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What to Wear in Europe

Pauline Kenny

"What will I wear when traveling in Europe?" This is a frequent question on the Slow Travel message board. There are two things to consider: how to dress for visiting churches and how to dress in general. I am the last person in the world who should give clothing advice (I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of person), but I will summarize what I have learned from other Slow Travelers on the message board.

"Comfort has its place, but it seems rude to visit another country
dressed as if you've come to mow its lawns."
- - Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris, 2000 - -


Dress code for churches

Sign on Orvieto Doumo, 09/01

Any visit to Europe involves going in and out of churches to look at the art. The churches are full of fabulous art, but many are also regular churches being used by local people. You are entering a place of worship and are expected to dress and act accordingly. Do not talk loudly. If there is a religious ceremony going on, wait until it is finished to examine the art near the altar.

Some churches have signs telling you what type of clothing is acceptable, some have people at the doors turning people away who are not appropriately dressed, some do not have a dress code enforced. It varies from church to church. It is best to dress appropriately in case they are turning people away because of inappropriate dress.

This photo shows a sign on the door of the Orvieto Duomo in Italy. This is what it is trying to say:

  • Not Permitted: Men and women cannot be in short shorts or sleeveless tops.
  • Permitted: Men can wear long shorts (to the knee) and women can wear skirts to the knee.
  • No dogs, no cameras.

Usually sleeveless tops are not permitted for either men or women. A woman can carry a light shawl to cover her shoulders and upper arms when needed. Frequently shorts are not acceptable. We usually wear long pants in Italy; lighter weight ones in the summer.

Normal dress in towns and cities

On average, Europeans tend to dress better than Americans. Steve and I dress a little better when we are in Europe. Things are more casual now than they were 10 years ago and we no longer bring a jacket and tie for Steve for restaurants, but we do bring one or two casual shirts for going out for dinner. We also wear nice looking leather walking shoes instead of running shoe-like walking shoes (although running shoes are starting to be more popular in Europe). You need comfortable footwear because you spend a lot of time walking, but pick a shoe that looks nice too. Be sure your shoes are well broken in before your trip.

The eternal discussion about blue jeans

The topic of blue jeans in Europe comes up regularly on all the travel message boards. Here is my opinion. Ten years ago wearing jeans in Europe was out of place. This is no longer the case. You will see Italians in jeans (and even in jogging suits and running shoes). Do not avoid jeans because you think they will make you stand out as American.

I personally love jeans and always bring them to Europe. Jeans are good because they don't show the dirt. You can easily go a month without washing them and they don't look outrageous. You can wear them hiking, or put on a nicer top to go out for dinner.

But jeans are heavy to pack (I always wear mine on the plane) and if you wash them they can take days to line-dry in the wet season. Most laundries charge by weight so it is expensive to get them washed and dried.

I think it boils down to whether or not you are a blue jeans person. If you are, then bring them. Cotton pants are more sensible in the hot weather, but when you are away from home it is sometimes comforting to wear your favorite clothes.

What are They Wearing in Italy?

Read our new section on Italian Fashion by Judith Greenwood: Seasonal Notes on What They are Wearing in Italy.

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