I'm an American woman going to Europe (Berlin) for the first time. Can you help me dress like a European and/or not stick out like a sore thumb while I'm there?
June 8, 2010 8:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm an American woman going to Europe (Berlin) for the first time. Can you help me dress like a European and/or not stick out like a sore thumb while I'm there?

I'm going to Berlin this summer to take language classes for 2 months. It'll be the first time I've been to Europe. I'm worried that I'm going to pack all the wrong clothes and spend the entire summer feeling like a gauche American.

Can you tell me what the average Berliner wears around town, for a night out, and at the symphony/opera? Any other tips for not sticking out/blending in are also appreciated.
posted by colfax to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How old are you?
posted by palliser at 8:37 PM on June 8, 2010

Profile says 27 years old, palliser.

I can't really offer any advice because while I was in London last summer, I haven't been to Germany in 10 years, so I don't know what's changed.
posted by cooker girl at 8:50 PM on June 8, 2010

Bring some basics and buy the rest there. The Euro cheap shops - H&M, Zara, Mango are fun!
posted by k8t at 9:06 PM on June 8, 2010

Buy the stuff there, the fashion is going to be better. And it's going to be pricier. Except for maybe the Euro being in your favor.

But, uh, whatcha think they wear over there, that's different from over here? I'd leave weird things like that NASCAR XXL shirt at home, but don't snuff your personal style because you're worried about someone thinking you have a personal style and aren't, "Berlin" enough. There's a lot of aliens in Berlin. Lots and lots. I'd be worried almost that taking language lessons there would be of no use, since English isn't so difficult to utilize.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:09 PM on June 8, 2010

It's hard to answer this without an idea of your own sense of style. Generally, Germans dress a lot like Americans, but with a slight hint of 'higher' standards. I don't see many Germans in flip-flops, for example. For most things, jeans are fine. Women are more likely to wear blouses than t-shirts, compared to Americans. Sandals - especially things like Birkenstocks - are more common too. But these are generalities. I don't know about the opera, but I would imagine a nice evening dress and complementary shoes would be fine.

It's Berlin - a large and cosmopolitan city. You'll see very formally-dressed people and gutter punks and everything in-between, so I wouldn't worry as much about this as you seem to be worrying.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:12 PM on June 8, 2010

Style is pretty much international now, you'll find regional variations, but I've always found that black and denim are the way to go. If your budget allows for it, leave some room for accessories, but pack what is hip here (check out east coast fashion blogs) and you'll be fine. Dark skinny jeans, high-waisted anything, especially skirts and shorts. Here's a berlin fashion blog.

Europeans tend to accessorize more than americans, so pack costume jewelry and scarves.

Whatever you do, wear whatever you do with confidence and you'll be fine. Enjoy!
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:15 PM on June 8, 2010

I was in Berlin last October and seemed to fit in pretty well. Obviously it was the fall so colder than summer, but I took dark wash jeans, one black jersey dress, one black and white dress, black tights, a couple of shirts, a couple cardigans, and black flats. Of course that's basically what I wear everyday so it wasn't really a stretch. From what I saw people wear all kinds of things. Berlin is a big city.

Chances are if you just dress how you usually do (especially since you'll be there for two months! I'm jealous) instead of trying to dress for vacation you'll do fine.
posted by grapesaresour at 9:18 PM on June 8, 2010

Wear black.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:21 PM on June 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

European women's effortless style = light with the make up, healthy natural hair, denim jeans with a feminine flirty tee or blouse. (IMO, anything else looks like you are trying to hard)
posted by sequin at 9:58 PM on June 8, 2010

Scarves make you look more sophisticated with minimal effort!
I get the feeling that in the US casual means casual, the kind of stuff I'd wear to a beach or on a hike, while in German cities the upper middle class makes an effort to mix and match fashionable things even during downtime.

But yeah, buy in Germany!
posted by Omnomnom at 10:29 PM on June 8, 2010

(Also, I suspect you will stick out, but not like a sore thumb. Own it. You'll be ok wearing what you normally wear.)
posted by Omnomnom at 10:33 PM on June 8, 2010

No shorts, no flip-flops, and no tnak tops unless it's scorching hot.

I also have to contradict Neiltupper and say don't wear black. When I've been in Northern Europe in summer it has been my experience that women wear light colours, particularly white and beige with citrussy brights. When you think how gloomy it is the rest of the year, you can see why this makes sense.

I also noticed that most women wear a lightweight jacket or casual cotton blazer of some sort when outdoors.
posted by girlgenius at 10:40 PM on June 8, 2010

errr, by tnak tops, I mean TANK tops. Sorry
posted by girlgenius at 10:41 PM on June 8, 2010

And thirdly (I WILL stop after that) bring one or two elegant dresses for opera and such. With pumps.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:43 PM on June 8, 2010

You would have to take drastic measures to really stick out in Berlin, clotheswise. It's a big city with lots of people from different cultural backgrounds and most Berliners don't give a damn about your attire (in a positive way). Have a look at Stil in Berlin, Street pepper or Google for street fashion Berlin to get an idea of what some consider stylish and fashionable and please keep in mind that the average person on the street dresses a lot less flashy than that.
posted by Glow Bucket at 10:46 PM on June 8, 2010

Berlin's big and diverse. Just don't pack khaki shorts.
posted by holgate at 11:21 PM on June 8, 2010

If you dress hipster-ish, you won't stick out at all. In general, I wouldn't worry at all, Berlin is known for having very relaxed dress codes and not caring about people "fitting in".

I'd say avoid wearing garish colors à la "Old Navy" (colors here are usually a bit more reserved/toned down). Germans don't usually wear white running shoes except for running, and generally wear less sportswear/outdoor wear than Americans. Seconding holgate: Germans don't wear bermuda/khaki shorts around town (although if you have nice legs, of course you can wear the hot pants that are so fashionable this year).

If you want to buy stuff, anything from H&M would be OK. H&M stuff won't survive American washing machines for very long though, so don't spend too much money on it ;-)

Opera/symphony: Even in Munich, which is a much more "posh" than Berlin, it would be perfectly ok to wear dress pants and ballerina flats to the opera. Of course you can wear an elegant dress if you want to, but it's definitely not necessary. Many people even wear jeans to the theater/symphony (maybe not to the opera, though).
posted by The Toad at 11:24 PM on June 8, 2010

Seconding grapesaresour - people wear all kinds of things. Berlin is a big city.

Put a Berliner into New York and a New Yorker into Berlin and neither sticks out, so things you'd comfortably wear in NYC are fine. And Berlin is Germany's most relaxed city for going to the opera: many people dress up, sure, but you can go in jeans and a blouse as well.

What screams tourist are fanny packs, baseball hats, basketball shorts, non-fancy (for lack of a better word, I mean straight cut, standard light blue) jeans, rugged sandals - maybe even worn with socks, running shoes and "I (heart) Berlin"-Shirts or similar.
posted by insouciant at 11:32 PM on June 8, 2010

What distinguishes American clothing from European (in general) clothing is the cut, and to a lesser extent the choice of colors and patterns. European clothing tends to be cut tighter or closer. Men's clothing employs colors or patterns that would be too over the top for (East Coast, anyway) American clothing.

At least, I'm pretty often able to notice foreigners by their clothing, even before I hear the accent.

I don't know that you could fake it; its the cut that really gives it away. The closest I could suggest is American clothing from the 1970s.
posted by orthogonality at 12:14 AM on June 9, 2010

white sneakers and white ankle socks are a dead giveaway from stockholm to singapore - find comfortable walking shoes but with some style (clarks, ecco etc) and either regular coloured socks or stocking feet etc
posted by infini at 12:38 AM on June 9, 2010

Europe is not a single country. It's rather large. There is great variation between the fashions of the countries of Europe. I don't think that you would seem to be too different over in Germany. You'd probably be okay even in a burka.
posted by jpcooper at 1:06 AM on June 9, 2010

Don't. Wear. White. Sneakers.*

Don't wear a fanny pack.

Don't wear the beige slacks / light blue blouse combo.

Don't press your jeans.

As you're over 25, don't wear a baseball cap.

In short, don't dress like the last place you shopped was Gap, or similar.

*If you ever want to picked out as an American tourist, this is the single best way to do it
posted by MuffinMan at 2:59 AM on June 9, 2010

Don't worry too much about this. As others have said, Berlin is very diverse and it is unlikely you will be picked out as an American just because of your clothing.

However, do ditch your athletic clothing and college sweatshirts. Your kaki shorts and white running shoes.

Wear "adult", fitted clothes that suit you and you'll be fine anywhere in Europe.
posted by vacapinta at 5:02 AM on June 9, 2010

White socks are, weirdly, a good way to pick out Americans in Europe. Even with trainers/sneakers, Europeans often wear dark/colored socks. (Which seriously makes my feet sweat just thinking about it.)

I was shocked when I studied abroad how many Europeans were wearing American college T-shirts and even caps and jackets; our office of international studies had warned us it would make us stick out if we wore our college shirts which, for many of us, required an entirely new shirt wardrobe, but WE WOULD HAVE LOOKED JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. (Frequent conversation with locals: "Do you even know where Maryland IS?" "No, but look at the angry turtle!") But that was more among uni students than full-grown adults.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:35 AM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I used to live in Berlin, and what others have said about diversity of style and not wearing white running shoes or flip flops is true. On a day-to-day basis, my outfits were overall less sporty than what I wore in the US, and better accessorized. If you like to shop, might as well just pack the basics and embellish once you're there. As for the opera, it sort of depends which one you're going to (there are three big ones). The Staatsoper is the fanciest, and it would be good to wear a nice skirt or slacks and blouse (this is the only place in town that ever compelled me to iron my clothes). The Deutsche Oper and Komische Oper are slightly more casual; I've seen women your age at these operas in nice (dark wash) jeans with fancy-ish shoes and blouses or more casual skirts and sandals. I went to the opera a lot, and the few people I saw decked out in evening gowns really stuck out the most. The opera houses there also have great student rush tickets, so at just about every show there will be a few scrubby 20-somethings in t-shirts.
posted by phisbe at 6:53 AM on June 9, 2010

Nthing that you'll feel like you're fitting in fine if you just avoid sneakers and flip-flops and anything that could be mistaken for gym clothes.
posted by desuetude at 9:12 AM on June 9, 2010

I agree with everyone who's saying to avoid shorts, flip flops and tank tops.

I was just in Munich a few weeks ago and I saw that for the most part, people were dressed with what I see as "normal" in my city (Monterrey, Mexico) but you could be sure that if there was a girl wearing short shorts, flip flops and a tank top, she'd be American. I seriously don't get that "style" in a lot of American high-school/college aged girls (and the boys with shorts, and a t-shirt with the name of a brand or a school).
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:42 AM on June 9, 2010

Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for your answers. It's probably a little silly of me to be so nervous. I think a big part of it is that I've been living in the Northwest for a while where pretty much anything goes, fashion-wise. But I just spent a week on the East Coast going to graduations and things, and I felt like an idiot the whole time because I'd forgotten that East Coast definitions of formal are often stricter, so I was chronically under-dressed. Anyway, don't want to do that again. Thanks again for all your help.
posted by colfax at 11:25 AM on June 9, 2010

I think a big part of it is that I've been living in the Northwest for a while where pretty much anything goes, fashion-wise. But I just spent a week on the East Coast going to graduations and things, and I felt like an idiot the whole time because I'd forgotten that East Coast definitions of formal are often stricter, so I was chronically under-dressed.

Oh, that's helpful context, actually. As far as giant sweeping generalizations go, West Coast --> East Coast is roughly East Coast --> Europe.

Don't be nervous, though. No-one is going to point and laugh or treat you badly, this advice is just for the benefit of you being able to look around and feel comfortable in your surroundings.
posted by desuetude at 11:55 AM on June 9, 2010


One can SMELL American tourists miles away in Europe :) It is possible to create a disguise though...


All generic American clothes (Old Navy, GAP etc.) will stand out. Their loose cuts, strong colors and feels are just different.


There are different options, as Berlin is really diverse in the local scale and people are different. Some locals might wanna wear American stuff to be different, although you hate it, while some people are into local 2nd hand stuff, which might be more interesting way for you to go...

Assuming you wanna have a neat mainstream looking outfit:

In any case,

- get rid of your SNEAKERS unless you are jogging. New Balance (and absolutely white color) are especially bad. Use local (non-running shoes looking) sneakers or sandals instead, and running shoes only when running. There are also available a good number of light summer shoes (I am not talking about the heels...) for ladies that make you a little bit more dressy.

- backpacks are bad too, as their are synonymous to American tourists. Shoulder bags (or some sort ladies "hand" bags) are better depending how much stuff you have with you.

- Use more broken colors, and make sure all the colors of your costume match one way or another. European ladies rarely use strong basic colors such as brown.

For distinctively European summer look,

- One European thing are light summer dresses (skirts). They make your looks a more mature of course. It might be a good option to make you an "adult", and separate you from the teens. Younger people are less likely to use them. I haven't seen any American woman wearing them. Still, be really careful to choose one that fits your style and body type, as this is all about style... Otherwise you might look like a grandma... Don't use sneakers or a backpack with that outfit unless you know what you are doing.

- For summer, light colors, and sandals. You will see what I mean...

For basic stuff,

- As mentioned go to H&M, and see what they have. If you choose a few local items in fashion that many people (but not too many teens) are wearing, it will give you a nice cover-up already. You don't necessarily need the whole garderobe :)


- there is a big change betw. 20's and 30's. You will notice that 30's people are out of universities and want/forced to separate themselves from the kids. Still, if you are hanging out at the university with younger people, a bit younger look might make you feel more comfortable.

- You can recognize the "slick" German style among other Europeans too... They do stand out. See e.g. this


It's for men, but you get the point...

posted by Doggiebreath at 12:00 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Wedding fashion-filter: Help a groom dress himself...   |   iPhone 4 T-Mobile Always Roaming = Happiness Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.