Today’s topic is all about American fashion style. For all my ladies living in the States or traveling or living in Europe, this one’s for you.
The summer vacation season is coming up with many of us planning to travel. If Europe happens to be your destination, you might find this post helpful. I, for one, cannot look at one more video on how Americans should dress in Europe. Every single one out there is about suggestions to dress up. Even I made a video with the same concept last summer. Is that really the solution? Or are we missing something?
In my recent travels to Europe, I didn’t see tourists dressed in leggings, sweatpants, or joggers. Is it an outdated myth that we like to tarnish American athleisure with every opportunity that we get? Especially in comparison with European fashion? Has anyone bothered to understand why Americans dress how they dress? Let’s take a look.
To give you a bit of background here. I was born and raised in Europe. Then I moved to the US over 15 years ago. The culture shock is real on so many levels. From living in Europe to now here in the States, and then back there again when visiting.
After all the information I have after researching travel fashion guidelines for my own content, within the last couple of months, I researched again and read about the latest European trends. I also read what experienced travelers and bloggers have to say on this topic, and actually went to Europe in person and saw with my own eyes. And here’s what I have to say: purchasing an entire wardrobe when traveling to look stylish or fit in is not the right thing to do. That’s not what I did. But I will get to that in a little bit.
So let’s talk about the American fashion style. For those who don’t know, it’s not a dress-down approach, but rather a casual style. While researching for my last trip to Italy on “how do Europeans dress”, it crossed my mind to research, “how do Americans dress”. Why did I not think of this before? And the answer was right there, shockingly obvious in my face.
Let’s understand the origin once and for all. “Americans dress casual. Why? Because clothes are freedom—freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to blur the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor. The rise of casual style directly undermined millennia-old rules that dictated noticeable luxury for the rich and functioning work clothes for the poor.” This is Deirdre Clemente, the author of Dressing Casual: How College Kids Redefined American Style writing for Zocalo and Time.
Think about what this means for a second. If there is a movement where, culturally, we get the majority of the population to dress in a way that erases economic lines. Age stereotyping and where we can’t be as easily judged and labeled as rich or poor. The choice to wear gender neutral clothes after thousands of years of labeling is based on financial potential. Why are we calling this freedom lazy and somehow making it less valuable than the traditional European designs?
When I saw this association between American and casualness, it was a major wakeup call. If Europeans travel to the States, I hope you research and adapt as well. Because I can’t stop reading and seeing videos about how to dress like a tourist in Europe. And, funny enough, most exaggerated examples are showing flip flops and Daisy Duke shorts. Really? Is this how we describe an entire culture’s fashion style?
I think we need to appreciate the freedom of choice that American fashion contributes to the industry as a whole. Yes, I still like to wear dresses and heels and makeup, but I also like the choice that I can wear jeans on a casual Friday, if I want to. That we can all wear whatever we want without being judged or frowned upon. And, I think most of us appreciate this freedom and options.
So my goal for today is to provide a different perspective. To stop looking at the American style as a downgrade from elegance (myself included) and instead appreciate and accept it as a stand-alone style. If dressing down is a faux pas, then why not dressing up? It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it?
Believe me, I’ve been in plenty of these scenarios when I was the one with my nose up, thinking “oh but everyone else doesn’t have taste or know how to dress. I surely can’t be the problem.” Even though I was a foreigner.
Casualness is not a disease, it’s a lifestyle choice, and quite a popular one here in the States. T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, and the wrinkle-free shirts make it the middle-class American uniform. This is in part why so many wear it. The majority of us consider ourselves middle class.
And, if worldwide, we see more casualness, perhaps just like any other choice, people are inclined to adopt what they feel comfortable with and in. We can’t control what other people like to wear, we can only control our own style.
We see examples everywhere. On social media, magazines, music videos, Netflix shows, we find similarities or strive for a look and we learn to emulate them. And, over time, perhaps we will change our minds and adopt a different look that fits a more current lifestyle as we evolve. But there is not one ideal style and everything else is inferior. Perhaps spending $100 at Lululemon is the upstyle version of a teen casual look for a reason.
The casual look takes many forms, from the jersey to the Levis, which are popular in Europe as well. But remember that it was made in America, since the 1860’s. Here is where jeans were invented. And, let me tell you, Americans know how to make jeans.
Women didn’t start wearing pants till the 1930’s and became mainstream in the ’50s, still debated in the ’60s. That’s less than 60 years ago. And, then cardigans, jeans, and T-shirts were adopted, and men started wearing long hair. The casual style is quintessential to American culture, to live or dream of living carefree, fast, and loose.
Now let’s talk about the American tourist label. And, if you are a casually dressed American, traveling abroad and see English women or French or Spanish dressed up, don’t feel bad. It’s part of their culture that they’ve seen all their lives. Just like you’ve seen jeans, hoodies, cowboy boots, and T-shirts all yours.
I remember when I first saw the cowboy styles, love them or hate them, they are such an American staple which, like so many international women coming here, I couldn’t wait to experience. Along with the amusement parks, my childhood characters on a T-shirt, and quality jeans that will last for lots of seasons. It’s all part of the American experience.
When we travel we dress for comfort. All of a sudden, why is there a need to purchase a whole new wardrobe so you can blend in with the locals? They can tell you are a tourist from a mile away. Or from upclose when you speak with an accent or in a foreign language. I don’t think we should hide that we are tourists. Be inquisitive and curious about the culture and I found that most people that service tourists are delighted to share and help. Helping others makes us feel better. I like to play the tourist card. Why would I hide it? I feel that it is much more advantageous to look like you know less and let others lead the way. It’s an excellent way to avoid pitfalls in foreign countries. If you don’t want to be used, always ask. The saying goes, you open your mouth or your pocket.
Back to attire, the most common advice to wear leather sneakers and loafers to look like one of them? No. Maybe for a casual day where I walk 5000 steps between work and home. In Rome where I did 24k steps in one day, it’s New Balance all the way. Don’t compromise on comfort. And I don’t care how comfortable your white leather sneakers are, you don’t see athletes running a marathon in them, do you? Because that’s what it takes to walk around in a European city from morning to night. If you go for a casual stroll for Instagram selfies and back to the hotel, then you can probably wear whatever you want. But when we talk about exploration of a new city, you don’t want to cut it short because you didn’t bring enough bandages.
If you take breaks and return to the hotel during the day or change, sure you can. Decide what your tolerance level is. But ladies let me tell you a little secret. Men always, always dress for comfort and you don’t see them walking around all day in leather shoes. Let’s take a cue from them.
I’m talking to my husband when packing. I have 6 pairs laid out and asking him how to fit them in the luggage: “this pair I can walk five hours in, this one, three hours, and this one for eight.” And he’s looking at me like: “Why are you bringing any shoes that hurt you?” And my response: “All shoes hurt me after a while. I’m not used to walking all day till my feet fall off, then back to the hotel and start all over the next day. Think I care about looking stylish when inside I’m crying in pain?” No.
When I already know the expiration of each pair that I own, I think I wouldn’t risk bringing a pair I never tested out before, spending more and being uncomfortable and unnatural in new shoes? I know this is against all the advice you see out there, and I probably made a similar video as well a year ago, the narrow-minded version of me.
Europeans are not on a pedestal. There is no one culture better than the other. Sure, we take inspiration from the French and Italian, but each style and adoption of it is unique and valuable. Always be yourself, look like yourself, wear what makes you happy, what brings you joy. Borrow and adapt looks from different cultures, from examples that you like regardless of proximity.
I highly disapprove of buying new clothes for a trip, especially shoes. You should wear what you already have.
And, on the tourist note, don’t you think tourists should also be respected more? As an American traveling to Europe or anyone traveling there, choosing to spend your vacation in a foreign country where you could have spent your money anywhere else in the world, should be appreciated.
Do I look like a tourist? Yes I do and that alone translates into someone that has come to visit your country, your history, to spend on your economy. Don’t make fun of my fashion choice simply because you are not accustomed to it or don’t wear it. As adults, I find that we repeat the habits that we’ve seen growing up, from food to manners to clothing.
Fashion acceptance to me looks very different now. Perhaps if we start thinking about people’s style choices as a true representation of what they like without attaching a # scale to it, our interactions will be more meaningful.
For example, I see the university sweatshirt being worn at my workplace on a Tuesday, or a football jersey, and to be honest, if I looked at it as tasteless before, now I see it’s a choice. Especially because I know this person had vast exposure to European countries. It’s also an element of pride, to represent yourself and your home in foreign lands. Don’t let that go. Adapt if you want to blend in or share your own styles abroad, either way is meaningful.
How do I recommend dressing abroad? Mix both. I like to do research. It’s as simple as a Google search on how to dress in Spain in August or whatever month you are going in. And you will have general guidelines for what people wear, mindful of the forecast.
There are plenty of blogs from people who actually visited these lands, with recommendations to give. Within this range, let’s say shorts, skirts, sandals, short sleeves. You look in your own closet and pick them out.
Once you lay everything you chose on the bed, you can think about mixing and matching, how many days you are staying, etc. If you have special plans for a dinner or a show, make sure you check on their website for dress code. Especially in Europe, they tend to mention it for good reason. So pack an evening dress and shoes perhaps, or a blazer for men.
In the Vatican, for example, skirts and dresses must be lower than the knee. It was mentioned on their site. And guess what, I saw two women wearing skirts above the knee. Do you think guards stopped them from entering? No, and I am sure they didn’t lose sleep over it either. For such situations I would pack one or two items intentionally. But, still from your own wardrobe.
Don’t buy something new to experiment on a trip. If you really want to, try it out before you go. Many times we can’t feel discomfort until one hour of sitting. Shoes? Forget it, never ever buy new shoes for a trip unless it’s a last resort. If you get all excited and want something new, why not save it to shop at your destination, where everything is different than you are accustomed to and it makes a great souvenir or, even better, an opportunity to buy a staple piece.
Another tip is to look up what that country is known for manufacturing. Italians have leather, so I knew I would be buying my work backpack and leather gloves. You can also look up the best fashion brands made in that country to shop authentic pieces at lower prices when you get there. Also, be open to smaller shops that are away from the main tourist attractions, for the real hidden gems. And specialty stores that sell hats, gloves, or shoes, are always a good choice if you are looking for specific pieces that you are missing.
The key takeaway from this post is to dress American all the way if this is the style you enjoy. Wear your pieces with pride and don’t feel bad for not dressing like everyone else. Remember how much the American style has contributed to the acceptance of casual attire worldwide. And no, the grass is not greener on the other side, it might be of different shape or height, but at the end of the day it’s still grass.
If you are interested in learning how to dress like a woman with old money, check out my post about old money aesthetics.