Dressing for your European travels

Just back from a two-week trip that spanned four European countries, we noticed several things about how people dress, and how a visitor from the U.S. should consider dressing when traveling abroad.
When traveling to another country, the way you dress will either help you blend in or mark you as an obvious tourist. You don’t want that.

As in North America, the way people dress in Europe has become more casual. People wear jeans pre-distressed with holes (a fad I will NEVER understand), more athletic shoes and fewer dress shoes, and almost no dresses or coats and ties. But casual doesn't mean sloppy or ostentatious.

If you’re the American traveling abroad who insists on wearing his sports team jersey and his baseball cap backwards, or who just must wear her yoga pants and flip flops when shopping or taking a tour, everyone will know you’re not a local.

That does more than make you stand out. Being an obvious tourist can also make you a mark for everything from overpriced, tourist-trap shops and restaurants to hustlers, con men and thieves.

I prefer to adhere to the old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” That way, although I may or may not blend in perfectly, I won’t make myself a target. Or at least not as high-profile a target.

"Newsboy"-style cap, popular in Europe

My traveling wardrobe is pretty conservative: khaki pants in a couple of different colors along with button-down dress shirts that will go with any of the slacks I’ve packed, a nice jacket, perhaps a sweater, and a cap in a European style. My favorite is one I picked up in Copenhagen a few years ago and resembles a Kangol cap, also called a "newsboy" cap.

Dark-washed jeans, for both men and women, are also popular in the big cities we recently visited. And short pants are rarely seen on men in Europe. 

While athletic shoes are much more commonly seen than 20 years ago, the styles are still more conservative than in the U.S. You won’t see day glow green very much, except on young people in general and their subcultures. Mostly black, white or neutral colors.

Conservative colors and styles

Women’s footwear is distinctly practical given the uneven (and often cobblestone) streets of many Old Towns. Heels are almost exclusively club wear. We did notice that, in addition to the popular leggings, many women of all ages are still (or once again) wearing sheer hosiery with skorts, skirts or dresses .

Fanny packs are not only uncool, they’re an easy mark for pickpockets, which are much more prevalent in Europe than the U.S. 

In addition to choosing your attire to blend in, adjust your behavior as well. Speaking loudly and effusively in a city where people tend to be quieter will attract attention, and not in a good way. On our last night in Budapest, two couples at the restaurant we'd chosen were obviously Americans, speaking too loudly about things no one really wants to hear. Did I REALLY need to know that one man had "a prostate the size of a grapefruit and a liver the size of a salmon"? I submit I did not.

Observe what the locals do. 

For example, in New York City it’s perfectly acceptable to cross a street at any time the traffic allows. It doesn’t much matter what color the traffic signal is. However, in Poland, people simply do NOT cross against the light. In Krakow in 2022, I stood at the edge of a broad boulevard with two lanes of traffic in each direction, left-turn bays, and two tram lines going right down the center median. Even though there wasn’t a car to be seen from horizon to horizon, everyone waited for the walk signal.

Intersection in Krakow, Poland

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Bon voyage!

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photo to view larger image