Fashion Advice: How to Avoid Looking Like An American Tourist In Europe

clothes for europe

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.

HEY LADIES! I’ve created a new guide to women’s fashion in Europe with female fashion tips and advice. The guide you’re reading now is geared towards men’s style.

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

how to dress like a european

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

How to dress like a European

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

Topshop & Topman — British chain of clothing stores that operates in more than 20 countries. Geared toward the “hip” 16-25 crowd.

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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  • Q

    I could have pissed myself laughing when I clicked on the link and saw the first image of american clothes. Very well done.

  • cornflakes

    you should add one for women’s clothing! this is really focused on guys clothes

    • savvybackpacker

      My wife and I are currently writing up a female fashion guide at this very moment. It should be up in a few days! Thanks for the feedback!

      • cornflakes

        thanks!! that’ll be really helpful, I’ll check back soon :)

  • Sam D. Maloney

    By all means, shop Urban outfitters… because racist, homophobic right wing plagiarists need all the money you can give them.

  • Kevin

    Interesting post. I work with a lot of tourists, especially from England, and have always said you could spot them a mile away. I however never took the time to further think exactly why it is. Your posts really nails it in my opinion. Great job.

  • Jon H

    I don’t see why wearing athletic Pumas and Adidas would be that that bad. They’re very popular in Europe, obviously because they’re from there, compared to say, Nike.

    • Fred

      You can wear your athletic clothes, but then you’ll look like an eastern european or russian. If you wanna look like western european then do like the article says. Depends where you are planning to go.

  • EuropeanChick

    You nailed it! This is exactly the difference between US & European style. And yes we never wear running shoes unless we are working out (or maybe power walking) & no baggy clothes!

  • Filip

    This is mostly true. Well written article.

  • Mark

    Does anyone know the name of the tan shoes with the green liner in the 4th picture down. I’ve seen them before but have completely forgotten their name. Thanks.

    • G.B.

      Hush Puppies

  • Tiberius Septimus Maximian

    In Europe especially Greece the gym look is big. Lots of sweat pants,black sneakers,hoodies,also polo shirt/ Levis jeans. People don’t dress up unless they go partying. I’m taking young people 20’s

  • Julia A.

    This is for sort of “stupid” shallow, sheltered Americans, not all Americans dress the same, I live in the US (NYC) for 14 years. But the typical average ones dress horribly, (and are dirty and very very nosy, and impudent and loud…) But that’s another topic.

    • Karen

      So you are basically talking about the typical New Yorker, not the typical American.

  • 2LiveCruizers

    I’m happy to look like an American, and most folks in the world (I have been to 100 countries) are happy to accept me and my American money to enjoy their countries without sanctimonius judgement. I’ll proudly wear my American clothing, suggest you do the same, and smile, it’s the BEST thing you can wear everywhere.

    • IsthataJingoIsee?

      aaaaaaaaandddddd that’s the exact attitude that the rest of the world just “loves” about us.

    • H Saunders

      You look like bums and we’re all laughing at you.
      America used to lead the world in fashion, what happened to James Dean and Elvis? My Grandfather tells me that the US servicemen in ww2 were the coolest people anyone had ever seen. And now what? America has stagnated.
      Stop declining. Nobody wants China to take your place.

  • azjayhawk

    What about clothing suggestions in South America? Columbia?

    • Naturally, I’m Concerned…

      Columbia is in New York City, not South America…

  • Patti

    Hmmm, so let me get this straight, Americans wear jeans, bright colors, and “over-sized” clothes, white sneakers, white socks, baseball caps and they stick out like like a sore thumb. But many Europeans are starting to wear shorts, baseball caps, workout gear, and bright colors and that’s ok. Oh of course, because they top it off with a scarf!!! Right, that makes it oh so trendy and ok! Self professed “I am not a fashion expert”, why would you write an article about fashion for Americans? Probably because you like to people watch and make fun of those people. Every culture dances to it’s own rhythms even in the fashion arena, that’s what makes us all so different and interesting. Small, shallow minds like yours try to assert superiority instead of appreciating the diverseness of all. As a New Yorker, believe me, we see all cultures and manner of dress. Somethings we like and some we don’t, isn’t that true for everyone? But, I don’t care what they come dressed like, they bring tourism business that everyone appreciates. Who cares if we have different styles??

    • J

      I think part of the desire to stick out less as a tourist is because pickpockets often target tourists. Everyone will be able to tell you’re an American no matter what, but wearing something really obvious is like having a big neon sign pointing to your wallet.

      • Unused

        Nope. That’s bullshit. Pickpockets target tourists. Nothing in this entire article implies one needs to dress nicer, just protect your shit. It’s not hard.

    • TechUser

      “Who cares if we have different styles”?? The gang that is going to mug you around the corner! That’s who! The point isn’t about style, it’s about fitting in in a foreign land.

    • Marco is seme

      You literally missed the point of the article smh

    • John Henry

      You look at his observations and you found a way to twist it to mean he is making fun of Americans fashion?

      It is all observation. Just like he observed that sportswear in Paris makes one look seedy. Just like I observed you are an angry person by your response. Stop being angry and either just agree or disagree. Did he attack you personally? What did he say to you that was go personal that made you call him shallow mind? Are you so sure he was personally attacking you or our country? Explain yourself or apologize!

    • Rommel Angus

      Lol… How, bitch, how? ???? ???? ???? ????

  • Jared Bonczek

    I really can’t stand wearing pants when it’s super hot out. People can point and stare if they want..

    • TechUser

      The gang that want’s to steal your passport, and get into your hotel room to steal your valuables is staring at you because you look like a tourist, not because you look special.

    • MTBway2B

      I’m with you on that. I think wearing something like neutral- gray or khaki- bermudas hits a nice balance between cool and subdued.
      I’ve been wearing shorts around Germany for a bit, and if it’s legitimately hot, nobody really seems to care. Granted- and I don’t know where the other poster’s aggressive paranoia is coming from- I rarely visit towns of more than 100,000 people. I might be more on my guard if I was in Amsterdam or Rome or something.

      • ella

        Dont worry about it. More and more young people in europe are wearing shorts, well, at least in the uk as far as i know. The trend is catching on. The only problem is that american wear a lot of athletic style shorts so as long as you dont wear basketball shorts youll be fine. Wear something classic with clean lines, no cargo shorts, and youll fit right in.

    • fust

      I so totally agree! I take my pants off in public whenever I possibly can! Point and stare… Even the cops can go shove one as far as I am concerned!

  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnthiel/ John Peter Thiel

    I’m cast in a television show tomorrow as a European Tourist, but as a former expat who has worked and socialized with a lot of Europeans what the casting agency told me to wear seemed completely at odds with what someone from anywhere but the United States would consider appropriate clothing.

    As soon as I saw the images on a Google search I knew this was the page I needed to look at. Thanks for making my preparations easier.

  • Steve Jones

    If I am an American tourist why the hell should I care if I look like one? Would you write a column telling arabs to quit wearing what they do at home if they come to Europe or tell Europeans to dress like Americans if they come to America?