2021 Fall Culture Germany Miquela Berge Temple Exchange

German vs. U.S. fashion

If you’re anything like me, 55-degree weather means time to bust out dresses and short-sleeved shirts from the wardrobe (with layering, of course). After a long, cold, and freezing winter, temperatures in the mid-50s in Pennsylvania practically feel like summer, so, why not ditch the winter hat for a baseball cap or pants for a dress and pantyhose? 

While this may be normal in the United States, or at least in Pennsylvania, the first day I wore such a dress in Hamburg, I received countless stares and two strangers asked me if I was cold. As an American, I was a bit shocked that so many people would care enough about my outfit to comment on it, as something like this had never before happened while in the States. 

However, since living in Hamburg these past seven months, I have noticed some trends in German, or at least northern German fashion, that may explain the wild stares and comments from strangers. So, whichever season you visit Germany, be sure to keep these fashion differences in mind!

Defining casual

Laying in bed? Sweatpants. Going to the gym? Sweatpants. Need a quick run to the supermarket? Sweatpants. Just don’t feel like changing? Sweatpants. I think it’s fair to say that sweatpants and jogging gear are common, everyday clothes in the United States. Whether you are going to school or spending the day inside, almost no one would bat an eye if someone chose to wear their gym gear while not actually going to the gym. 

While there are definitely people that wear sweatpants in public in Germany, I have noticed that almost all gym wear is worn solely for working out. Wearing it for any other occasion may earn you some strange stares, especially because casual in Germany usually means a T-shirt and denim jeans. And speaking of such clothing, you would be surprised to know that jeans and T-shirts are also common work clothes, especially from teachers or people who work in smaller offices. Just keep in mind that jeans here may have a tighter fit, and the ripped-look is not as popular as in the United States. So, when in doubt, I promise you you can never go wrong when you stick with the basics. 

Dress for the weather

One of the biggest fashion trends I have noticed in Germany is that most people dress for the weather. So, this sounds quite practical, but perhaps Americans would rather dress for comfort rather than the weather. I mean, who doesn’t know that one person who chooses to wear shorts in below-freezing temperatures and refuses to purchase a winter coat? Unlike Americans, Germans would probably ditch the heavy winter coat when the temperature starts hitting 65 degrees, which means that dressing for the weather is extremely important. Brands like The North Face and Jack Wolfskin are extremely popular, and it is not uncommon to see people wearing hiking boots, winter boots, warm winter caps, and knitted scarves. Likewise, layers are essential for surviving the winter, so don’t even think about leaving the house without at least two layers of clothing and a thick winter coat. 

A woman wearing a gray cap, hiking boots, and a green jacket on a hiking trail.
Earth-tones and nature gear are essential!

Let’s talk about colors

Now, this may be an observation relevant solely to Hamburg, but most clothing pieces often reflect a darker or shadier palette. Colors like dark blue, deep green and dark brown are common colors in the city. Perhaps the darker colors reflect the usual rainy and gray weather of the city, which is better equipped to endure the rain and wind that comes with living in such a northern city. Once again, I cannot speak for all Americans, but most seem to dress based on comfort or pleasure rather than simple practicality, which may mark the biggest difference between the two countries. 

Obviously, not everyone in Germany dresses the same or like how I have described above. I have definitely seen some stand-out outfits while abroad, and I can assure you that cities like Munich or Berlin also have their own personal and unique styles. Nevertheless, it is evident that German fashion is centered on practicality while looking presentable. Though it may not be as exciting or relevant as French or Italian fashion, it is a style that anyone can adapt to and is easy to imitate without needing to spend so much money. 

Two people standing behind a blue sky. One is wearing a cap, a black T-shirt, and baggy jeans. The other wearing a short, plaid dress.
My friend and I wearing 90’s American-styled outfits in the Stadtpark

Check out fashion in other cities abroad here!

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