Does your style adapt to the country you live in?

by Sylvia

Style in different countries
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Do you have a clear sense of your personal style? And does it change, depending on the country you live in? I have lived in more than 7 countries, and looking back on living in all those places, I would say that the place you live in always has an effect on your style. Now that I write about style and fashion all the time, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on how different my style was in each country I lived in. I will highlight a few.

The Netherlands (Amsterdam, Nijmegen)

I was born and raised in The Netherlands. The Dutch are known to be direct but relaxed people, who do not like to show off their possessions too much. Society is very much based on equality and millionaires could just as easily own a simple car, rather than a big Mercedes. This is also reflected in the way they dress. Big brands are certainly not the norm in The Netherlands and when I lived there last (about 13 years ago) many of the major brands did not have shops in Amsterdam. One saying in the Dutch language is “Act normal – That’s crazy enough”. That is how I used to dress there. Reasonably safe, comfortable and a bit fashionable.

Style tends to be characterised by:

  • Comfortable clothing, jeans and jumpers are very common.
  • Layers. Due to the unpredictable climate, the Dutch like to dress with lots of layers. Tunics over trousers, cardigans, and lots of jackets are very common.
  • Practical accessories. Many Dutch women carry very practical bags like little back packs. Easy to take on our bikes.
  • It’s not about the brands. The Dutch don’t care so much about brands. We want reliable clothing at good prices that are practical yet fashionable.

Italy (Bologna)

My time in Bologna, italy was too short (only 5 months) but in those months I really got a taste for Italy and fell in love with the country. In Italy fashion is hugely important. All major brands are represented in each city and dressing well is of utmost importance there. My experience is that you always pick up the vibe from the local style scene, so in Italy that certainly meant shopping! My style was a lot more fashionable and tailored here than in The Netherlands.

Characteristics of Italian style:

  • Tailored clothing of high quality.
  • Fur is seen everywhere in winter.
  • You dress to be seen. One of my favorite customs in Italy was to join the crowds on Sunday afternoon walking at incredibly low speed in the high streets. All the shops were closed, people were just doing the ’rounds’ and the sole purpose was to watch others and be seen.
  • The lastest fashion trends are meticulously followed and high quality items are favored.

Japan (Yokohama / Tokyo)

In Japan major brands are hugely important. I lived in Yokohama which is close to Tokyo, and shopping is important here (there are lots of shops too!) but one of the most important things for every Japanese woman is to own at least 1 Louis Vuitton designer bag. Literally everyone has them, from the wealthy to the relatively lower incomes. Brands are seen as status symbols, so to be part of accepted society, you’ve got to have it. My style was dressy and fashionable here, although I did not succumb to buying a Louis Vuitton bag.

Style characteristics:

  • Designer brands (especially Gucci and Louis Vuitton) are very important,
  • Quirky street style from the young.
  • Latest trends are followed.

Australia (Sydney)

I spent 7 years in Sydney, Australia. And what you may have heard of the relaxed ozzy lifestyle is true. Everything tends to be more laid back here and that is certainly reflected in what people wear. You will see very few women in high fashion here. Instead dressing comfortably is taken to a new level. Of course there are always the exceptions and there are a few trendy shops, but on the whole, casual relaxed dressing prevails. I know I wore lots of t-shirts and baggy trousers during that time! Characteristics of Australian style:

  • Lots of shorts or three quarter pants for both men and women.
  • Sneakers, comfortable shoes.
  • Not much focus on brands or designer handbags.

China (Shanghai)

This city has grown tremendously over the last couple of years and that is reflected in its shops as well. Lots of new shopping malls and all major brands are represented. The Chinese like to buy the brands once they are a bit more well-off, although it is not as important as in Japan. Many Chinese are still finding their sense of style and the traditional dress qipao is still very much part of the culture and seen a lot. In China you can really let your imagination run wild. I had some custom boots made, as well as coats, skirts and other garments. They were all fashionable with a little asian flavour.

Characteristics of chinese style:

  • Nice combination of western and asian influences with lots of silk available everywhere.
  • Creative. Many make their own clothes or have them tailored.
  • Fake brands are everywhere in China, so you never really know if someone’s Gucci bag is real or not.

Singapore

I have now lived in Singapore for more than 5 years. With my Dutch influence and 7 years in Australia, it became clear pretty quickly that I had to up my game a little in Singapore. I was still carrying my comfy leather backpacks to parties and wore my comfortable shoes. In Singapore people are pretty laid-back in terms of clothing during the daytime (although at work dressing is very traditonal and formal) but they really dress up for parties. I have learned to dress more ladylike here, got some good hand bags and acquired some wonderful shoes with heels!

Characteristics of Singapore style:

  • Fashion is important.
  • Showing of your wealth with possesions and clothes is common.
  • All the brands are represented here multiple times, but good independent boutiques are harder to find.
  • Formal work attire with suits and dresses.

This sums up my style journey across the countries. Although some key elements of my style have remained the same (minimal, a bit of fun, asymmetry; fashionable but comfortable) I have found that you always adapt your style at least a bit in each country. Dressing and style is very much influenced by your environment, and you tend to go with the vibe in each country.

Did you live in a different country? And did you notice a change with your style?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

keyse

Superb article! I am forever fascinated by cultural differences and I would love to experience them first-hand. Your post was clear, up-to the point and really enlightening. Loved it! Btw, I live in Uruguay, South America

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Sylvia

Thanks Keyse. South America is the one continent I have yet to explore. What would you say is the style like in Uruguay?

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keyse

Things are quite simple here. We are very conservative-take shoes, for example, so difficult to find something other than black or brown! People seem shy to wear anything that calls the attention. Lots of jeans, black, brown and grey in winter, flowery stuff in summer. Pretty boring. There is a interest in brands, but they are mostly local. International brands are just too expensive for most of us. I buy many things in Argentina or Brazil- they are interesting, different, varied. Shoes are beautiful! And so much to choose from! People in those two countries are daring. Chileans are very trendy and creative too.

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Rita

Though I’ve traveled outside the US, I’ve not lived abroad. You can certainly find different manners of dressing within the US, though. I grew up in the Washington, DC area and have lived here on and off a few years at a time (am in DC now). Work clothes are more formal, though over the years it has migrated to more business casual unless you are working down town. In Oklahoma and Texas, it was all about the jeans…work jeans, casual jeans, going out on Saturday night jeans (people even dry cleaned them!). New Mexico was very eclectic, and reflected a bit more artsy style as well as more classic southwest styles (long skirts, boots, turquoise). Florida…well…we lived were a lot of 80+ year olds “wintered” so that’s a style of it’s own. Then there is Los Angeles…certainly hip and high fashion in Beverly Hills, but “real people” dressed in a mix of things…mostly with a very laid-back style. I pretty much have stuck to my comfort zone throughout all the moves, casual and comfortable, but had to step up the work clothes in DC. Kind of interesting to think about all the places I’ve lived in terms of style…I’ll have to ponder it some more. :-)

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Sylvia

Interesting Rita. I would imagine that each state in the US has its own character and style. At least that is what I experienced when travelling there.

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Greetje

This was a fun article. I am sure you are quite right. After all when we dress, we make a statement. We want to get a message accross. So your environment will be of huge influence. Again I thought.: ” wouldn’t it be nice for the blog if Sylvia could return to Italy.” you are doing great, that is not the point, but from an inspiration point of view, and seasons… Hmmm

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Sylvia

Thanks Greetje. I know. It would be a dream to move back to Italy. And it is certainly a pity that we don’t have proper seasons here. Luckily I have you and all the other stylers in the forum to compensate for that!

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Maria

I lived in Cairo, Egypt for 13 years. Although many women still dress in traditional outer garments and headscarves, the women with whom I worked at a university and I dressed alike, with some small differences.. We both wore pants or shirts, but theirs were usually paired with tunic tops, with either short or long sleeves, and blazers. My skirts were usually just below the knee to mid-clad and theirs were mid-calf to the ankle. We both wore modest necklines, nothing sheer or tight. I never saw women outside the beach resorts wearing shorts. Some students wore leggings, and, were sharply criticized too. In general, Egyptians dress up for work or when they go out. At private parties, upper class women wore the same kind of formal attire one would see in the US–low-cut, strapless dresses, some very short, but mostly long. Furs were commonly worn to parties in the winter. Jeans are worn by upper class men and women for casual occasions only and are rarely worn at work. Gold is a sign of wealth, and even Egyptian women of very modest means may wear two or three 18 ct. bangles all the time.

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Sylvia

Great to hear about dressing in Cairo Maria. Thanks!

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The Style Crone

I loved this post Sylvia. I’m so impressed with the experiences that you’ve had in so many places, and your review of style and how it differs across the globe. I have always lived in the US, but I find that style differs depending on region or city. I dress pretty much the same wherever I go, although in NY I attend more events which encourage highly creative attire.

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Sylvia

Yes, I’m sure it’s the same in the US where each state has a different vibe. I think you will find that when you move somewhere else for a longer time, you style may change a little as well. I’m very much enjoying your articles on your New York adventure. It looks like you had so much fun!

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Gee Gee

In Budapest, most women wear cheep chain brand garment, second hand is also very common. For young people it is easier to find suitable pieces, for matured ladies or just for business occasion it is more complicated. There are some well-known Hungarian designers and many upcoming ones, but even their products are not really affordable for most people. Many Hungarian try to avoid being knock-out or simply individual, quality seems to be less important, fav colours are grey, nude, black. Office look is rather casual, unless you work in some international law office or bank. Quite a number of brands has store here, including some really exclusive ones.

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Sylvia

thanks Gee Gee. Great to read about Budapest style!

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Bella Q

Fantastic post and thought provoking. I’m adjusting my style to new climes and culture. Seattle is less showy more practical and the colors are dull like blacks greys olives. I’m finding Fleece overwhelming and miss the costume drama of California.

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Sylvia

Thanks Bella. Yes I can imagine that Seattle is quite different from California. Although I think it’s a very dynamic and fashionable city. You just have to find a way to cope with the weather….

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aileen

What a fascinating time and interesting experiences you must have had living in different countries. In Scotland it rains, a lot! Most people wear trousers, rain jackets with hoods because the wind can be very strong as well. There isn’t much opportunity for dressing up day to day, but if we are going to a wedding or a ball or other special occasion we do make an effort for that.

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Sylvia

Thanks so much for your feedback Aileen. Yes, I can imagine that dressing up can be quite a challenge in Scotland…

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Greetje

Hi Aileen, I had a Scottish boyfriend in my late twenties. Spent 10 days in Dumfries. Man….. Me and my summer dresses and open sandals…. It was so cold and rainy, and when my feet get cold I have to go to the toilet. We also drank more than I am used to as we went into pubs all the time, so even more reason to visit the ladies room. I think I have seen every toilet in that part of Scotland. Did not work out with this guy. Could have known that. He was a hand-me-down of my best friend Patricia (also a Scot).
Been to the Carlisle horse races when I was there. The one beautiful day full of sunshine. As I got dressed in my shorts and T-shirt, my boyfriend asked me where I thought I was going….. Appeared that Carlisle is a mini Ascot. Patricia’s sister had set me up with a “dress down” advice. She killed herself laughing when I told her. Said she would have loved to see me appear in my shorts… LOL

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aileen

Hi Greetje, what a laugh. You know what I mean about the cold wet weather, having experienced it yourself. But they say that’s why we have beautiful green countryside here. I guess we can’t have it all!
Enjoyed hearing about your Scottish adventure and I’m still laughing xxx

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Sylvia

Great story Greetje!

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Heather Fonseca

I lived in Paris when I was in my 20′s, and certainly I changed my style to fit in better. Stylish but comfortable shoes, warm but short coats, and super short coats were what I wore most frequently. Parisians are fashionable yet conservative. The young people at the time all wore jeans and blazers. The trendy looks would arrive with the models during fashion week, but mostly people dressed rather simply, wearing good quality, tailored garments and beautiful, but comfortable shoes and bags. Women would always wear scarves.

I’ve lived in LA most of my life. The look where i live is super trendy yet casual, but the city is so big that it varies. Almost everyone wears denim, and because we drive everywhere shoes can be as high and wild as you like. Status designer purses are the norm. Men and women are very body conscious and like to show off all that hard work at the gym, plus it’s hot, so most people show off a lot of skin when the weather is warm.

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Aileen

Heather, what a wonderful experience to live in Paris and also LA. I have visited both cities, but unfortunately I haven’t lived in either of them.
I enjoyed hearing your thoughts and observations.

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Sylvia

Great to hear about your view on style in Paris and LA Heather!

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Petra

Hi Sylvia. I am a kiwi (New Zealander) although am living in Australia. I lOVE NZ fashion as people dress up more, and by that I mean showing individuality and creativity, summer through winter. NZ’ers are very proud of their home-grown designers who use the most amazing fabrics and really inventive styles, although on the other hand, they like to be practical too and wear layers and coats for the colder months. In Aussie, as you know, we dress for the climate, which is warm most of the year – although I must say, Aussies are becoming more stylish and the look has become more resort-casual which is heaps nicer!

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Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Petra. Fun to see that there is such a difference between Australia and New Zeeland and good to hear that Australians are becoming more fashionable. My report on Australia was certainly dated as it has been at least 7 years since I lived there.

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Marette

Hi,
I have lived in NZ for 6 years and lived in Colorado USA before that. It is a huge style difference between these two homes. Here in Christchurch, women dress well to go out to work or parties or shop, or church or to the library. By dress well, I mean it is rare to see jeans but common to see dresses and skirts and trousers. I cannot say that women here are very fashionable but they consciously dress in the morning. In Colorado, jeans were normal for every place, time and event.

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Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Marette. It can really be a difference in style depending on where you live. Do you enjoy Christchurch more or Colorado?

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Eve Dugas

Next year I will go to France and be wearing a beautiful two pieces blouse and skirt which is very stylish and confortable for the summer.

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Sylvia

Enjoy Eva!

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Penguin

I grew up in Christchurch NZ, lived in USA as a student and now live in Hobart, Australia – I can tell you that it most certainly is not warm there most of the year so I have to have a good collection of warm clothes that flatter and don’t bore me to death! There are some great NZ designers now and people do dress more conservatively in Christchurch. Hobart is not very fashion conscious, probably because it’s cold most of the time. I would say women in Adelaide dress in a more fun, colourful and summery style and in Melbourne it’s all about b.l.a.c.k.

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Sylvia

Thanks for sending in your feedback!

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Suemac

I’m living in Spain and I find that there is a huge gap between what young people wear and how older women dress. Looking at fashion magazines (a good way to learn Spanish!) it would appear that most young women want to look “sexy” so there are lots of short skirts and towering high heels! Most women of my age wear flat shoes and long skirts, though some do look very smart too. I find it very hard to find clothes and shoes that fit me and that I like. We walk everywhere so I do need comfortable shoes and I’m short (as are many Spanish women) but local shops don’t sell petite sizes. My Spanish friend Juana María, who is in her early fifties, is one of the most stylish women I know, so I try to find out where she buys her clothes, but she is taller than me!

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Sylvia

Thanks for giving the Spanish perspective Sue. How wonderful that you live in Spain. Such a fabulous country with wonderful people!

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