Having the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or even a whole year is one of the most exciting aspects of the college experience. But, before you can start living out your fantasy of riding on the back of Paolo’s Vespa in Rome or sipping on café crèmes in the Marais, you’ll unfortunately have to pack. There are so many factors to consider, as every item you select from your closet will not only reflect your personal style, but also affect how foreigners perceive your homeland’s sense of style. (Che stress!) Obviously a semester in Uganda merits a different sort of wardrobe than one in Russia, so I am providing a regional breakdown of fashion do’s and don’t’s to help you prepare for the experience of a lifetime. Because I studied abroad last summer in Italy and will spend this upcoming semester in Paris, I’ll kick off this series with a guide to packing for an overseas experience in Western Europe.
American styles tend to favor bright, loud colors, but for your semester in France/Belgium/Germany/Wherever, try to stick to more muted shades and basic solids, which are the prevailing look in the Old Continent. Simple neutrals are incredibly versatile, so you can mix and match them with other pieces to create multiple outfits for both daytime and nighttime. You can never go wrong with black (except maybe at Sensation White).
Layering is the key to adapting to a new climate. Bring a few cardigans and fitted blazers, which you can add to daytime ensembles for chillier evenings (side note: young Europeans tend to wear their daytime attire for nighttime festivities as well). Scarves are also crucial. It really doesn’t get more European than a scarf, which can turn a basic dark skinny jeans and neutral shirt combo into a completely new outfit. Pack scarves in a variety of patterns and solids, as well as different materials like chiffon and knits for both warm and cool weather.
Skip the Hunters and Uggs (actually, it’s probably about time you consider purging those form your wardrobe anyway). Leather riding boots are far more classy and chic, and they can be worn with almost anything. Booties and ankle boots are also very trendy.
Scour the pages of the Sartorialist and Lookbook to get an idea of what people are wearing in your study abroad destination of choice. Check out the online stores for more affordable European brands like H&M, Brandy Melville, Promod, ASOS, Mango, Topshop, and Zara. It will be impossible to fully prepare for the inevitable strange and unexpected issues that arise while overseas, but it never hurts to learn more about what you’re getting yourself into.
Pack Daisy Dukes
Wearing denim cutoff shorts at a foreign university is a surefire way to make yourself stand out as an American. The classic Daisy Duke look just isn’t as commonplace in Western Europe, where young people generally tend to show much less skin than students in the United States. Beyond the cutoffs, however, there are plenty of classy ways to wear shorts. Try a a high waisted style or layer them over tights for a more polished look.
Bring Flip Flops
As easy and comfortable as they may be, flip flops are a big no-no in Europe. Opt instead for gladiator sandals, ballet flats, oxford shoes, or even the trendy and androgynous smoking slipper. Another classic staple in a Western European footwear wardrobe is the canvas sneaker, a classic tennis shoe produced by a variety of brands including the France’s Bensimon, Italy’s Superga, and of course, the U.S.’s Keds.
Wear High Heels at Night
Because the Old Continent is literally quite old, there are a lot of cobblestone streets throughout Western Europe. This can cause problems regarding your footwear choice, especially late at night after a little vino. For the sake of your own physical well being, it’s best to skip the heels and opt for more comfortable shoes at night. Cute but durable options include the above-mentioned flats, and if you insist on adding a little bit of height when you’re out on the town, go for wedges, chunky heels, or flat forms.
Sport Athletic Gear
Europeans tend to get more dressed up for class than Americans. This means that unless you’re hitting the gym, steer clear of t-shirts, sneakers, and sweatpants. Even your nicest Lululemon yoga pants may elicit unwanted attention and judgment from fellow students.
If you haven’t worn it in the last six months, don’t bring it. Make sure to leave lots of room for all of your awesome new purchases. There will be more than you can even imagine.