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The U.S. versus European Fashion

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

Traveling abroad soon? Don't look like a tourist and read my post below.

U.S. v.s. European Dress Standards

What do you mean I can't wear leggings out? Leggings are pants too...

One of the biggest differences, when I moved to Holland, was a difference in dress etiquette which sadly entailed that I could no longer run errands in my comfortable Lulu

lemons. I had to put on...real pants. The U.S. and Europe have always had large differences in dress standards and style. Growing up in Germany I was exposed early on to the popular brands there and the proper winter gear to wear. However, also living in California has taught me another side to what clothing is "acceptable" to wear out in public. This still amazes me, even though I am currently living in a small town, people will run to the grocery store in pajamas. Even within the United States, it still surprises me how different fashion varies from State to State. Once my family had begun the trek of moving back and forth between countries, my eyes opened even more. California in general (especially near the beach) has a more relaxed style than the east coast. In the U.S. alone there is a huge span of what's acceptable in public or not. But even more strikingly so is what is acceptable or not in Europe. Interested in avoiding looking like a tourist on your next trip to Europe? Then continue reading below.

What is "Acceptable" & Unacceptable Clothing (MAJOR Differences)

First things first are that European's tend to buy less, but better quality clothing, compared to the U.S. produced trend of fast fashion (cheap clothes, cheap quality, but large quantity). Hence the clothes that Europeans tend to buy are better manufactured and often tailored, so you can see there is a difference in quality standards. While in present-day Europe fast fashion is also a trend, it does not concern the majority.

Coming back to visit California is sometimes so exciting because I can finally wear my comfy leggings all day! Do people still wear leggings & shorts in Europe? The answer is “yes,” they do wear shorts and tennis shoes when they are purposeful, going hiking, going to work out, or to the beach. However, they do not wear those sports shoes and jogging outfits out into the city to shop or have lunch. That doesn't mean that you won't see any person in Europe wearing sneakers, fashionable leggings, or ripped jeans, they are just very intentional when it comes to dressing for the occasion. Especially in larger cities, revealing clothing is fine for the beach, but avoid wearing anything too skimpy in public in Europe. Coming from California, and the style I adopted from U.C.S.B. (a beach college), this was difficult to predict at first, but I realized it quickly. L.O.L.

Shoes & Proper Weather Attire

The next striking difference between especially California and Europe are proper shoes and weather attire. Those flimsy flip flops we Californians wear so religiously are unseen as proper shoes when it comes to walking around a city. That also goes for tennis shoes and running shoes, which are never considered formal enough for a workplace or special occasion. Since in Europe, the majority of people walk everywhere, people invest in supportive, high quality, and usually leather shoes which also protect you from the elements while staying stylish. On the topic of weather, Europeans and even the East Coast of America experience more drastic weather than California's temperate coast. Therefore it is almost necessary to have a solid winter coat, raincoat, and waterproof shoes to carry you through the winter while staying fashionable.

Style Capitals & Sources of Fashion

In my opinion, based on where you are in Europe, Europeans tend to dress with more style than Americans. Not more expensively, just more stylish in general. In Europe, I'd say the French are most stylishly dressed at any time of day. But Scandinavians have good style followed by some of the Germans. However, this doesn't mean there are not some sad trends that still exist in Europe. For example in Germany, the huge Hollister and Abercrombie label trend has decreased for the most part but sadly still lives on to this day. Or my personal favorite, the Birkenstock and sock trend! (Which I am also guilty of.)

Tips on What to wear when traveling

If you want to fit in wherever you may go and not stand out like a blinding tourist, avoid sweatpants, workout pants and shorts, skimpy tees, and flashy sneakers. You're exploring a city, not doing a 10k. DO dress up a little bit classier and more formal than you would normally do. However, with that being said don't forget to keep your own unique style intact. At the end who cares, but avoiding those neon running shoes may keep you out of trouble when exploring big foreign cities.

The best way to see the European style is by browsing popular European fashion retailers:

Zara – A popular fashion retailer from Spain. They are known for being affordable and keeping up with the trends.

H&M – H&M in Europe versus in America continues to surprise me in their differences. This Swedish retailer has locations all across the world. Their clothes aren’t of great quality, but they are cheap, trendy, and better in Europe.

APC – A trendy French brand that has high-quality, classic items such as great jeans. However, they tend to run pricey.

Kookai – This French fashion label is popular in the 20- to 40-year-old demographic.

ASOS – This UK retailer is popular with European teens and twenty-somethings all around the world, with a large selection of brands and styles to choose from.

Zadig & Voltaire – Another high-end trendy French brand.

Zalando – A super trendy and often reasonably priced online store.

The Kooples – Have some money to burn? The Kooples is an amazing designer boutique.

How I've Incorporated Both Country's Styles

After years of traveling around the world and living between California and Germany, I have definitely incorporated both styles into my everyday attire. I find that as the world advances and becomes more connected through modern technology and social media, the trends seem to blend into one global fashion. It is just what you choose to honor and express in your style that will define you. That being said: "Don't shift because fashion has shifted. Don't move from the original ethic you had, the original reasons. They're part and parcel of you" -Roy Harper

Interested in learning more? Shoot me an email or leave a comment below and I will respond shortly. Don't forget to subscribe to stay up to date on my latest posts! Thanks for visiting and see you in my next post!



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Having lived abroad several years and seeing Americans looked down upon because of they way they dress it was good to see that embarrassment can be avoided by being aware of the differences. Thanks for caring!

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