What Do I Wear There? Study Abroad – Part 1

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Girl studying abroad

A few weeks ago, CF reader Katie commented:

“I just got accepted to a study abroad program in Europe for the spring semester, and the first thing I thought about was how do I pack to go abroad? And I thought… I should ask Colleen. So what do I wear there? I have no idea what the temperature will be like and how I should go about packing for all occasions that may come up when I can only bring two suitcases.

Please help and write a post about this!! I think a lot of people would benefit from it!!”

After reading all of your comments last week, I definitely think Katie was right. It seems like a lot of us, including myself, are going abroad next semester and are starting to worry about the thought of packing our lives up into only TWO suitcases for four or so months!


However, I realized that there is no way I can cover all of the clothes needed for studying abroad in just one article since we are all going to different places. Therefore, I decided to split this post up into multiple parts.

This week’s post is about study abroad clothing basics, pieces that will work most places that you will enter in cold weather and leave in spring. I have included some key must-bring pieces, as well as some study abroad tips and tricks!

For the next few installments, I’d like to personalize the articles for specific study abroad destinations CF readers are going to. So if you are planning on going abroad, tell me your planned study abroad location in the comments! Whichever sites are named the most will be the ones I highlight in the series.

Take-With-You Tops

Cute tops for studying abroad

Product Information: V-neck Tee: Forever 21, Sequin Front Top: TopShop, Black Cardigan: Oasis-stores.com, Plaid Tunic: Charlotte Russe

The most important thing to think about when packing clothes for travel is versatility! Since you don’t have a lot of packing space, you want to make sure you can get a lot of wear out of all the pieces you bring.

This basic v-neck is great for the days you just want to be comfortable but still look cute. It would also be a good choice to wear on the plane since you definitely want something casual and easy. (For more tips on what to wear when traveling, check out What Do I Wear There? Airplane Outfits and Tips.) You can also change this up by adding a vest, cardigan, scarf, etc. when it is colder.

The next top I suggest bringing is your favorite going-out tank top. I love this gorgeous one from TopShop, which would be perfect for going out in cooler weather under a blazer or on its own in the spring. It is also a good versatile piece since it’s nice but not too fancy–if needed, you could pair it with a cardigan or sweater and wear it during the day.

Another necessary top is a basic cardigan in a neutral color. This will go with anything and can be worn under a coat in the winter or over a sundress as it gets warmer.

Finally, pack a tunic top that you can wear with jeans or with leggings to vary your look. This plaid one is especially useful because you can also wear it unbuttoned over a simple tank for yet another outfit!

Must-Bring Bottoms


Product Information: Bootcut Jeans, Black Leggings: TopShop, Colored Tights: Sockshop.co.uk, Black Skirt: Missselfridge.com

This area is slightly more personalized for each traveler. While I suggest that everyone bring at least one of the above, if you hate leggings or are not a fan of wearing tights, stock up on the other items instead (or suggest what you would bring instead in the comments)!

As far as bottoms go, the number one item to bring is your favorite pair of jeans! Wearable in most weather, jeans are ideal for class, weekend trips, and days spent simply exploring. Definitely only bring pairs you have broken in, as new jeans may prove to be uncomfortable and stiff.

Leggings are another great staple to pack with you, especially since they take up such little room! A simple black pair can be worn day or night under pretty much any color, layered under dresses, etc.

For slightly warmer nights, bring a couple pairs of tights. Basic black is always a smart choice, but since tights are so compact, feel free to also slip in some fun pairs (such as the colored ones seen above or patterned ones). Tights allow you to bring your spring dresses and skirts into winter, so they are definitely a smart choice!

While many people swear by the “little black dress,” I happen to be obsessed with the “little black skirt” instead! I have a plain one from American Apparel that I seriously wear everywhere–it’s great with tights and a flannel for class or with a fun top for a night out! I love the side panels on this one, as they ensure a flattering fit.

Other Outfit Essentials

What to bring for study abroad

Product Information: Lace Dress: Missguided.co.uk, Stripe Dress, Blazer, Sweater: TopShop

As much as I love my black skirts, I definitely do not mean to diss the little black dress! This is a must-bring, especially if you find one with a pretty lace pattern like this. It can be worn anywhere from a dinner with some new foreign friends to a night time event to a night out on the (new) town!

I also suggest bringing a good “day” dress for days when you may be taking a trip with your classmates and want to look a little nicer. I am in love with the interesting construction of this striped dress–it’s totally fun and original! The simple design and coloring will also carry you through both winter and spring with appropriate accessories.

As I mentioned earlier, a blazer is a really smart piece to invest in this season and bring with you when you go abroad. It can be dressed down for class or dressed up for work or going out. Black is probably the best color to get this in, as that is the most acceptable color if you plan on wearing it for work.

Finally, in addition to the cardigan I suggested above, bring along a simple sweater. This is another great item you can easily throw on in the morning before class that will still keep you looking cute. A more lightweight sweater like this one is ideal since you can layer it over a heavier long-sleeved shirt in the winter for warmth or over a tank top on a chillier spring day.

Stuff-In-Your-Suitcase Shoes


Product Information: (Clockwise from top left) Bow Ballet Flat: TopShop, Gladiator Sandals, Nude Pumps: Piperlime.gap.com, Floral Sneakers: TopShop, Brown Boots: Piperlime.gap.com, Rain Boots: Banana Republic

Note: I know these may seem like a LOT of shoes to bring given luggage space issues, but I wanted to show a large array since this is a general post. Don’t feel like you have to pack all of these!

Going in the same order as the Product Information above, I’ll start with the ever-essential ballet flat. Great for work or nicer functions, a ballet flat will not take up much room in your suitcase and will add class to any outfit.

While it may seem crazy for many of us to think of wearing sandals with the weather we have right now, one of the tough parts of packing for study abroad is remembering to anticipate that warmer weather. Therefore, you’ll want to bring along a pair of your favorite sandals for when the spring weather comes!

Since you’ll undoubtedly want to go out at night to nicer places at least once, bring along a great–and comfortable!–pair of heels. Nude pumps are currently my favorite heels, as they go with everything and are unexpected compared to basic black pumps.

In contrast to the heels, you’ll want to bring along a pair of super comfy, flat sneakers for the days when you really want to go exploring and see all of the sights. Remember that just because they are sneakers does not mean they cannot be cute–printed sneakers are everywhere lately and are a great addition to a regular jeans and tee-shirt outfit!

For the weather right now, your favorite worn-in boots are a must! I suggest wearing these on the plane since they will take up the most room in your suitcase. Make sure to bring a pair that you can wear with jeans, tights, and leggings to get maximum use out of them.

Finally, if you happen to be going to a rainier climate, you’ll certainly want to be prepared with a pair of rain boots. These black and brown ones are super sleek and the rubbery material will even allow you to fold them when you go to pack!

Some Study Abroad Tips

  • Don’t bring anything you have never worn! The last thing you want is to waste space on something that ends up being uncomfortable, ill-fitting, or simply unnecessary. Try everything on before you go.
  • Be sure to stock up on your favorite brand name beauty products, as they may not be available overseas.
  • Look at fashion blogs from the place you are going for some outfit inspiration as you are packing. This will also help you see what is appropriate to wear there, as well as what is in style.
  • As I have mentioned throughout the article, don’t forget to look ahead! Just because it is cold now does not mean it will be when you leave in May.
  • On that note, try to pack lighter pieces that are easy to layer. These will take up less space than bulkier items and layering your clothes will give your outfits more diversity.
  • Bring along plenty of accessories: jewelry, scarves, hats, and hairpieces–since you cannot bring lots of clothes, these will allow you to add something new and different to your looks.
  • Leave space in your suitcase for all of the fabulous purchases you will make!

What Do You Think?

Have you gone abroad? If so, leave us some suggestions! Since I have not yet gone, I would absolutely love to hear the opinions of experienced travel abroad students on what is great to bring or any other tips you have!

And don’t forget to tell me where you are studying abroad in the comments if you would like your destination to be possibly featured in the upcoming week!

33 thoughts on “What Do I Wear There? Study Abroad – Part 1”

  1. Spain next fall! More specifically, Madrid.

    My boyfriend studied abroad in Spain in high school and said women usually wear dresses and skirts rather than shorts, and that its an easy way to spot an American. Keep that in mind!

  2. I’m not sure if I can swing it yet, but I’m attempting to go to Morocco and maybe Oxford or Cambridge in the next year. Some ideas for either of those areas would be fantastic!

  3. I’m going to France for a semester! It’ll probably be next fall, but it might be next spring. I’ll be in Paris. I’d love to hear some tips on how to dress for going to classes and going out!

    Also, does anyone know any “normal-girl” French (or Parisian) style blogs that I could look at to see how I should dress?

    In response to Josie: look at http://flyingsaucer.typepad.com/ . The blogger, Selina, is in Sweden right now, and she has some great posts about Swedish style that you should look into!

  4. Hi! I am wondering what colleges most of you would recommend for fashion abroad. I am from LA and I was thinking of going to London/Paris.


  5. Paris! As with Karissa’s post above mine I will be there for the month of January. How do I look chic while keeping warm and dry from the rain? Leggings aren’t that warm and rain boots take up a lot of space in a suitcase! Help please!

  6. I am going to study abroad next year and I am so excited! I should pack all of my stuff and I have no idea how I am going to do that. Thank you for the nice advices in this article! You helped a lot!

    Kerry Leam

  7. For those of you traveling to India, summer months(May to September) in the metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai,Bangalore and Chennai could be terribly hot and humid (30 degrees celsius and more).
    So, pack light colored cotton shirts and linen trousers/ loose pants as these look modest and trendy and will save you from the heat all at the same time.Light scarves are a big add on to your attire as well.Do not forget to carry an umbrella as a sun shield.
    If you are interning or studying at an institution, western formal wear such as pants and shirts are fine. But make sure they are of cotton. Plus, many expatriates do love sporting the cotton kurtas (long top) and patialas (flowy pants) available everywhere in India but the best place to buy awesome stuff is http://www.fabindia.com/

    A tip:Locals do warm up to you if you wear these super comfortable garments.

    However, the hill stations could get quite cold even in summer (below 15 degrees celsius), so light cardigans or a nice shawl would work best.

    Unless you are at the beaches,shorts, tank/halter neck tops and low cut dresses should be best avoided as such outfits are considered immodest.

    As for the winter months(November to February), except the South and the West of India, temperatures could drop to very low levels everywhere(less than 10 degrees celsius). Pack oxfords/boots, a heavy coat, a woolen muffler and gloves.

  8. This was really interesting, but definitely aimed for people studying abroad in warmer climates. I’m going to Denmark and I’m currently freaking out trying to figure out what to pack since even though I’m from the Northeast, their winters and springs are way colder than anything I’m used to dealing with. =(

  9. Oi gente!
    I’m currently studying abroad in Brazil right now! I’ve spent the past month in Salvador, Bahia, and I’m moving to São Paulo this week.!
    What Colleen mentioned about packing basics that you can layer and tons of accessories was exactly right! But it’s also best to talk to another student who has done your program because they can really tell you what the fashion is like. Back home, I’m a big tye-dye wearer, I admit. But it’s the one thing I absolutely did not back. Salvador, the city I’ve been in for the month is rich with afro-brazilian culture so being white I naturally stand out as a tourist. I was told that it’s important to not wear my beloved tye-dye because it would SCREAM American. So ask around and you’ll be sure to get good advice!

    Also, I was allowed to bring 2 suitcases, and I did, but one of them was barely half-full! Anticipate that you will be buying things while abroad (clothing, gifts for family/friends, shoes, etc) and if both of you’re suitcases are full when you arrive, you’ll have to leave something in the foreign country in order to bring your new purchases home.

    I hope this helps!

  10. Hey guys-

    Just a quick insights, for those of you traveling to India/Germany. I’m an American who has now lived in India for one year and Berlin, Germany for ~2 years.

    For India:
    In ‘public’, especially in places like old Delhi and rural villages I would advise not wearing skirts above your knee or tank tops that show any cleavage. (the exception is if you go out to night clubs in Delhi or Mumbai). When I lived in Delhi I alternated between long colorful skirts with a simple cotton top, Indian camel shoes or sandals and a big scarf (think Dharma from ‘Dharma and Greg’). Feel free to load on tons of beautiful jewelry you can find cheaply throughout India. Also color is huge there, so have fun playing with bright colors. The key to surviving the heat there is to wear 100% cotton.

    Another great alternative is to buy Indian style clothes. The best shop I found while in Delhi was ‘FabIndia’ which has a variety of beautiful designs and are pure silk or cotton. ‘Sarojini’ Market is the place with awesome cheap western tops and skirts dresses. Salwar Kameez is an outfit that is popular with young working women there and would be perfect for working in a clinic. It you don’t want to wear a Salwar Kameez, just wear a long tunic over jeans. Saris are awesome, though difficult to tie without some help from Indian women.

    For Berlin: Most of Germany is much fancier than Berlin. Berlin is pretty much anything goes. A lot of young people living in hip/artsy neighborhoods wear a lot of vintage/hipster style. It’s rather eclectic with a hint of military roughness and/or 80s prom dress (I kid you not, I saw a girl rocking a puffy prom dress with ripped fishnets and military boots at a dance club). Some parts of Mitte and other parts of germany are more formal. An outfit commonly worn in winter is a pair of leather boots, warm socks peeping out, leggings, shorts or mini skirt and a sweater tunic with lots of layers. Pea coats with knit scarfs, hats and mittens are common.

  11. Paris!
    I’m going there in the winter and I live in Brazil (where it’s always too hot!), so I’m totally lost! Besides, who wouldn’t be inspired by Parisian fashion?


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