I am not a fashion expert and I don’t claim to be one. The point of this guide isn’t to teach you how to look “European.” In fact, there isn’t really a “European” look. Just like in America, Europeans wear all styles of clothes and it varies from country to country. That said, styles do tend to be a little more “dressy”, but many younger (under 30) Europeans are moving toward a more casual, t-shirt and jeans wardrobe.
In fact, I really don’t think there is a huge difference between what the average 22- year-old American wears and what their European counterparts wear. Anyways, this is a guide to help you “blend in” so you’re not taken for a tourist from 100 yards away. If nothing else, this guide will help you look like a European tourist (as opposed to an American tourist).
Fashion Faux Pas — What You Should Absolutely Avoid Wearing
Running/Athletic Shoes: Unless they’re doing something athletic, most Europeans don’t wear athletic shoes. This doesn’t mean you have to wear nice “dress” shoes, but you should avoid the solely “athletic” style shoes. If nothing else, avoid white shoes. White shoes are the calling card of American tourists.
- A note about shoes: Deciding on shoes seems to give many travelers a lot of problems. You absolutely want to bring comfortable shoes because you’re going to be doing a ton of walking—I can’t stress this enough. Many athletic shoe companies (Nike, Puma, Adidas, etc) make causal sneakers that don’t look like running shoes. This is the style that you should be looking for because they are great for city walking. They also don’t look bad at night when you visit bars and clubs.
- Many normal bars and pubs might not let you in if you are wearing running/athletic shoes or flip-flops.
Flip-Flops: You only want to wear these on the beach or in the hostel showers.
Athletic Shorts/Pants: Much like athletic shoes, Europeans don’t wear athletic clothing unless they are playing sports. Some of Europe’s “seedier” people wear a lot of track suites (and similar clothes) so you might want to avoid those if you don’t want to be mistaken for a troublemaker.
Shorts: In general, Europeans view shorts as children’s clothing. This is starting to change a little though. Shorts are becoming more popular in England and you’ll find them in southern Europe. Although you should avoid wearing khaki cargo shorts—as this is another trademark American tourist stereotype. All that said… I would still avoid shorts. Lightweight cotton pants work well, even in the heat.
Sweat Pants: Come on, this is Europe — not your 8:00am History 101 class. Avoid sweat pants. They look bad and they’re too bulky to travel with anyways.
Baseball Caps: Baseball caps are pretty synonymous with Americans. Although, rap and hip-hop culture is very popular in much of Europe, so you do see a lot of people dressing like American hip-hop stars (complete with baseball caps). I would still avoid them though.
White Athletic Socks: Leave the white socks in Chicago. Actually, this isn’t a huge deal, but many Europeans tend to wear socks that match their pants (i.e. not white).
Tips On What You Might Want To Wear
Well-Fitting Clothes: Europeans tend to wear better fitting clothes. You really won’t find many people wearing “oversized” styles.
Limited Bright Colors: Many Europeans tend to wear more subdued colors, but I think many are starting to wear more color (especially younger people). You can’t go wrong with black, gray, and other earth tones.
Scarves: Everyone wears scarfs when the temperature start dropping. You’ll probably look out of place without one.
Basic Daytime & Nighttime Fashion Advice
Daytime/Sight-Seeing Clothing: During the day you’re going to be visiting the sights with a million other tourists. Don’t worry too much about what you look like—well, still avoid the things on the Fashion Faux Pas list. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. A t-shirt/polo shirt and jeans/skirt are fine.
Nighttime: You want to put a little more effort into your look when you go out at night, but this isn’t really any different than what you’re used to. A well-fitted button up shirt and dark jeans is a perfect (and easy) nighttime look. The only thing keeping you out of the super trendy nightclubs will be your shoes. Although, many of these clubs have expensive cover charges and overpriced alcohol, so these are not places for budget backpackers anyways. Don’t worry because there are still many fine nightclubs that you’ll be able to visit without needing $200+ shoes.
Visit These Websites To Get An Idea Of What Europeans Are Wearing
H&M — A Swedish clothing company that is popular all over Europe and in the US. They are known for being fashionable and fairly inexpensive.
Urban Outfitters – Urban Outfitters has spread across Europe and can be found in a few countries. A lot of the stuff there should work well.
Zara — A Spanish retail store that sells fashionable clothes. They’re located all over the world, but have a heavy presence in Europe.
The Sartorialist— An amazing blog that features photographs of “real life” European fashion. A lot of this stuff is really fashion-forward. None of it is practical for backpacking, but it is kind of interesting to look at.
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