One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is “What should I wear?” I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below). Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety. Most pickpockets target tourists. Looking like you belong goes a long way. Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.
1. Dress for the Country/Culture. Each country has its own style. Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy). With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters. Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).
- Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries) = First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting. Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it). Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin). Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily. Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country. Women from western countries are viewed as being “loose”, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population. By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of you (and your valuables). In Morocco, most women (and quite a few men) wear djellabas (a hooded robe). These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season). I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce the amount of stares you get. I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
- France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around. This means they take their fashion seriously. While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
- You can never go wrong with basic black. It’s easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
- The French love black, navy and brown. I suggest using those as your base colors. You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf. Don’t have one? Buy one when you get there…it’s a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
- The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more. Most of all, it is attitude.
- Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored. I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape. I picked this tip up while visiting Paris. Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
- Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts. I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn’t see that because I don’t think that’s a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
- England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes. I can’t say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the “don’ts” listed below). A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*). Don’t emulate that. Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.
2. Dress for the Season. Be sure to check the weather before you go. Weather Underground is a good resource. I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad. A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall. Going in the winter? Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo. I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan…only to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one. First and foremost, you want to be warm. Don’t take an unlined peacoat when visiting Finland in the dead of winter. Your health trumps fashion. Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather 🙂 ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded. This jacket is so cozy & warm! I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it. The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty. This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!
3. DO NOT WEAR…
- Baseball caps! If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don’t bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
- Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc. Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don’t want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice…not like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don’t think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
- Fanny-packs! Seriously…just no. It’s not cute. Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire. I don’t even know how this item became popular. Never carry your money and valuables in a waist contraption that is easily seen. You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you. Use a money belt instead. It’s similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist of your pants instead so it will not be seen. This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
- Expensive jewelry/bags! A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton. Leave your valuables at home.
- White sneakers??? I have actually seen quite a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris. My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones. I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe. Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.
4. Must Haves.
- Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship. You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed. I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love. So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship. I even wear it around at home.
- Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome. Highly recommend! The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place. It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
- Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet. A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
- Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces. Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.
5. Handy resources. Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items: While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).
While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer. Hope it helps! Safe travels. Do you have any travel fashion tips? If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!
Also check out my posts on Nikki’s Favorite Things: Fashion Accessories and Essentials for Stress-Free Travel.
17 thoughts on “What to Wear When Travelling Abroad”
Terrific suggestions…and on that white sneaker issue. It’s a serious one. We happen to be Canadians and we avoid white sneakers when we travel like the plague, but we can tell an American tourist a mile away! It’s like wearing a badge that says “I’m a tourist.” It is, however, sometimes nice to be able to identify other North Americans! Personally, I’d like to ban the wearing of white athletic shoes for anything other than sports in all countries — Canada included (make no mistake, Canadian fall prey to this faux pas from time to time as well). And the fanny packs! You are so right. Tourists of all stripes (and non-tourists, too) should just step away from these aesthetic blights.
Exactly! Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to get a POV from a Canadian. Glad to know you agree with the “no white sneakers or fanny packs allowed” theme 🙂
Great tips! Some of these I didn’t even think about but will certainly adhere to for future travels. Thanks!
Great advice. Thanks for letting us live vicariously through your fabulous trips. You do so much, a force of nature!
Thank you so much for your kind comment!
I’ve travelled a reasonable amount and have my list of ‘take’ and ‘not take’ but I’d not heard of pacsafe – the type of carryall is always a problem – I seem to take something different each time – I think I’ll check this out – thanks for the link.
Ahh, I see the pacsafe is from Magellans – I had just dug out the catalogue and was about to browse …
I will confess…I’m a Magellan’s junkie 🙂
Hi Lynne! Thanks for your comment. I’ve been using the PacSafe purse for a year now and LOVE IT! It is big enough to carry everything I usually need (water, guidebook, cash, camera, etc) and gives me the security I need to fend of pickpockets. Happy holidays!!!
I loved this post! As for the sneakers in Paris and other european capitals: big, white running shoes are to be banned but people do wear sneakers as part of their everyday attire (I personally think they are a no-no after the age of 25, but that is just me). Many famous designers do their own replica but white, red or navy Converse are always a safe bet on this side of the Atlantic 🙂
Hi Leonor! Thanks for your comment! I’ve noticed an increase in sneakers being worn lately in bigger European cities. Love hearing your take on it 🙂 I love my running shoes but it’s hard to be stylish in them. LOL
Brilliant tips!! Every american tourist must read this prior to their overseas journy! The ball caps especially and to be honest I’m even feeling a bit touristy wearing jeans most my days. My wardrobe is definitely going to have to be tweaked for Paris in April!! Great article!!
Thank you, Rucksack Foodie! So jealous you are going to beautiful Paris!! April is the perfect time to visit (well, there really isn’t a wrong time). I’ve found that darker washed jeans are okay in France but you need to dress them up. No looking like a vagrant on the street because they will give you the side-eye. Ha!! I always pick up some great fashion tips in Paris!!! Happy travels!
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Talk about self indulgence.
Im flying to Canada via the US.
Im going to wear a Football T…Go Seahawks, shorts and leather thongs (sandles).
To top if off an LA baseball cap.
Im visiting family and don’t consider myself a tourist,but if you are a tourist celebrate the fact you are a tourist.
Relax and enjoy yourself.
Don’t worry what snooty people are thinking.
If I was going to rob someone it would be the well dressed dude not the pauper looking guy.