I was recently chatting with a coworker about the struggle between trying to dress to fit in in Europe vs dressing for comfort while traveling. This is something I Googled a lot before I left to study abroad in London in 2008 (it was my first international trip, and I researched every tiny detail). I had read so many tips about how to look like a European while abroad, and somehow I got it in my head that it was an absolute requirement.
What I’ve observed is that Europeans in the big cities tend to be quite fashionable (like cities anywhere). They don’t usually wear brimmed hats or sturdy walking shoes. I’ve also seen them wear layers, scarves, or dark colors in quite warm weather, or thin dresses in cooler weather. The women have amazing bags, but they are large and often on-the-shoulder on only one side of the body. Footwear tends to prioritize aesthetic over comfort.I was quite happy to try to blend in with the locals both during my semester in London and in France 2 years later, but I’ve since changed my mind. I was in London for 4 months and Paris for one month for my study abroads, so I was able to act somewhat like a local; My tourist activities were spread out to 1-2 per day and if the weather was dismal, we could just pick a different day to go (or have the opportunity to change clothes soon after). I didn’t have to worry much about my clothing choices making me uncomfortable, and I had brought big suitcases along so I had a good variety of styles. I also still had a young body that wasn’t as prone to soreness.
But these days I give fewer f*cks about trying to be fashionable, and now I prioritize my comfort over appearance. Kevin and I have also been trying to do some carry-on only trips lately, which limits the choices further.
So is it worth trying to dress like a local when in Europe? What are the pros and cons, you may ask?
– You might be less lightly to get pickpocketed or scammed (but if your apparel doesn’t shout that you’re a tourist, some other behavior, luggage, or your accent probably will)
– You’ll look nice in photos
– Your feet might get sore
– You might not stay dry
– You might be too hot or too cold
– You might squint a lot if you’re like me (My eye doctor says I’ve got less melanin in my eyes which makes me more light-sensitive.)
– Accessories and makeup take up extra packing space
So neither list is particularly long or overwhelmingly convincing. But considering that the first “pro” is likely to be offset by something else anyway, that really leaves only one reason to try to dress like a European: to look better in your photos. Eh, whatever, I don’t think I care enough to make myself uncomfortable for that. Also, I’m always the one with the camera, so I’m usually not in many photos anyway.
I’m kind of wimpy, so wearing crappy shoes and skipping my hat is not acceptable to me anymore. Having sore feet while traveling can be bad enough to make you skip things you’d planned to do, just so you can sit down for a while. You might only visit a destination once, so there’s no time to be resting just because you brought unsupportive footwear. Screw that!
So as always, it’s up to you to decide your course of action. But my opinion is that it’s not worth trying to dress like a European, since the locals are going to know anyway. That doesn’t mean I recommend trying to look like a tourist – American flag apparel, socks and sandals, “Outback” hats, fanny packs – there’s no law against these things, but you will look kind of annoying and clueless. Just try to find the happy medium of tactfully representing your homeland and respecting your own body, and you should be just fine. Happy travels!