I spent most of last summer studying abroad in London. While plans to move back seem to be growing more difficult by the day, (thank you, economic downturn, feel free to end anytime now), I flip through my pictures on a weekly basis and dream of having unlimited access to Topshop and Portobello Market.
Though it’s been months since I arrived back, I am left contemplating the differences between American and European fashion sense. I’m not going to turn this into some big anti-American rant because really, we’re not that bad, but you have to hand it to those kids overseas — they sure know how to pull themselves together in the morning.
Aside from possessing the ability to eat normal portions of food, Europeans have a knack for throwing on outfits in a way that simultaneously screams effortless and spot-on trend.
When I was in London, I felt decently comfortable with my style. Brits are pretty quirky, so it was OK to look somewhat intentionally mismatched — which is a great thing when one suitcase of clothes needs to last a month and a half.
In Paris, however, I constantly felt intimidated by the people surrounding me. Practicality is thrown out the window. The sight of a woman zooming around on a moped in 5-inch heels never failed to flabbergast me. I mean, my God — I refuse to even wear heels to walk from my apartment on Dawson Street up to Hemingway’s!
Sure, not everyone in Europe is running around in some straight-off-the-runway couture gown, but for the most part everyone is at least dressed. You don’t see people — not even the teenagers — loafing around in sweats. They’re in clothes that are well-made and tailored to perfection.
Here in America, it’s no secret that we’re a little late in the game when it comes to fashion trends. We scramble to get into trends four years after they make a European debut. We’ll buy whichever iteration we can get the cheapest, sacrificing fit and quality in a desperate attempt to appear “in-the-know.”
In America, we feel guilty about everything — possibly a lasting complex over that whole stomping-in-and-taking-the-Native-Americans’-land thing. We feel guilty about getting what we want. We feel like if something brings us pleasure, we shouldn’t have it. We feel guilty about free time, as if having a few hours to ourselves each day is something to be embarrassed about, like it must mean we don’t work hard enough.
We feel guilty about wearing the same outfit three times in the same month. The French, on the other hand, will buy one solid outfit a season and wear it to shreds. The quality is impeccable, of course. Sometimes I think it would be nice to feel satisfied by buying one designer outfit a season, rather than spending money left and right to always feel “updated”.
Perfection, too, seems to be an American preoccupation. After all, does the poster child of Europe have enough plastic surgery to make Joan Rivers jealous? No, not at all. Los Angeles, a land of nose jobs and breast implants, has no foreign counterpart.
Instead, the beauty regimens of Europeans focus far more on natural beauty. They eat and drink to take care of their skin. They can run out to the farmer’s market to pick up their evening’s produce without a hint of makeup on and their hair in a lopsided knot. Yet you can bet they’ll look way better than shellacked Americans making their way to the grocery store to buy over-processed food in overpriced outfits.
While I think we could all benefit from a hefty dose of European nonchalance, I’m still a big fan of America. I have a tremendous deal of pride in a country that gave birth to Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to give a big shout out to Sweden. To the masterminded country behind H & M: If it weren’t for you, my closet would probably be empty.