QI have a work trip to London this spring, and since it’s our first trip in years, I’m planning to take two quick trips to Paris and Milan. I also just completed two years of my only purchases being sweatshirts and jeans, so in theory I have a pretty good budget to buy quality clothes. I plan to travel with a nice empty suitcase and fill it on the way. What items make sense to buy in these cities?
A It’s a wise plan. There is no dress code to speak of, but European dress style is about smart and elegant clothing first, and comfort second. You probably won’t see many Europeans wearing something ill-fitting or unflattering just because it’s comfortable. The packing guides are pretty vague, but if you want to dress like a European man, think about quality, basic luxury, and clothes that fit great. Nothing too loose or baggy, and nothing too casual. If your plan is to blend in, dress with understated good taste.
Here are some suggestions of what to pack.
• A not too dressy gray suit that will be perfect for business meetings and/or parties.
• A nice navy blue blazer will come in handy for many occasions, from daytime business to dining out.
• Choose dress pants or well-fitting (and well pressed) khakis rather than jeans. Pack two or three pairs of dress pants to go with the blazer and/or to wear as separate casual pants.
• A few nice long-sleeved cotton dress shirts rather than t-shirts. They go with the suit or the blazer and can become casual when the sleeves are rolled up.
• You can layer a wool or cashmere sweater to create several different looks and also to keep you warm. A lightweight windbreaker or scarf can also be used as an extra layer.
• Leave all synthetic products you have at home. Europeans strongly favor natural materials: wool, cashmere, cotton, linen, leather and silk.
• Above all, take comfortable leather shoes in neutral colors, such as black and brown. Shoes take up a lot of room in your luggage, so limit yourself to taking 2 (or, at most, 3) pairs, including the ones you wear to travel. A pair should be super comfortable leather walking shoes for daytime wear. A dressier pair can be worn during daytime meetings and in the evening when you go out. Make sure they are polished and clean. An absolute rule: never take new shoes. Shoes take time to break in and can cause blisters which would totally ruin your trip.
Shorts and sweatpants are frowned upon in most European cities, so don’t include them. In addition to looking touristy, you could be denied access to many places (concert halls, churches and fancy restaurants). Flip-flops and tennis shoes are also high on the list of clothes to avoid. They will instantly mark you as a tourist. So will bright colors, flashy logos and clothing with slogans. They are considered ostentatious and wearing them is considered a lack of class in Europe. Unlike Americans, who like strong colors and patterns, Europeans like subtle clothing choices.
I really like your idea of taking a rather empty suitcase to fill on your trip through Europe. You can – and should – shop for fine clothes while in Europe, especially as you’ll be visiting the two cities widely regarded as the menswear capitals of the world, Milan and London. I suggest shopping for designer shirts and rainwear in London’s Savile Row boutiques, and tailored clothing, sweaters and high-end shoes in Milan’s many sophisticated little boutiques. They’re filled with wonderful, timeless garments that you’ll love wearing for years, if not decades, to come.
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