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European Fashion – What to Wear in Europe to not Look like a Tourist
Yes, you are a tourist. Some people say that it is ok to look like one. I personally like to blend in and not draw attention to myself. There is always a little feeling of accomplishment when I am walking down the street in some European city and a local asks me for directions or speaks to me in the local language. Here are my tips on European fashion and what to wear in Europe to not look like a tourist – or even better: What not to wear and how to look like a local.
When traveling to Europe, the key is to blend in with the locals in terms of European dress code and European style. You should not dress as if you’re off to the Oscar’s nor should you look tousled or disheveled, as if you just got out of bed.
What to wear in Europe is also important, because the more you look like a tourist, the more likely you’ll be targeted by pickpocketers and scammers. Finding the right outfit depends as much on what to wear as what not to wear in Europe and fit in a little more like a local.
The way you dress is important because it can lead to friendlier service while visiting Europe and it can serve as protection against being earmarked as an “out-of-towner” by pick-pocketers. Take your cue from the locals and blend in with the current European fashion trends and unique European style.
“The best thing a traveler can do is go to a local clothing store and buy a couple of outfits — then no one will ever mistake you for a tourist,” says travel expert Johnny Jet (aka John E. DiScala).
Most Americans have a certain way of dressing when traveling overseas that screams they are from the States. Don’t be that person.
Whether it is wearing ball caps, sports team shirts, white tennis shoes and socks, well-worn Levi’s, polo shirts, American logos, or backpacks filled with all your important papers and jewelry, these are fashions you may what to change while abroad.
Before coming to Europe, do not forget these 3 important points:
- Get Travel Insurance! I use Allianz Travel Insurance and can only recommend them. If you travel a lot, I recommend the Multi-Trip Insurance, but you can read all about whether single trip or multi-trip travel insurance is right for you here – as long as you get insurance.
- Visit my Travel Gear and Resource Page to see my recommendations on useful travel gadgets and helpful travel services that can help you with planning your trip. If you are going in winter, take a look at our Packing List for Winter in Europe.
- If you want to save money, try to book flight, hotel, and rental car together. Check out these daily deals on Travelocity!
What to Wear in Europe: 10 ways to dress more with European Style when in Europe
1. Wear clean-cut conservative clothes
Europeans dress up more than Americans, especially for meals and special occasions. With that being said, don’t show up at dinner wearing sweatpants, shorts, or a T-shirt, and especially not pajama bottoms. They are NOT fashionable in Europe.
Another tip: Don’t wear workout clothes! People will most likely stare at you, unless you are actually working out, of course.
When you put your packing list together for what to wear in Europe, try picking up some clothing items at the following stores for fashionable European wear:
H&M — A Swedish clothing company that is popular all over Europe and in the US. Reputation for fashion without high price tags.
Urban Outfitters – Urban Outfitters has spread across Europe and can be found in a few countries.
Zara — Located the world over but with a heavy presence in Europe. A Spanish retail store that sells fashionable clothes and some beautiful travel dresses.
Ellos – Founded in 1947, they are Sweden’s leading online department store, with collections that reflect Swedish lifestyle & design aesthetic in sizes 10+. (My favorite)
2. Go Neutral
Ditch the camouflage, loud colors, and dizzy patterns for timeless pieces, wardrobe staples and conservative colors like black, navy, blue, beige, tan, and gray. Make sure your clothes fit well and not be loose or baggy, but also not too tight. Wear things you feel comfortable in. Jeans, especially skinny jeans, are worn by many Europeans, but they don’t make for great travel pants, as they take very long to dry.
Build a European Fashion capsule wardrobe for your trip with pieces that you can layer and mix and match and wear with each other.
Wear colors that locals wear. Especially in the colder months, many Europeans wear black or muted colors, paired with one colorful accessory. For example, brightly-colored and loud Hawaiian shirts should only be worn while in the islands, and not while in Europe.
3. Bring comfortable walking shoes
Generally speaking, the only people who wear white running shoes are Americans in sneakers. Leave them behind. Best to don comfortable walking shoes for cobblestones and city environments, as Europeans love to walk. No cheap flip-flops or running shoes either. European women wear heels a lot, but they are used to walking on cobblestoned streets, so we recommend leaving them at home or only bringing them for special occasions where you know you won’t walk too far.
Keens, Clarks, and Naturalizer make very comfortable walking shoes that will let you put some miles on your feet without a problem. In the colder months, boots are very fashionable and common. Wear them on the plane to cut extra cost for overweight luggage.
4. Do Europeans Wear Shorts?
Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer. It depends. European fashion is usually a bit more conservative, but Europeans actually are wearing shorts – when they are on vacation or doing outdoorsy activities. Strolling through the city or in a museum? Not so much.
Though you may increasingly find shorts in southern Europe and on younger people, generally speaking, it’s best to wear long/capri pants or skirts and say “no” to shorts. Especially American style khaki cargo shorts which are viewed as a trademark American tourist. If you must wear them, save them for beaches and hikes.
Also keep in mind that in many countries (mainly Spain, Italy, Portugal, and some parts of Eastern Europe etc.) you will have to cover up when you visit churches or religious places of worship. Usually, the rule is covered below the knee and no tank tops. This rule includes men, women, and children. We recommend carrying a large scarf to cover up. See more info below.
5. Leave the baseball cap behind
Baseball caps are considered American and will have you stick out in a crowd. The same is true with sun visors – avoid wearing them, except for outdoor activities or on the beach. Those are simply not part of the average European dress code and will make you stand out as a tourist.
6. Accessorize with scarves
For the ultimate European fashion touch, wear a scarf. That holds true for both men and women. Also, women may want to carry a headscarf for religious visits. This scarf might be a good investment: It has a secret pocket that can hide your passport, money or cell phone and perfect for travelers in Europe.
7. Leave the bling behind
Don’t advertise yourself as a mark by wearing expensive jewels and bling. Instead, travel with costume jewelry – anything you don’t mind losing.
8. Avoid U.S. logos and go slogan-free
Best to avoid advertising you are American by wearing or carrying American logos such as Coach handbags, Nike, Abercrombie, or American football jerseys. Try to go slogan-free to add mystery to where you’re from.
9. Bring a smaller backpack to wear in front
The large backpacks that many Americans wear on their backs are easy targets for thieves. Consider using a smaller pack you can don in front, especially when taking public transportation and when in crowds or at popular tourist spots.
Also, a good idea is to get one of the PacSafe backpacks that have multiple anti-theft mechanisms to keep your belonging safe. Another option is this over-the-shoulder travel purse by Travelon that boasts stainless steel wire mesh to prevent slash-and-grab thefts.
10. Be religiously respectable
Avoid sleeveless shirts, shorts and plunging necklines for the ladies. Dress conservatively in any country with fundamental religious views.
I was once on a photo tour in Chiapas, Mexico, where one of the women wearing a low-cut tank top, was revealing way too much cleavage. It was distasteful and tacky, especially since she was in her 50’s. She was surprised when she got dirty looks from the locals when walking through town squares and churches, areas predominantly conservative and very Catholic.
On another trip to the Blue Mosque in Turkey, one of our female members was told her pants were too tight (she was wearing black leggings under a tunic-type travel dress). She was issued a long skirt to wear over them before she could enter the Mosque.
Just be mindful of what the locals are wearing and have a plan b: Pack a scarf or cardigan to cover up if necessary. And maybe this book can help you with some more European style advice and tips on what to wear in Europe.
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