I had heard that European fashion was a couple of years ahead of us North Americans. However, with how small the world is these days I thought there had to be something more to it then how slow North Americans are to catch on to new styles. So, when it was my turn to head over the ocean, I landed in Paris ready to judge every Parisian I saw on their fashion competence. I wanted to believe that there was a simple reason why only an ocean separated the sweat pant, sneaker wearing, baggy t-shirt and jeans donned average American, from countries filled with beautifully clad people that emerge every day as if a fashion fairy had dressed them. I wanted to find out how to garner a little of that European finesse and bring it back home. Eight countries and five weeks later I left the beautiful land of Italia with some ideas about why things are the way they are. (Please understand these are broad generalizations.)
- Lack of closet space lends itself to a curated wardrobe. We stayed in apartments in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Athens and Rome (and stayed in Hotels in the rest of the cities.) These stays consistently proved that closet space is scarce. Many of the buildings were built at a time when closet space was not a priority as people generally owned far less clothing. As the size of these apartments is in many cases very small, finding room for a closet never mind a shower or dining table is a challenge. This reality creates the need to only have what you really love or need. I so appreciated this about our European apartment staying experience because it exemplified the contrast to the average North American home. If these apartments were transported back to North America, it would force the large majority of us to get rid of probably 50-75% of our wardrobe. With this in mind, shopping patterns adapt to the amount of space you have to store them as clothing must be more versatile and you really must love it to buy it as the item will be taking up prime real estate back in your closet. No space to store clothes or shoes that you rarely wear.
- Chain stores have not yet completely taken over. Though the propensity to shop at places like H & M or Zara is certainly starting to have it’s affect, independently owned and unique fashion boutiques are much more popular to shop at then in North America. North Americans have malls filled with chain stores designed to make everyone look uniquely alike while Europeans have winding cobblestone streets lined with small, narrow shops carrying a myriad of designers from up and coming to well known. While these little shops do exist in most North American cities, the difference is in the shopping culture. The western European culture still looks to these small shops as legitimate places to shop and don’t simply head to the mall for an easy, cheap, one stop shop. As a side note, the exception is in cities like Bucharest and Sofia in Eastern Europe where the big chains have quite literally taken over, covering large parts of rundown, soviet built apartment buildings with advertising banners; quite a contrast from Western Europe.
- Europeans are consistent. No matter the day of the week or the destination, Europeans seem to dress well. Contrast this with North Americans who actually have the ability to dress well, however simply don’t unless they have an occasion to do so. This is one of the main differences that I observed. Dressing with a style conscious eye is a way of life, intertwined into the fabric of European culture. While North Americans are largely fashion obsessed, they fail to live it out on the street even if they have the clothing items in their ever burgeoning walk in closets. Suffice to say Europeans do not seem to be afraid of “over dressing”, perhaps that is not even a term they use.
- Men dress differently. By far the biggest contrast was the way in which the men dressed, especially in Paris. North American women tend to try to keep up with current trends or dress classically and take care of themselves and so I didn’t find a huge difference between European and North American women. The men however were a different story. They were classic, current, practical yet elegantly masculine. Men in Europe are not afraid of fashion where as North American men seem to be. Now I know that I am painting with a very broad stroke and I do know many men here at home that dress well. However, on this side of the ocean there seems to be this prevalent thought that only gay men dress well, and the thought process gets stuck there. Men need to seriously get over this. A well dressed man is very attractive to a woman and it shows self confidence. Now I’m not saying you all should run out and buy new wardrobes, men have different lifestyles requiring different types of clothing and not everyone needs a wardrobe worthy of James Bond. Instead, it is the attitude behind the clothes you wear that I suggest be reevaluated.
Well, you may have found this post a little judgemental but honestly I find comparing North American and European dressing culture quite fascinating and these are simply my observations from my first trip across the ocean.
Oh, and as for actual fashion trends? Well women, stock up on pantyhose to wear under short skirts or pleated shorts, wear with a blazer or oversized chunky sweater and finish off with a flat or chuncky heeled pair of black, just above the ankle boots and you are good to go. Men, wear well fitting jeans in burgundy, pair with a heavy subtle patterned blazer over a wool cardigan, add a scarf and nice pair of suede or leather lace up boots and you too are also good to go.
“The only real elegance is in the mind; if you’ve got that, the rest really comes from it.” — Diana Vreeland
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the w
ay we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel
The most important thing to remember is that you can wear all the greatest clothes and all the greatest shoes, but you’ve got to have a good spirit on the inside. That’s what’s really going to make you look like you’re ready to rock the world.” — Alicia Keys