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From American Coed to European Chic

Last week I was walking down from Piazzale Michelangelo and as I neared the bottom of the hill, I spotted a group of young men. I immediately thought to myself, "oh, they are so American!" They weren't even close enough for me to hear what language they were speaking, but I could tell they were American a mile away because of their clothing. They wore variations of the standard male collegiate uniform -- jeans or kakis (baggy not fitted) with button-up shirts topped with Patagonia half-zips... and boat shoes, you can't forget the boat shoes!

I think this excerpt from the local English-speaking newspaper in Florence sums up the difference between American and Italian styles nicely:

"Asked to comment on the clash of styles, professor of international buying and marketing Fabianna Vannucchi offered, ‘I would say that we Italians have more style, more taste, more sense of beauty and more creativity.’ Harsh but true. Vannucchi went on to describe Americans as ‘practical,’ which ‘reflects in their fashion.’ American students go for what is easy and inexpensive, whereas quality over quantity is the fashion rule Italians live by."

In addition to the relaxed nature of American aesthetics, the article goes on to discuss how most college students, in an attempt not to stand out, dress almost identically. American college students can be very brand focused (#guilty), which is probably why they seem to all dress alike no matter what college they hail from.

Now, I am not advocating that you buy a new wardrobe before you visit or study abroad in Italy, or anywhere else in Europe. I certainly don't, and I stay pretty true to my personal style while here. I think the take away from the excerpt above (and full article, which you can read here) is that you should make minor adjustments to your wardrobe and keep a couple key concepts in mind when packing -- dressier, classier (i.e less skin and not a lot of shorts), higher quality, and more tailored. You don't have to completely abandon your American style, just put a bit more effort into it.

I think living, visiting, and studying abroad means that you should embrace everything -- the art, fashion, cuisine, the way of life, etc. No doubt Italy has influenced the way I dress. It has certainly taught me the value of buying fewer, yet higher-quality pieces.

Here are some tips for embracing your inner European fashionista while abroad:
  • Select clean, simple lines and items that fit (not skin tight and not baggy)
  • Select dressier items/outfits (think more dresses and skirts, less gym clothes)
  • Avoid short-shorts and skimpy dresses 
  • Replace your sneakers (or boat shoes) with a pair of Converses or Superas
  • Select jeans over kakis (you can never go wrong with jeans!)
  • Only wear your workout clothes in the gym (especially Nike running shorts and baggy t-shirts)
  • Stick to seasonal-appropriate clothing only (Italians are serious about their clothing seasons, boat shoes are a perfect example, an Italian would deem them completely inappropriate for winter!)

Lastly, I should add that I am not advocating against American fashion or that I don't own or wear the items in the left column, because I do. I am just saying that embracing a new style abroad -- like the way you embrace new foods, sights, and ways of life -- is an important component of experiencing a new culture!

Has anyone experienced this "clash of styles" when you were abroad?

Ashley B
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  1. I think finding clothes that fit is the first step to being chic in general, not just European chic. So funny that you were able to pick out the Americans a mile away, it doesn't make us Yankee's look too good over there, haha!

    1. It is very obvious lol! It's not bad to have a different style, but I think we can learn more if we break out of our own cultural bubble and embrace new ideas, aesthetics, cultures, etc.

  2. I admire your advice to dress in a more sophisticated way, but the reality is that if those guys were wearing Patagonia, they were actually dressed more ETHICALLY than most European men. Patagonia for the most part is ecofriendly and made in America, whereas European giants like Zara use fabrics that were produced with child labour, sewn in low-quality factories, and had a negative impact on the environment. I'm all for style, but not at the expense of people or the earth. I'd totally go for a guy in Patagonia over a fitted Zara sweater. Learn more at and (Resource section).

    1. Hi Megan, I completely agree that Patagonia is a more ethical brand, and I wasn't saying to stop shopping there or wearing it, just to embrace a different style in a different culture (in Italy it isn't really seen as appropriate to wear a fleece pullover at night or to dinner). I don't think there is anything wrong with wearing Patagonia abroad or in general. I think you raise a very important point about ethical fashion and I am curious if you could share some ethical European fashion options? I'd love to know more, thanks for sharing!

    2. Yeah, that's definitely true. Actually, it's not really acceptable in Canada either. I can always spot Americans at the Eaton Centre in Toronto- because they look so comfy! :)
      In terms of European brands, the UK is really leading the way with this. People Tree has had collections designed by Orla Kiely, Vivienne Westwood and Emma Watson! I also really like Bibico, another UK brand. Wintervachtjas is a Dutch brand that makes BEAUTIFUL, sophisticated coats out of vintage winter blankets. And, though it's not European, American brand Everlane makes incredibly elegant, ethical basics that could mimic the drapey Zara styles, and are at a good price point.
      I haven't updated for a while, but my site has more brands and ideas. :) I'll be posting more in the spring.

    3. I love that we are known for being comfortable lol. Thank you so much for sharing! I can easily order from the UK here and I will have to look into these. Ethical fashion/clothing is definitely something I want to educate myself on. Can't wait to check out your blog!

  3. This post was great! If you had a series like this,it would be fantastic!!!

    1. Not sure how to make a series out of it, but I will work on it!

  4. LOL your question gave me a chuckle! "Has anyone experienced this "clash of styles" when you were abroad?" ...
    Honey, we have a definite 'clash of styles' right here at home in the USA ... been to church lately or a movie?
    I can't believe the way people dress for church! It amazes me how inappropriately and disrespectfully people show up dressed for church (any church, not just any one denomination). One woman and her daughter were in flip flips, tank tops, pedal pushers and standing outside the church door complaining about how cold it was in there. I bit my tongue to keep from telling her if she dressed for church instead of the beach she wouldn't be so cold. .... And watching people at the movie theaters is just as amazing. They look just like what they are - someone who just rolled out of bed, grabbed the first shorts outfit laying dirty and crumpled on the floor, threw it on and walked out the door. I've been on college campus's where students scurry to class still in pajamas and slippers. 'Comfortable' is just a buzzword for laziness, and bad manners.

    Comfort is a wonderful thing but people can still dress respectfully in comfort too.
    Personally, i would feel extremely UNCOMFORTABLE being seen in public dressed so inappropriately!


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