After living in Paris for nearly two years, I’m still amazed at how well European women dress. It is rare to see anyone who isn’t well-dressed — even if they’re just buying some milk from the grocery store. We lived down the block form an elementary school and every day we’d see moms with high heels and skirts pushing their strollers down the street.
That’s why I thought I would share some of my women’s European fashion observations from living in Paris and from my travels throughout Europe. Hopefully, these fashion tips will help you choose which clothes to bring on your next trip and give you an idea of how to dress like a European.
Note: Most of my observations are from Paris since this is where I’ve lived the most, but Parisians are considered some of the best-dressed people in Europe, so they are a good group to take fashion advice from.
The Golden Rules for Women’s European Fashion
Honestly, there are no “rules” and there really isn’t a true “European” fashion. You’ve probably heard that Parisians only wear black, but if you walk around the streets of Paris you’ll see fashionable people wearing all kinds of colors.
That’s why this guide will highlight the general fashion trends that I’ve observed but I urge you to add your own personal style into your clothing choices. My main goal is to give you a taste of European fashion and to provide you with some ideas of what you might want to wear when you visit.
It’s All About The Fit
People assume Europeans look great because they have closets full of designer clothes but this isn’t completely true. They may have a few higher-end items, but they shop at H&M, Zara, Mango, Gap, Topshop, and other multinational shops just like the rest of us. The secret is that they purchase clothes that fit well — and if the fit isn’t quite right, then they’ll get their clothes tailored. I feel that it’s much more common to have small alterations done in Europe and those little changes make the clothes fit better.
Keep it Simple
European women keep their wardrobes simple and classic. They choose timeless pieces that don’t scream for attention. Then they’ll add a bright accessory (scarf, shoes, jewelry, etc) to bring the outfit together. I also saw a lot of contrasting pieces used together — like pairing a slightly oversized, chunky sweater with a tight skirt or skinny jeans.
Jeans are a staple of any European wardrobe. Most women I saw wore skinny or slim jeans. In general, they mostly wore dark jeans without a wash or with a minimal wash (i.e., only a small amount of distressing). Grey jeans are also a popular choice. But Europeans don’t just wear black and grey, so don’t be afraid to wear a pair of bright red jeans/trousers.
European women have an amazing ability to have great looking hair that looks effortlessly natural. I have no idea how they do it, but it seems like they don’t fuss with it too much — it wouldn’t surprise me if they roll out of bed and just tousled it with their hands. Long hair is definitely in-style, so start growing! When you’re visiting Europe, just throw your hair into a sleek high ponytail or a messy bun and be on your way. Check out this post by Hair on the Brain for some tips on how to create the perfect messy bun.
It’s All About The Shoes
Europeans live in shoebox-sized apartments but they still manage to have an amazing collection of great shoes.
European women, especially city-dwellers, live in high heels. But beware… these fashionistas have years of practice navigating cobblestone streets and tricky city sidewalks, so you might find yourself really struggling if you choose to wear a pair of sexy stilettos. Wedges are also a very popular and a bit more practical option since they offer extra walking surface.
No shoe collection is complete without a few pairs of boots. During the winter, you’ll see tall leather boots everywhere, but cute ankle boots are a popular choice during the rest of the year. Check out our guide to Best Waterproof Boots for Women to some cute and comfortable boots.
When the weather gets warm, it’s time to break out the lightweight shoes. Strappy leather sandals, flats, loafers, and casual sneakers are all great choices.
That said… if you’re going to be traveling to Europe, I suggest leaving the uncomfortable shoes at home. But that doesn’t mean you need to bring ugly running shoes. I suggest a pair of cute sneakers, flat boots, and a pair of comfortable sandals. If you do bring a pair of impractical shoes for going out, make sure they’re not going to kill your feet (blisters are no fun). Also, remember that a quality set of Superfeet insoles can make shoes more comfortable.
Check out our guide to travel shoes for some examples of fashionable and comfortable sneakers, boots, sandals, and more.
Photo courtesy of Chictopia
Show Off Some Leg
European women love to show off their legs. Tights, stockings, and pantyhose are year-round wardrobe staples. Even in the winter, you’ll see plenty of women wearing above-the-knee skirts and stockings.
Nothing is more European than a scarf and they’re the perfect way to pull an outfit together. A warm and cozy scarf is perfect for the winter, and a light silk or cotton scarf is great for the summer. Want to know how to wear your scarf… check out this guide from Scarves.net
A classic trench coat is a chic way to look amazing during those cold and rainy European winters.
It’s In The Bag
Whether it’s a tote, messenger bag, or purse, you can’t leave the house without a cute bag. A bag is a great accessory for adding a little extra color or style to an outfit.
Get In-touch With Your Feminine Side
European women are not afraid of embracing their femininity. They wear silk, lace, and other fine fabrics. So break out those feminine, flowy dresses on a sunny summer day.
Neutral Like Switzerland
While it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, many Europeans tend to dress in dark and neutral colors. Of course, you’ll see plenty of colors so don’t feel like you need to dress like you’re at a funeral — but when in doubt, choose neutral colors.
And dressing in neutrals also makes packing for travel easier since everything you bring coordinates.
Easy On The Makeup
I find that European women prefer a natural look when it comes to applying cosmetics. They’ll just use the basics and don’t overdo it. But the one thing they seem to love is lipstick — especially the Parisians. Bright red lipstick is a favorite and you’ll see women wearing it all around the city.
Check out my Guide To Skincare, Makeup and Beauty Essentials For Travel for more insight into my travel skincare routine.
I was always amazed at the eyewear that Parisians were sporting — And they almost always wore designer frames. Thick 70s style frames are a classic choice. I love my Warby Parker sunglasses if you’re looking for something stylish and affordable.
Never Sweats or Running Shoes
In Paris, I never saw Parisians wearing sweats and running shoes in public — unless they were actually exercising. It was only the tourists who ever wore them around. Just don’t do it.
That said, there is nothing wrong with fashionable sneakers! In fact, you’ll see plenty of European women sporting Nike, New Balance, Adidas, etc.
Check out our guide to travel shoes for some examples of fashionable and comfortable sneakers.
Where To Find Fashion Inspiration
I’ve found that the best way to see European style is by browsing popular European fashion retailers. Below are a few high-end and budget retailers that I’ve used for fashion inspiration.
- H&M – This popular Swedish retailer has locations all across the world. Their clothes aren’t great quality but they are cheap.
- APC – A trendy French brand that has high-quality, classic items. They have great jeans. They are expensive.
- Zadig & Voltaire – Another high-end trendy French brand.
- The Kooples – Have money to burn? The Kooples is one of the hottest designer boutiques.
- Mango – A Spanish company that has trendy and fairly inexpensive items.
- Zara – Another popular fashion retailer from Spain. They are known for being affordable and keeping up with the trends.
- ASOS – This UK retailer is popular with European teens and twenty-somethings.
- Kookai – This French fashion label is popular in the 20- to 40-year-old demographic.
- Galeries Lafayette – The Galeries Lafayette is the most fabulous department store in Paris. They carry almost every luxury and high-end fashion brand. Their website is all in French, but they have a huge selection of the latest fashions — everything from $8000 Dior bags to $50 Levis jeans.
Practical Packing & Travel Fashion Tips
As you’ve probably figured out, looking fashionable while traveling is never easy because you don’t have a lot of room in your luggage to pack much clothing. So, unless you have a team of people to carry around your luggage, you’re going to be picky about what you bring. That’s why in this section you’ll find some practical packing tips for staying fashionable while traveling in Europe and I’ll include some recommended travel clothing.
For more in-depth packing tips check out our Travel Europe Packing List for a ton more information.
Try Packing Light
Being fashionable and packing light doesn’t always mix but it’s important to be smart about what you pack because lugging a huge suitcase around Europe is a terrible experience. Of course, if you take taxis everywhere then things become easier.
I’m not saying you absolutely need to limit yourself to a carry-on size piece of luggage but you’ll be happier without a monster-sized suitcase.
General Clothing Tips
- Create A Capsule Wardrobe: A capsule wardrobe is basically when every piece of clothing you bring can be paired with multiple other items.
- For example, one shirt can match three pairs of pants/skirts. The idea is that you can bring less individual items but still have many outfits.
- Solid, neutral colors are easier to match so consider items like that.
- Limit “One Off” Items: It’s fine to pack someone that you’re only going to wear once or twice but you’ll want to limit this to avoid overpacking.
- Low Maintenance Clothing: Travel can be tough on clothes so try avoiding things with special washing instructions — like dry-clean only.
- Accessorize: Simple things like scarves or a necklace is an easy way to change up your wardrobe.
- Buy Something in Europe: Europe is home to amazing shopping so you can always buy more clothes when you’re traveling.
Recommended Travel Clothing & Brands
There are a number of brands that make clothing specifically for travel. They use special fabrics that are durable, resist wrinkles, help prevent odors, and are also fashionable.
Travel Tops, Dresses, and Bottoms Brands
It’s hard to find fashionable travel clothing but these brands offer some cute options (although some of the stuff still looks a little “outdoorsy” so you might need to search a bit). Will you look like you’re shopping at Dior? No. But you won’t look like you’re hiking a mountain or just coming back from yoga class.
- Betabrand: Dress yoga pants. Yes. You heard us right.
- Athleta: Athleta has really stepped up their travel clothing and they have a lot of solid options. Some of their offerings feel like yoga clothes but there are some non-yoga choices.
- Lululemon: Lululemon has a number of good travel clothing options. Again, many of their options look a little too “athleisure” but there are some nice looking choices.
- Prana: Prana is a company that has traditionally made outdoorsy clothing but they’ve recently started making more fashionable items.
- Anatomie: Anatomie has a bunch of higher-end clothing that looks really nice. Stuff from Anatomie is expensive is the main downside.
- Uniqlo: Uniqlo always has a few great travel clothing options that are friendly on your bank account. Their stock is always changing so be sure to check them out.
Travel Socks and Underwear
- SmartWool Socks – I love my SmartWool socks. I wear them all the time. They have a wide range of socks available (from lightweight to heavyweight). SmartWool also makes Hide and Seek Socks and Secret Sleuth Socks which are great “no show” socks.
- Darn Tough Socks – Made in Vermont, this brand of really nice socks will last for years. They get great reviews.
- ExOfficio Underwear — I’ve been a fan of ExOfficio underwear for a few years because they’re functional and they have some fairly cute options.
- SmartWool Underwear — I also have a few pairs of Smartwool underwear and it’s a great option if you prefer natural fabric (rather than synthetic like ExOfficio).
- Patagonia Underwear: Active Hipster Briefs, Barely Hipster Briefs, and Active Boy Shorts are all great options.
Ahh, shoes… they’re one the hardest things to pack. I try to limit myself to two pairs but sometimes I take three. It’s impossible to narrow it down to the “best” shoes but I’ll list a few brands/options that I really like. Also, check out our guide travel shoes for more recommendations.
BENSIMON sneakers are super cute and casual sneakers that are popular in Europe. I’ve seen lots of trendy Parisians wearing them during the summer. These shoes are a bit hard to find in the US but Superga and Keds both make shoes in a very similar style —so they’re a great alternative that’s also easy to find.
You’ve probably already heard of Allbirds shoes. They’re made of wool — which sounds kind of weird but it actually works well. They are comfortable and you can wear them without socks (one of the benefits of wool is odor prevention). And they are crazy lightweight so they’re easy to pack away. They come in multiple colors and cost $95. Available via Allbirds.
They also have their new Tree Skippers that are made from sustainably harvested eucalyptus pulp so they’re a bit cooler than their wool counterparts.
A nice pair of comfortable flats is a nice option since they take up very little room and they look a little nicer than sneakers. The Born Julianne is a pair I own because they look nice, provide decent arch support, and come in multiple colors.
Packing Accessories & Luggage
And once you have all your stuff, it’s time to get it all packed.
First, I love packing cubes because it’s the best way to keep everything organized and they also help keep your clothes wrinkle-free. Check out our guide to Packing Cubes for more details about using packing cubes but my favorite is the Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes.
Next, you’ll need luggage — either a suitcase or a travel backpack. As I mentioned before, you want to make sure you don’t pick something so large that you can’t actually carry it around. Below are a few options that should work well for any trip around Europe.
- Osprey Farpoint and the Osprey Fairview
- Osprey Porter
- Tortuga Outbreaker, Setout, and Setout Divide.
- Osprey Transporter, Osprey Ozone, and Osprey Sojourn
- TLS Mother Lode Wheeled Duffle
- Eagle Creek Expanse Drop Bottom Wheeled Duffel 32
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