discuss how people dress in the major European cities like Paris, London, Venice, Rome, Amsterdam, etc. In smaller European towns, resorts, or in the countryside the fashion is very different. Therefore, your packing list for Europe will vary depending on your destination. Packing for 3 days in Paris will certainly differ from packing for a few days in Zermatt.
Can You Be Fashionable on a Budget?
Not everybody can afford designer label clothing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be fashionable on a budget. Today it’s actually a bigger demand for low-budget fashion than it is for high end designers. As a result, most of the department stores carry very stylish clothes at very affordable prices.
If you look up any fashion magazines or online websites, you will find plenty of fashion ideas that will help you stay fashionable within your budget. It’s easy to create your own fashion style with with some simple and trendy ideas.
Packing List for Europe
Here is what you could consider for your packing list for Europe:
European Attire for Women
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.
So here is what you could wear in Europe as a woman:
• Comfortable, but nice shoes
European streets, subways and busses are very crowded, so open toe shoes or are not always a good choice. Unless it’s hot. Since we started traveling in 1989 I have walked hundreds of miles in Born, Ecco, and Clarks shoes and have always been happy with these brands.
If you travel to Europe in winter you should pack a pair of low heel boots, as they are more comfortable on the uneven pavement of the European streets. The most popular winter shoes for Europe are Dr. Martens. This is a military style boot that is thick and comfortable, but not very flattering for older women. I personally prefer Born and Clark’s, which are a little more elegant but still comfortable.
•Dresses, skirts, dress pants, short-sleeve and long-sleeve tops
Depending on the season, you should bring some short-sleeve/long-sleeve tops, a sweater dress to wear with tights, a skirt and some dress pants. All these items are a must for your Europe packing list.
Wearing jeans is not my first choice, but if you wear them with a pair of boots, a nice top and a blazer, you’ll be just fine.
For fall or spring, a trench coat or a blazer that you can wear over your dress, or with any pair of pants.
• Scarfs and accessories
Scarfs, belts, and some costume jewelry are great accessories for your outfits. They add color and style to any outfit and they are easy to carry around. You can wear the same dress three days in a row, yet make it look like a different outfit if you wear it with a scarf, a belt, or a piece of jewelry. I have a great collection of scarfs and belts which are always part of my packing list for Europe.
• A Nice Bag (preferably not cross-body)
Bags are fine for both men and women. The best would be a shoulder, anti-theft bag that lies somewhat flat to your body, so you can lay your hand over it as need. Also, backpack-style bags work great. Not the kind that you would wear on a hiking trip, of course, but the small leather ones that you can wear both on your shoulder or on your back.<
Don’t bring a messenger/cross-body bag to Europe! No one carries them there, except the American tourists.
European Attire for Men
European males are equally preoccupied with their looks as women. But as a male, the packing guides out there are pretty vague. If you want to dress like a European man think basic luxury and neat and tight clothes.
When traveling to Europe you’ll need to make a little investment into some good quality clothes. Also, make sure your clothes fit nicely and don’t sag. Europeans love their clothes to fit a little slimmer, almost tight. Therefore, if you want to look Parisian, don’t wear baggy clothes!
Another trick to make you look European is to layer up: shirt, sweater and coat on top. Men in Europe love to wear layers, especially during the colder seasons.
• Pick slacks over jeans and shirts over T-hirst
Leave the jeans and T-shirts for your travels to Las Vegas and pack a couple of pairs of slacks, a few casual shirts and a nice blazer when you travel to Europe. Most importantly, reconsider the synthetics, but keep leather, cashmere, denim, cotton and linen.
• Choose comfortable, but dress shoes
It’s much easier for men to find comfortable shoes, since they are not after high heels. Grab some leather pointed shoes in neutral colors, like blacks and browns. Make sure they are always polished and clean. It’s important to choose comfortable shoes, with thicker rubber sole, that can absorb shock. In Europe you’ll most likely do a lot of walking and thin soles will give you a lot of pain.
What You Should NOT Wear in Europe
When it comes to European fashion, there are a few faux pas that you should avoid at all costs. So here is what NOT to pack for Europe:
• College/university apparel
University wear is not a big fashion trend in Europe. If you spot anyone in Europe wearing a Harvard, UC Berkley or UCLA sweatshirt, chances are they are a tourist.
• Baseball caps and athletic gear
While it may be comfortable to wear athletic gear while sightseeing, it’s generally considered a fashion faux pas in many European cities. Instead, opt for casual but stylish clothing that blends in with the locals.
• Khakis, shorts and sweat pants
Khakis, shorts and sweat pants will be frowned upon in most European cities, therefore you shouldn’t include them in your packing list. Unless you are planning to go hiking in the mountains, shorts and sweat pants are a no-no in most European cities.
• Tennis Shoes, Convers, Flip-Flops
Flip-flops and sneakers may be popular among the youngsters in many countries. In fact, they are so popular in California that most young people wear them everywhere. But nothing screams ‘tourist’ like bouncing down the streets of Europe in Flip-flops, converse, or tennis shoes!
• Flashy colors and clothing embellished with flags or chauvinistic slogans
Patriotic or flashy logos may work in the USA, but they are considered ostentatious and perceived as a lack of class in Europe. Americans love to wear strong colors and patterns, but Europeans like subtle colors. Wearing bright, flashy colors will signal that you are a tourist from a mile away, therefore you should stay away from them.
• Cameras around your neck
We all love to take home digital memories from our travels, but wearing your camera around your neck wherever you go is bad taste. Besides, broadcasting to everyone that you are a tourist 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.
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Where to Buy Good Quality Clothes in Europe
If you live in a small town where it’s difficult to find fancy clothes, don’t panic. You can always do some shopping while visiting Europe. Don’t get set back by the huge prices you see displayed in the windows.
Get inside and look through the inventory. You’ll be surprised how many great deals you can find, even in the most sophisticated stores. In fact, I strongly encourage you to buy some good quality clothing from Europe. You’ll most likely turn some heads when you wear them back home.
How to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist
Some people couldn’t care less if they have the word “tourist” written all over them. However, blending in with the locals has many advantages. And perhaps the most important one of them is that you’ll be less of a target for petty theft. Here are a few other things to consider if you don’t want to be labeled a “tourist“:
- Don’t carry maps or guidebooks everywhere you go
- Walk with a purpose, not like someone who is lost
- Don’t carry large backpacks everywhere
- Learn local customs and etiquette
- Avoid taking selfies
- Eat where the locals do
I hope my post answered some of your questions about European fashion. So how does one dress like a European? By simply looking casually elegant. At any rate, have a great trip regardless of what you wear or not wear.
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