April 27, 2008

How to Dress in a Foreign City

When traveling abroad, it is important to look put-together, conduct yourself with confidence and most importantly, treat a new country with the utmost respect for its culture and people. Wearing the wrong outfit may not get you publicly flogged, per se, but it can get you rejected from touristy places (Vatican City, upscale restaurants, the Dior shop), and in some parts of the world, it can get you in downright trouble (Jerusalem, India and Japan come to mind).

As someone who hasn't traveled outside North America, Europe and the Caribbean, I won't pretend to be an authority on customary women's dress all over the world. However, from my visits to Europe previously, and from my mother's very proper admonishments ("Don't make the Italian men think you're a hussy. They're too flirty as it is."), I can say a few things about what to pack for a trip across the pond.

There are three basic rules for travel wear in Europe, when you want to look chic, feel comfortable and have lots of options.
1) Opt for plenty of neutrals and solids. Too many patterned pieces and bright colors cut down on your combination options.
2) Variety is king, and layers are queen.
3) Accessories make the outfit.

Below is a sample collection of what I might bring to Europe with me, and how I would assemble different outfits.

1) Museum-wandering
Wide-leg jeans + yellow tank + gray argyle cardigan

2) Shopping
Green dress + tan purse

3) Pub-going
Yellow skirt + navy top

4) Parks and ruins
Khaki capris + blue oxford

5) Dinner at cafe
Green dress + gray argyle cardigan

Important patterns to note:
- lots of solids
- enough neutrals
- layers available that match
- classy accessories
- covered shoulders
- nothing too short
- varieties of dressiness

Lastly, you'll notice that you can combine almost any two of these pieces and have a stylish, flattering outfit perfect for spring/summer temperatures and a variety of locales. You can of course add pieces and get even more combinations. Stay with the rules up top and you'll be fine.

A few clothing faux-pas to avoid:
- lots of cleavage, especially during the day. Tacky, rude and sends the wrong message.
- super-high hemlines. Same, and makes you look vulnerable.
- sweatpants, ripped jeans, hoodies and Uggs, or anything else that makes you look sloppy, which translates into disrespectful.
- uncomfortable shoes. Nothing is less chic than painfully hobbling in heels that are killing your feet.

Be comfortable, be respectful, and be chic. Happy travels!


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