A trip to Europe offers an opportunity for fine shopping

A trip to Europe offers an opportunity for fine shopping

Q. I have a work trip to London coming this Spring, and given that this is our first trip in years, I plan to take two quick excursions to Paris and Milan. I am also coming off 2 years of my only purchases’ being sweats and jeans, so in theory I have a pretty good budget to buy some quality clothing. I’m thinking of traveling with a pretty empty suitcase and filling it on the way. What are the items that make sense to buy in these cities? 

A. That is a wise plan. There is no actual dress code, but the European dress style is first about smart, elegant clothes, and only secondarily about comfort. You are not likely to see many Europeans wearing something that is ill-fitting or unflattering just because it’s comfortable. Packing guides are pretty vague, but if you want to dress like a European man, think about quality, basic luxury looks, and clothes that fit extremely well. Nothing too loose or baggy, and nothing too casual. If your plan is to blend in, dress with quiet good taste.

Here are a few suggestions of what to pack. 

  • One not-too-dressy gray suit that will work well for business meetings and/or evening events.
  • A nice navy blazer will be useful for many occasions from daytime business to dinners out.
  • Choose dress trousers or well-tailored (and well-pressed) khakis over jeans. Pack two or three pairs of dress pants that will 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 work with the suit or the blazer and can become casual when the sleeves are turned up. 
  • You can layer a wool or cashmere sweater to create several different looks and also to keep you warm. A lightweight windbreaker jacket or a scarf can also serve as an extra layer.   
  • Leave any synthetics that you own at home. Europeans strongly favor natural materials: wool, cashmere, cotton, linen, leather, and silk..
  • Above all, bring comfortable leather shoes in neutral colors, like black and brown. Shoes take a lot of space in your luggage, so limit yourself to bringing 2 (or, at most 3) pairs, including the ones you wear to travel. One pair should be super comfortable leather walking shoes to wear during the day. A dressier pair can be worn at daytime meetings and at night when you go out. Be sure they are polished and clean. An absolute rule: Do not bring new shoes. Shoes take time to break-in and can cause blisters, which would totally ruin your trip.

Shorts and sweat pants are frowned upon in most European cities, so, don’t include them.  Besides looking touristy, you could be denied admission to many places (concert halls, churches, and fine restaurants). Also high on the list of clothes to avoid are flip-flops and tennis shoes. They will instantly mark you as a tourist. So will bright colors, flashy logos, and clothing embellished with slogans. They  are considered ostentatious and wearing them is seen as a lack of class in Europe. Unlike Americans, who love strong colors and patterns, Europeans like subtle clothing choices.  

I really like your idea of taking a rather empty suitcase to fill as you travel through Europe. You can – and should – buy fine clothes while in Europe, especially since you will be visiting the two cities widely-thought of as the men’s clothing capitals of the world, Milan and London. I suggest shopping for luxury shirts and rainwear from Savile Row shops in London, and tailored clothing, sweaters, and high-end shoes in Milan’s many small sophisticated shops. They are filled with wonderful, timeless clothes that you will enjoy wearing for years, if not decades, to come.     

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions and comments to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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