What Do I Wear There? Study Abroad in France, Germany, Italy & Spain

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Woman with suitcase

For this week’s site specific Study Abroad post, I’ll be focusing on four western European countries: France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Before I share all of the awesome information some of the wonderful CF readers as well as some of my own friends have given me from their experiences, I want to make three quick notes:

  • All of the information here is taken from advice I have received–it is not a binding set of rules for how to dress in these locations! These are simply some helpful suggestions on what articles of clothing have proved most functional and worth valuable packing space for those who have traveled abroad.
  • Because of the nature of these posts–which are trying to cater to such a large crowd of people going to all different places within each of these countries–I am forced to generalize. However, I do understand that fashion is different not just in the different countries but also in the different regions of each country. Therefore, please feel free to correct me or add more detail in the comments if you think your specific location within these countries follows different fashion “rules” or subscribes to a different way of dressing!
  • I know I said last week that each country would have its own section, but I found that much of the advice I received was similar for all of these countries! While I am not saying there are not differences in style between these countries, I think a big part of this is that they generally have similar climates. Therefore, I grouped them together in the categories, but pointed out what country the source who gave me each tip was from. I also tried to include tips that were country-specific in as many of the sections as possible!

Now, on to the advice!

Dress Your Best


France is known for being pretty much THE fashion capital of the world, so you’ll want to bring out your best pieces to look stylish in this country! Italy is perhaps France’s biggest rival for world fashion capital, while Spain and Germany are also known for having very stylish women walking the streets.

Of course, the amount you’ll want to dress up for your day-to-day life will depend on whether or not you’re staying in a city or country environment. However, the general consensus from our CF sources was to definitely bring nicer clothes with you. Pretty much every person I heard from commented that study abroad-ers from the US should avoid wearing sweat pants out, as this is a huge “American tourist” stereotype.

Since packing space is limited, definitely bring along lots and lots of jewelry and accessories to jazz up daily looks. Girls from all of these countries suggested going for fun costume jewelry, which is a great way to add style to some of your more simple outfits.

Sleek Shoes

While comfort is still key, flats and boots (including the trendy over-the-knee style) seem to be the shoes of choice for fashionable French, Italian, German, and Spanish women.

As in the UK, generally avoid bringing many pairs of heels and make sure the ones that you do are comfortable with low, thicker heels that will be less cumbersome of the streets. Once again, I had mixed reviews on sneakers (Converse shoes were suggested as the “only acceptable” sneakers), UGGs, and rain boots so bring these at your own risk!

Cold Weather Clothes

German castle

Skinny, dark jeans (not destroyed!) tucked into durable, flat leather boots were the daily uniform of many students who studied abroad in the winter in these European countries. This base look would be accessorized with layered tops (such as simple v-neck tops with cardigans), hats, gloves, and scarves depending on the outdoor temperature. One CF reader from Germany noted that “big scarves” are popular there now and are great investments to have here in the US as the temperature drops as well!

“Winters are gross, but Parisians expect you to brave the blizzards in style,” claimed one girl who studied abroad in Paris. To do this, invest in some great classic, structured winter coats, such as pea coats or trenches. In Germany, one reader noted that non-traditional coats (such as capes) have been growing in popularity this year as well.

Underneath these coats, an Italian CF reader says to sport long sweaters, leggings, or colored tights for chic daily looks. Another great item to invest in is a cardigan (or two!), as they are pretty much popular wherever you go!

Warmer Weather Wear

Florence photo via pexels

For warmer weather, former France travelers suggested bringing some transition pieces to layer with, such as structured blazers and leather jackets.

Skirts and dresses are also must-haves for those warmer weather days in all of these countries, so bring along a few that look cute on their own, as well as layered in the winter. A reader who studied in Spain claimed dresses were essential to her weekly wardrobe, so be sure to bring a bunch if you’re going there! Another CF reader also smartly suggested bringing along some great, detailed tunics that can easily be transitioned from winter to spring by adding or subtracting outerwear.

As for shoes, one source said, “Flip flops = tourist,” so avoid those at all costs! Flats seemed to be the best pick even as the weather got warmer, though in Rome, one CF reader noted that gladiator sandals are (appropriately!) very popular.

Some More Travel Tips

  • Bring warm pajamas in Paris! One study abroad source who stayed in Paris over the spring semester commented that the nights tended to be colder than she was used to in New York, so cozy bedclothes were very important.
  • Bring lots of underwear! As funny as this may sound, many commented on not being able to do their laundry as much as they would have liked, so they honestly needed to have many extra pairs of panties!
  • On a similar notes, a smart CF reader noted that Travel Febreeze is a lifesaver, since it can freshen up your clothes in between washes.

Check These Out!

Unfortunately, I only received tips on shopping and blogs from readers who had been to France, but they were so great that I wanted to include them anyway. As always, Lookbook and Instagram are good places to find street style photos from the other countries.

One friend of mine who studied in Paris a few springs ago noted that there are big sales twice a year (once in winter and once in the summer) in France called “Soldes” in which most stores participate, so definitely look for this!

As for great French blogs, a fellow CF writer suggested checking out GaranceDore.fr and The Sartorialist (which also features street style from other European countries) for style suggestions.

My Study Abroad Sources

I just wanted to take this time to thank the lovely girls who have given me all of the wonderful advice you see above. I have chosen this advice from the detailed comments, e-mails, or messages from Svenja (Germany), Elizabeth (France), Molly (France), Julia (France), Vanessa (Italy), Jo (France), C. (France), Lalalina (Spain), Bryannah (France and Italy), and Lucia (Italy)! All of these girls have either studied abroad or live/have lived in the country(s) listed next to their name, so they truly know what they are talking about.

Be sure to thank them in the comments as well! They all took out so much time to help you guys from their experience.

What Do You Think?

Do these tips fit in with your travel experiences? Have you noticed these trends in these European countries as well? Do you have any additional tips that you think are important? Do you know of any other websites or shopping spots that are great for those going to any of these countries? Tell us in the comments!

Also, keep the e-mails and comments coming for advice for other countries! I will be continuing the series with more site-specific advice next week for either Asian countries or Scandinavia (both have been heavily requested, it depends which I get more advice on), so e-mail me at whatdoiwearthere AT gmail DOT com with any tips for these places!

15 thoughts on “What Do I Wear There? Study Abroad in France, Germany, Italy & Spain”

  1. I am extremely excited to be studying abroad in Tours, France this summer, but I have no idea how to dress. And I don’t want to stick out as an American tourist :P. Can anyone help me?? Also, we will be spending the last three days in Paris…any suggestions on how i should dress there?…And keep in mind that I am 20 years old.

  2. Lookbook seems to be a great resource for getting the general idea of what is worn in a country. For example I gather from the site that French and German people’s clothing is much less colorful than Americans- outfit after outfit was composed of just neutral colors. However I wonder if lookbook provides sort of a skewed picture of what is worn because someone who posts on lookbook is probably much more fashion conscious than the average member of the population. The actual style rules are probably at least a little more lax.
    On the homepage I saw a picture of someone from my hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio, and she was dressed much nicer than the average person here. Someone who wanted to know how to dress in Cincinnati might look at her picture and assume that everyone wears grey dresses and heels everyday, when really the average person is more likely to wear jeans and tennis shoes and she, in fact, stands out.
    I think a very accurate (and maybe a bit creeperish) way to gauge fashions is to befriend an international student, add them on facebook, and look at their photos from their home country.

  3. I’ve lived in Germany for two years. I made the mistake of wearing a horrible bright green hiking jacket the first winter I was here. I know I stood out. I’ve learned my lesson. To remedy my mistake i went to the extreme of wearing lots of black. I actually don’t regret that and have slowly been adding colors. Like a bright colored scarf is nice. Plaid pea coats are popular this year. I really want one! Also this year purple is really popular, not bright purple. Also those winter hats that you wear a bit farther back on your head and exposes your bangs or forehead. (sorry I don’t know how to explain it) Just think neutral colors. Bring a little spending money and add color when you get here and have a feel for the style here.

    Oh one more thing, buy long underwear to wear under your jeans and even under your tops, if you can hide them. You’ll be outside a lot more here in the winter. Sometimes I’ll wear a scarf just to hide my long johns that my sweater didn’t quite cover all the way. Oh and wool socks and leg warmers. Those are all things you can hide under clothes.

    And all the advice on this page is great. Great comments everyone. I completely agree.

  4. Hey! I love this series! Can you please do a post on Australia?! I’m going there for a semester in February and I hear that the style there is pretty chic and I want to know more! Please and thank you!

  5. Hello,

    I am heading to Stuttgart, Germany late August – early September and need some style tips. Will it still be warm enough for shorts? I love really cool retro Jordan sneakers, are those okay? What about laundry, will I have easy access to that? I’m going for five days, how many outfits should I pack?


  6. hey!
    i live in the USA; so i’m used to people dressing in sweats and uggs and xxxxxxl sweatshirts – but i went to italy for vacation to visit mi famiglia(my family) in napoli (naples) and i noticed a HUGE difference. a few tips;

    *Do NOT wear sneakers. – If you must, like many have said already, converse are okay.
    * Do NOT dress overly skimpy. save it for the beaches – It isn’t like america where it draws attention. (bad), it just isn’t classy and if you are planning to visit churches, they will not allow you in without a shawl or a coverup.
    * Do NOT wear sandles – once again, save it for the beach. and its a dead give away that you are a tourist.
    *NEUTRAL colours – what i have noticed, is that southern italy (where i mainly stayed) is that they tend to stay with neutral colours – black,grey,tan. but, when i went to go see northern italy, they had brighter colours. once again, different region,different fashion. not a big difference, but still a difference
    * DO wear boots. – i know, this is cliche, but italian’s are very big on boots. they will walk miles in boots – in italy, it is fashion over comfort for the most part. and yes, boots do hurt, i wore a pair of boots almost everyday that i was there, and they can hurt – so if you plan to wear boots, break them in BEFORE your trip. if you are not fond of boots, then flats are acceptable too – not as fashion forward, but they aren’t a faux pau either. they are a more comfortable option.
    * NO fannypacks, backpacks – this is kind of obvious, nothing screams tourist like a big bag tied around your waist. handbags and purses are okay though.
    * DO wear jeans. – i know, alot of people connect jeans with americans and that is true, but on my last visit to italy, alot of people, females and males were wearing jeans. jeans are perfectly acceptable unless they have big rips in them. you can’t go wrong with a basic pair of dark wash jeans.

    hope i helped! if you need anymore help with italy’s fashion, do not hesitate to write me at: GED0709 AT aol.com

  7. This advice is spot on. I was at Oxford for six weeks this summer for a study abroad program and these rules apply even during the warmer months ( or the occasional hot week in my case).

    Although I’ve read in several places that the UK is not known for style, I would caution Americans who think that going to the UK means you can dress in sweatpants during the day . Unfortunately, I saw this happen and I didn’t have to hear the familiar accent to know that the individuals committing the faux-pas were Americans. The Brits (especially those who inhabit London) are definitely more eccentric than say the French or the Italians but still very stylish.

    I lived in flats and scarves while I was there and I blended quite well-to the point that some Brits asked me for directions! Also, I would definitely pack some dresses! My program hosted dinner parties and croquet which is not unusual for colleges in the UK to do.

    But my advice for buying cheap accessories in London, is to go to Portobello Road in Notting Hill. I went to London as a day trip and at the very far end of the market, I found a stall that was selling 6 scarves(brand new) for 10 pounds which translates into $16-17 at the time.

    I can’t wait to go to France for my Junior Year Abroad! These tips are fabolous and very useful.

  8. I stumbled upon your website today and I love it. I spent last January in London and Paris and I completely agree with your advice. The items I wore the most were my black and tan riding boots and peacoats.

    I also bought several different scarves in bright and neutral colors in London (most were three for 7 or 8 pound) and I wish I would have purchased more because I love them so much!

  9. The entire itinerary is not set yet, but mostly Jerusalem and probably Haifa…I assumed that I should cover up, do you have any ideas about formal wear ? Thanks for the reply 🙂

  10. @Ela…I’ve been to Israel this summer…It was great…I took all my summer clothes and they were perfect there..
    I went to Jerusalem, too, and I wore long pant and a T-shirt and then short pants, I was told I was lucky no one told to me to cover my shoulders and my legs..
    Where wiil you go??

  11. Great post.
    For visiting Germany I would bring some cute dresses even for winter and combine them with some warm leggins or tights, a warm pullover or cardigan and some flat boots or ballet flats. Ballet flats are the most popular shoes especially for warmer days so I would bring some pairs with me.
    Straight or bootcut jeans are also very popular in Germany, so skinny jeans aren’t a must.
    All in all student style is pretty relaxed in Germany but stil modern and chic.

  12. Well I live in Germany so I’ve traveled all over Europe and if you’re just there on vacation, it doesn’t really matter that much what outfits you where except in Paris. I’ve found that it can kind of take a knock on your self esteem when you’re the only one in sweats and everyone else in wearing these gorgeous outfits 🙂 I have noticed a lot of those styles to be popular in those countries and another thing to consider is that, especially in Germany, people wear a lot of black so if you wanna blend in, bring lots of black clothing. My favorite place to shop here in Europe is actually H&M which is the most popular store in my area for Americans and Germans alike and I actually think that European H&M’s are a lot chicer than American H&M’s.


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