Going Undercover While Studying Abroad

Brought to you by Abroad101’s fashion aficionado, Will Cox.

They see you. You can’t hide. They know who you are.  You are a sophomore in high school traveling Europe with your family and everyone around you knows… you are a TOURIST.  First there is your mother, power walking along in her Goretex pants, swishing more than Michael Jordan in the finals.  Then there is your little brother, who insisted on arriving upon European soil stomping in Air Force Ones.  Finally there is your father, strapped with his ultra-practical fanny pack synched just loose enough not to separate his legs from his torso.  For you, the travel-lover in training who just wanted to pass for a local, it was pure torture.

Fanny packs are retro, but not rad.

Fear not however.  Today, five years later, you are returning to Europe alone; a college Junior studying abroad.  Equipped with the following fashion tips, you can get a head start on your transformation, allowing an entire semester to look the part and play out your fantasy of life as a true European.

1. Cut the Clothing Fat.

Baggy does not translate in any of the 23 official European languages.  European style is slim, fitted, and tailored to the body you have now, not the middle-aged saggage you may have 30 years from now.


2. The Color Wheel Is Not Your Friend.

Use the Henry Ford rule: “You can have any color as long as it’s black.”  You can get away with greys, brown and even a blue if you’re feeling squirly.  But leave the greens, reds and yellows for the plants.  Europeans are reserved and let their personalities make the statement, not the colors of their clothes.

*Italy and Spain have a two-color quota.  Feel free to brighten up a bit if you’re there… but don’t go overboard.


3. From the Bottom Up.

The deadest of the dead giveaways for an American tourist is choice in footwear.  Ditch the running shoes, the Chucks, the work-boots, and pick up a new pair of loafers, flats, dress shoes, or oxfords.  There is nothing worse than getting turned away at a dance club because you decided to wear the same kicks as an NBA referee.


4. Belts Are Meant For Pants, Not For Wallets.

Arguably the sexiest thing you will see during your semester in Europe is a wayward traveler exposing his hairy belly to access the infamous money belt… oh wait.  The flesh-colored money belt, partner in crime to the fanny-pack, will undoubtedly be recommended by your worrisome parents.  A better solution to monitoring your belongings: common sense and awareness of your surroundings.


5. Take It To the Next Level.

When you’re wearing sweats [and you should never be wearing sweats], Europeans are wearing jeans.  When you’re wearing jeans, Europeans are wearing suits. And when you’re wearing suits, Europeans are wearing gowns and tuxes.  If you feel overdressed for an occasion while abroad, you are doing something right.

Equipped with these tips you are now ready to forget your family’s fashion faux pas.  With Gortex and fanny packs now threatening only to appear via webcam during a parental Skype session, you are poised to be an undercover American.  Successfully dress the part of a citizen of Europe, and your semester abroad will be anything but dodgy.


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