Dress Two Tourists for Germany, Switzerland and Austria in late April
February 12, 2017 10:33 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I (I'm female) will be touring around Germany, Switzerland, and Austria for a few weeks in late April (Mainz, Heidelberg, Lucerne, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Munich) and we have no idea what to pack, clothing-wise. Please dress these late-30s American tourists so we don't look like idiots.

Assume everything will be casual with lots of walking in the cities, and there will be a railway trip up Mt. Pilatus in Lucerne. Dining will be mostly casual but there could be a slightly nicer dinner or two. No clubs/"nightlife," but visits to bars or pubs are likely.

We like to pack relatively lightly, but we definitely don't want to find ourselves wearing something wildly inappropriate, either style-wise or weather-wise. We'd prefer not to stand out as tourists when we travel (for instance, we were in a nice area of a Mexican city and encountered obvious tourists dressed for the beach while we and most everyone else was in blouses/skirts or shirts/khakis).

We'll err on the side of overpacking rather than underpacking. Suggestions needed!
posted by erst to Travel & Transportation around Germany (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Bring good walking shoes with stiff soles. You are very likely to encounter cobblestone or other bumpy surfaces. Avoid white sneakers: these are seen as something for kids.
Dress slightly conservatively/nicely/smartly. Outdoorsy stuff is widely worn as well. Jeans are fine (except when eating at a nice restaurant). Jeans worn with a blazer are fine pretty much anywhere.
Bring layers and something to wear when it rains. But keep in mind that you can always stock up locally which is fun and gives you usable souvenirs to take home.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think clothing style varies that much between most US cities and Europe. I would definitely recommend bringing along some sweaters/a warm jacket, because I have experienced snow in April in the regions you are visiting, although it is rare. April is famous for unpredictable weather which ranges wildly. There is even a saying in German: April, April, der weiß nicht was er will. April, April, doesn't know what it wants.

The only thing that makes American tourists stand out to me is loud talking, white sneakers, khakis and polo shirts, but I am sure I do not even notice most tourists. I have also found that Americans often dress very 'sporty' for everyday activities, i.e. clothing you would usually only wear to a gym, they wear when they wander around town. There is of course no problem with dressing like this, nor is it inappropriate; just something I noticed.
posted by 3zra at 11:11 AM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Don't sweat it. Lay of the oversized college sweaters and baseball caps and you'll be fine. It can be still pretty chilly around that time here, although I'm told most Americans are not very sensitive regarding the cold and find it rather ridiculous how many layers middle Europeans wear from 60°F downwards.

Slighty off-topic journey tip: You could check-out "Frühlingsfest" in Munich which is like a mini-"Oktoberfest" in springtime (21. April - 7. May) if you like that kind of thing.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 11:13 AM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was coming to say don't wear white tennis shoes. Those are the universal sign for AMERICAN TOURIST/SUCKER.

I also ascribe to the school of thought that says lay out what you want to take and then cut it in half. If I were packing for this trip (female, mid-30's), I'd bring something like this:
--two pairs of pants, both in neutral colours
--two long sleeve shirts, also neutral
--four t-shirts
--hoodie/light jacket
--four pairs of socks, including one really thick pair
--pajama/lounge pants
--six pairs of underwear
--two bras
--two pairs of comfortable shoes, one slip on and one heavier duty

That's more or less what I took on trips where I was staying for MONTHS. It did require doing laundry after 10ish days, but you can do some of that in your hotel/hostel by hand.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:14 AM on February 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I were packing to not be an obvious USAian I'd be packing thin long sleeve t-shirts, turtlenecks, jeans, other sturdy pants and jackets. Something wind proof with a hood. All in earth tones. No white socks. Boots. No obvious camera.

There are consequences to blending in and being discovered.

If you are a surprise to the natives when you speak and they realize you fooled them they are going to sit down at your table and ask you all about Trump because they too are pretty sure reality is warping. Accept these intrusions, set them straight, be an ambassador.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:28 AM on February 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tip to not looking like a tourist: dress like you're going to work.

There are plenty of business casual outfits that are suitable to being out and about all day. You don't have to dress like you're going to a football game to be comfortable. Find walking shoes that look like shoes - often, these are just higher-end dress shoes, it's just going to take some trying-on.

The only thing you won't be able to do unless you already have extensive life experience is walk around in heels like it's nothing, which you will see businesswomen doing because they do it every day. You're safer going for "old lady" shoes like loafers or similar, but if you wear trousers that are properly hemmed so they break over your shoes, you can mostly get away with stealth sneakers like one of Skechers Go Walk (note, there are at least 3 current models all slightly different, I wear Go Walk 3s most of the time right now) or Go Step models.

Don't carry sports/school backpacks around all day, take a satchel or messenger bag that you and your partner can take turns carrying. Put a good umbrella in it.

And in North/Central/Mountainous Europe in April, assume it's going to be chilly-breezy but easy to get too warm in the sun (when it's sunny, which will likely be a mixed bag) in a lot of clothes and coats. Layers are your friend, and you don't necessarily need a huge bulky coat but a rainproof/wool overcoat or car coat with a zip-out liner might be a good investment.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:28 AM on February 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Definitely layers for Austria. Salzburg is known for its annoying fine rain ("Schnürlregen" = "string rain").
You're visiting touristy places. Nobody's going to care if you look like American tourists.
I'd bring sweaters and an outdoorsy jacket that can stand getting rained on, and wear thin shirts underneath in case you get some gloriously sunny days ("Kaiserwetter" = "Emperor's weather").

Jeans and comfortable slacks are fine. Women don't tend to wear sneakers as often. You'll blend in more easily with other comfy shoes, but again, nobody's going to be that bothered.
Blazers, neck scarfs and ballerina shoes only for going fancier places to eat or concerts.
Avoid fanny packs.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:30 AM on February 12, 2017

As an American who lived in Germany for a couple of years, I would say: it's probably going to be cold and rainy a lot, so I would bring a raincoat, an umbrella, and shoes you don't mind getting wet. I would also probably throw a warm hat in there, because it doesn't weigh a lot and if you hit a cold spell in April, you'll be glad to have it.

If your raincoats and shoes are a dark or neutral color--like grey, black, dark blue, or tan--then you won't stick out much. If your raincoats are fire-engine red or other bright American colors (like spring green, pink, orange, sky blue), you probably will stick out a little bit. If you have sweaters rather than fleece pullovers, bring the sweaters. Cardigans are a good. If you have dark-wash jeans that have a straight or skinny leg, bring those. If you don't have those, but you do have work pants (slacks, dark-colored khakis, etc) that will survive okay being packed in a suitcase, bring those. Bring plain long-sleeve shirts that don't have big designs on them or stuff written across the front.

Basically: if you stay away from super bright colors and blindingly white shoes and socks, you won't stick out too much. If you bring a backpack to carry stuff around, try and bring one that is a neutral color, not humungous, and is generally sort of low-profile. And if you realize you really need something you don't have, go find an H&M, because they are ridiculously cheap and they usually have a grown-up work clothes section as well as more hipstery section, so you've usually got lots of options.
posted by colfax at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Seriously, you'd think all Germans dressed in somber colours all day in and out. You can wear colours, really. Maybe not neons, but colours are fine! Germans dress casually (opposed to Japanese, for example), but I don't see a lot of people in sweats out and about. Jeans are fine. Skirts are fine, although I have always found to be the only woman in skirts in a lot of settings. Maybe that's just Berlin and my age group.

I agree that it may be cold, or it may be springy. Bring layers, being sunscreen, and leave your high heels at home, especially if the heels are thin. Cobble stone will break your ankles.

My sister always wears a backpack and she's fine. My brother does as well, but he's a student. Backpacks will not scream tourist if there's a university in town. Plus, we don't hate Americans. Germans love to speak English, so unless you behave like an obnoxious Trumpian, you should be fine.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:54 PM on February 12, 2017

Germans dress a lot like Americans, so being yourselves is probably fine. Swiss and Austrians are a bit more formal, but on the other hand, as all over the world, the provinces are more relaxed than the cities, so I don't think you need to worry there. You can wear jeans everywhere, though in a fancy restaurant a man may need a white shirt and tie, and a woman a fancy blouse and maybe jewelry. I can't imagine anywhere in Europe it would be OK to wear a tracksuit or similar leisurewear in public. But I do it all the time - the thing is, you need to think about why you don't want to look like a tourist. One good reason is for safety, pickpockets target tourists, and in many European eyes, Americans dress like bums but carry riches (I know, hear me out). If I go to the drugstore in Milan or Barcelona in my leisurewear because I have a cold and need medications, as has happened, I don't carry any money beyond what I need, or a phone, or anything else of value. I do trust I can leave those valuables at the hotel.
If you want to be treated with respect and friendliness at restaurants or bars or anywhere, yes, beachwear is inappropriate, but in general not crumpled clothes and politeness are fine most places.
Fun fact: in Southern Germany and Austria, a lot of people wear traditional clothes. These are really expensive and very often tailored, but they look homey.

Munich street style, just for fun
posted by mumimor at 1:22 PM on February 12, 2017

Ankle boots, either lace-up or a Chelsea boot, look classic and there are many waterproof/comfort variations perfect for walking in. LL Bean of all places has a real waterproof leather Chelsea boot I get asked about all the time.

A cardigan sweater in a nice fabric will stretch your wardrobe. A raincoat, leather jacket, or army style jacket will work as a light layer-- for you and the mister. Get a cool scarf there and wear it with your layer. Wear fitted jeans.

Huge bright blue jeans, clothes that don't fit in general, khakis, hooded sweatshirts without a zipper and with words/logos, big shorts, white sneakers, polo shirts, and other such "suburban dad" wear will stick out touristy. Overly dressed up will stick out because we dress up differently than Germans do.

Have fun!
posted by kapers at 1:52 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

About colors: I refer you to the German H&M page for women's shirts. Not because H&M is high fashion, but because it can give you a sense of what the average, urban, young adult might be wearing, and what the popular color palette looks like right now. Since you're in your late thirties, even if you were European your style would probably be a bit different than that anyway, but sometimes it's helpful to have a concrete reference point.

If you want to poke around in that site a bit more, here's a quick German lesson:

Hemden - shirts
Hosen - pants
Jacken & Mäntel - jackets and coats
Kleider & Röcke - dresses and skirts
Herren - men's
posted by colfax at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2017

You mentioned Pilatus -- note that the cogwheel railway up the mountain doesn't run in April. You can take the gondola/cableway up from the other side, though, unless the weather is really bad. Also, it can be pretty chilly and windy up there, so dress well.
posted by effbot at 2:19 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

One issue I have with jeans and traveling is that you basically can't hand wash them, because they won't hang dry. You're forced into a laundromat, which is time I personally don't want to spend on vacation, especially when I'm moving from city to city. My solution for this are the Prana Brion pants, which look fairly normal, but are water resistant and quick dry, so you can hand-wash them. Kuhl, Ex Officio, REI and several other manufacturers make similar pants. The biggest issue with these type of pants is that they're often cut very large. The Brions are cut really slim as far as quick-dry pants go. They also make women's pants with similar material.

Hope that helps!
posted by cnc at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2017

These are all great tips, thank you! Our style is probably on the younger side, and mostly plain blacks/greys/neutrals -- basically, if you look at AllSaints stuff with no logos/prints/graphics, that's us. Sound like we'll be fine. We sometimes stand out as total weirdos when we visit my family in rural-ish areas of the Midwestern US, but we're definitely on the normal-to-boring side of fashion in urban Los Angeles where we live.

Good to know that jeans (dark wash, fitted) are ok. We won't have backpacks (or fanny packs, I mentally gasped in horror at the thought -- do people still wear those?!?). White sneakers, bright colors, and gym-worthy clothes are right out. Thanks for the suggestions on boots and shoes!

We've been doing the German course on Duolingo, and we promise to be good ambassadors for liberal America. :)
posted by erst at 7:26 PM on February 12, 2017

April, April, der weiß nicht was er will. April, April, doesn't know what it wants.

This was definitely my experience in April 2012 in Munich...it was actually unusually warm. (Salzburg was cold and rainy, Zurich was pleasant, and Paris was capricious.) So I'd advise being able to take layers off when necessary, as well.

Scarves are useful here...lots of women were wearing them on days when it felt a little chilly but not enough to warrant a jacket. (Men too, actually...though for an American man like Dr. Tully Monster it would have seemed a bit of an affectation).
posted by tully_monster at 12:53 AM on February 13, 2017

Looks like you've gotten plenty of good answers—I'm currently living in the Netherlands, which seems to dress very similarly to Germany except maybe a touch more fond of neutral colors. If you dress like you are working in a casual office setting in an American city you should be absolutely fine, and the only "American" things you don't see are, yeah, oversized sweat/t-shirts and sweatpants. There are enough ironic white sneakers here at least that even those would fly if you could pull them off.

One thing to add: while you probably could find more clothes here if you need them, I generally find it a little tough to find affordable clothes that fit well. The nicer chains are generally pricier than they would be in the US, and the hipster-type second-hand stores don't have the same selection (my experience).

If you have a nice, warm, wool cable-knit sweater, that would be a godsend in most April weather—I've been living in mine the past few weeks during an (abnormally?) cold Dutch winter.

Have fun!
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 3:16 AM on February 13, 2017

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