This post was contributed by Victoria Smith Alvarez
At first, it wasn’t a big deal.
Then it hit me hard in the face.
Fashion is taken seriously in most parts of Europe, especially the cities. As I arrived in France for my year abroad, I expected everyone to be wearing the latest brands and trends. I was sorely surprised when I stepped out of the airport and saw people walking about with pajama bottoms tucked into knee-length boots. In the sleepy little town I was to live in, I realised that everyone dressed quite regularly. I fit in well because fashion has never been my forte.
I took a lot of hikes during the autumn, and since I’ve always been more comfortable in exercise gear than anything else, that became a bit of a staple for me. No-one around our country area dressed much differently. I dressed it up a bit when I went 15 minutes down to Geneva, but that was only once every 2 weeks or so.
But then I went to Paris. Oh la la, was I shocked.
The first day, my friends and I stopped at some smaller towns around the capital. We visited les châteaux and palaces, the classy kind of places. I noticed some people clad in ridiculous furs, short leather skirts, and sporting designer bags, but they were the minority (and most of them weren’t even European). I looked a little run-down in my 3-year-old jacket from H&M with the damaged fur hood (from getting accidentally thrown in the wash) and a red excuse for a beret.
When we arrived, I was wearing a black varsity-style jacket with pink flowers on it and Adidas Originals. Maybe it doesn’t sound so bad, but I was way out of place as I walked the Champs Elysées with my friends. They weren’t too much more fashion-inclined than I was, so at least we had each other. We strolled into a name brand clothing store on the side of the famous street, and every single person inside was decked out in the Parisian style: dark neutral colours, perfectly tousled hair, rouged lips. I was barely wearing any makeup and looked like I’d just walked in from a basketball game. Needless to say, we got strange looks, especially since we didn’t buy a thing in that store. We couldn’t even afford to look at the price tags.
The next days in the City of Light & Love were no better. I felt horribly out of place and out of style.
As I continued to travel and see some of the bigger cities in Europe, my style began to refine a little. But I still seemed to regret my choices in wardrobe every time, even if I’d tried to plan my outfits ahead of time.
The Internet is always a decent coach, so I turned to it. Wearing black is always a good idea, I was told. But even all decked out in mostly dark colours, I ran into problems. I made the mistake of wearing mostly black when I was in Spain. The people about me were in loose, colourful clothing, and I looked like a walking funeral. Plus, the drab shades trapped all the wonderful Spanish sunshine, and I was cooking.
Convinced that I still looked cheap even in dark colours, I thought that it was probably the quality of my clothes until I received several compliments on a skirt I wore often, by very fashionable people. It happened to have cost me absolutely nothing since I picked it up from a donation bag. Go figure.
I was thankful when winter rolled around. When I travelled to the Czech Republic in the middle of January, it was so cold that everyone was wrapped up in whatever they could find. I don’t think I saw anyone whose fashion sense jumped out at me in Prague. I myself was wearing a huge puffy jacket that went to my knees. It came with a fur hood that was too big for my little head, and it was hard to see under it.
So I stumbled around in it like a miserable drunk Eskimo.
Story of my life.
I came to the conclusion that bad weather brings out the “acceptable worst” in fashion. I had a trendy friend use a reusable shopping bag as a hat when we toured Cannes (on the French Riviera) during a major thunderstorm. A stylish young man used newspapers as mittens in Munich. In the cold and damp, no-one really cared. Anybody who wore a cute outfit, like the stylish fashion portraits you see on Tumblr, was most definitely freezing their butt off. I was not willing to sacrifice being warm for looking à la mode.
Springtime was better for me. After living in Europe for over 6 months, my style became a bit more refined.
It was trial by fire.
Loose blouses, trench coats, skirts, even the occasional dress would all come into my experimental wardrobe. (And those closer to me will tell you, I seldom used to wear skirts and dresses unless on special occasions).
I nearly shed tears when a classmate, who I consider gorgeous and very fashionable (and has a beautiful soul) told me once that she would vote me best dressed student at our school.
Now, I realise in the end that some people are naturally fashionable, and have the knack, the taste, and the looks to pull off certain fashion statements. That’s not me. Maybe it will never be. But for the few times that I have hit the fashion mark, it gives me hope.
If I were to show you a picture of myself a few years ago, with my curly hair in a stark ponytail, glasses, braces, baggy pants, boy’s shoes, and oversized T-shirts to hide the fact I refused to wear a bra, you would not believe that girl could ever improve her style.
I’m not sure I really did, to be honest. But living in Europe did good things for me.
In all my fashion troubles, I learned one thing. And that is, WHO CARES. Dress all in one colour, mix polka dots and stripes, wear socks and sandals.
Fashion is what makes you feel good about yourself, no matter what statement you make.
I put too much importance on what I looked like, when I could’ve enjoyed my time to the maximum, stress-free.
Oh, well. Maybe next time around, I’ll do better.
(Now accepting applications for a personal fashion coach.)
Meet Victoria: Misplaced world citizen. Enthusiast of people, places, pictures, and pineapples. Keep up with her on IG.
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