How to dress like a German

by Christina Geyer on September 12, 2008 · 70 comments

Typical American (left), typical German (right)

It’s a topic many travelers to and expats in Germany wonder about at some point: how do I blend in with the locals?

In my travels throughout Germany, I’ve found it pretty easy to pick out Americans, even the ones dressing incognito. I’ve developed “American Radar.” There’s a way Americans carry themselves: a certain walk, a certain head tilt, a certain loudness to our voices, that is quite easy to spot once you spend enough time among foreigners. We take up a lot of space, we expect things to go the way we expect. There’s only so much one can do about these things, but if you want (and it’s not necessary by any means), you can at least make an attempt at passing for a local through changing a few simple things about the way you dress.

How American men dressTypical American baggy clothing and sports jerseys

Baggy clothing – If you could stick a second person in your outfit, you are going to stick out like a sore thumb here. Germans tend to wear their clothing cut pretty close to the body.

Long is wrong? – With Americans, shirts often cover the hips. Shorts end below the knee, sometimes even mid-calf. Pants and jeans fall at least to the top of the instep if not further. Women in high heels often have pant inseams longer than their legs. Germans tend to wear shirts ending at the waist, or if longer, they wear them tucked in. Neither men or women are afraid to wear short shorts, pant legs often end at the ankle. Manpris (Capris cut for men) are quite popular, but it’s clear that they are capris, not long shorts.

Track suits and sweats – Only in the gym and on the jogging trail here.

Flip flopping – They’re starting to show up here, but if I see someone in flip flops, 90% of the time, it’s an American. The other 10% of the time it’s a teenage German. Germans do wear flip flops, but not in town, they are pool or home wear here. On the other hand, German middle aged and older men are often seen sporting socks and sandals.

White sneakers, can you guess who wears ‘em? - Yup, Americans. Americans tend to wear big, chunky, basketball/cross-trainer sneakers everywhere they go. Germans, when they wear sneakers, tend to wear sleeker, thinner-soled, narrow sneakers in regular shoe colors (brown, black or tan vs. white or gray). Construction worker type shoes, like Doc Martens, are also not common except among the goth/punk crowds.

American sneakers (left) vs. German sneakers (right)American sneakers vs German sneakers

Square eye wear – Sight-impaired Americans, when not wearing contacts, which is the more common choice, seem to go for slightly larger, more rounded eye wear, while Germans are all about the narrow rectangular frames. Germans also spend a lot of money on eye wear, you see plenty of designer brands here.  Prada, D&G, Gucci, and Dior eyeglasses and sunglasses are common.

Invest in Tommy Hilfiger – You can’t go wrong in the eyes of German yuppies if you’re wearing Tommy. Many a young urban German professional can be seen looking like a Tommy store barfed all over them.

Sports jerseys – Only if you’re attending a game, man.

Coach purses – Dead giveaway that you’re American.  Coach stuff isn’t sold over here and I’ve never noticed a European wearing anything by Coach.

Cargo shorts – Pretty much a dead giveaway that you are American. Same with khaki pants.

Red hair – To blend in with middle-aged German women, dye your hair red.  Not a naturally occurring red tone, like Lucille Ball’s hair, more like something between maroon and magenta.

How German men dressGerman men, out and about on a Sunday afternoon

Mythbusting:

  • Germans/Europeans don’t wear jeans – just plain wrong. Jeans are quite common here, they are just leaner cut than in the US.
  • Everyone wears black – nope. Germans like color, they just aren’t always good at matching.

In all seriousness though, here’s a crowd shot of some typical Germans, not really all that different from Americans:

German crowd shot

Do you have any tips for blending in with Germans?


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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Deana Joseph April 14, 2010 at 12:05 am

I’m trying to find out how german woman or girls dress and i can’t find it!!! =[
I HATE finding research!!!!!!! =] =] =]
Thanks for reading!!! =] =]

2 Deana April 14, 2010 at 12:12 am

HELP!! I can’t find anything!! =[
I'm SOOOO lost!! =[
I looked on every website you could go on!! I thought this would be easier than taking candy away from a baby!!! =] lol =]
Thanks AGAIN!!! =] =]

P.S. If you find anything tell me!! I’m begging you!! Thanxs!! =]

3 Deana Joseph April 14, 2010 at 12:20 am

#29 is so funny!! it sounds like my husband and the beer belly!!!!! =] lol

To my husband:
Sorry honey, but I still love you!!!
JK about the whole beer belly,my husband is slim if you come home from work and drink a 24 pack of beer EVERY DAY!!! =] =]

4 exPATations May 18, 2010 at 5:57 pm

well, if my husband ran around looking like those speciMENs with the caption: “german men, out and about on a sunday afternoon”, i would get a divorce, in germany as well as in the states and anywhere for that matter. “dressed to kill ” gets a whole new meaning. i am tempted to say this may be a bad example to generalize german dressing by.

i am really amuzed at all of your comments! have been living in deutschland since `74 so i have seen alot of style-phases that went thru here. and yes, there is a definite “feel” you acquire for picking out an american in a crowd.

to “46″…are you serious? typical american is pjs in public?? i havent been gone THAT long have i? and to Leo “34″…no guns? where are you from in the states?? the bronx? or the bonanza ranch? i have seen police with weapons here but no one else in public, thank GOD.

getting back to the subject…pick up the latest catalog and youll see that the latest fashion trends for young folks include the 60s hippy-style with empire waists and yokes, mix-and matching prints, tunicas and bells, big necklaces and earrings…thats fun as far as women are concerned (what are the men doing at the moment?) that doenst mean all follow the fad. you can see bright colors are popular right now, all shades of purple for men for instance, from pastels in lilac to raspberry ripple and violet blues. . . why not?

i dress for me, wear what i feel is comfy and what i like. i dont think there is any necessity to dress “not to stick out”. now if you are in the sticks with a bunch of “hinterwäldler” (folks from “behind the woods”, i guess we would call backward) may ridicule you for being an alien no matter what you wear. in that case even dressing to make yourself invisable in a crowd wouldnt stop them from looking for other reasons not to like you as well.

my advice? just be yourself. above all they are curious and my expirience has shown that they will respond positively to you if you show you are outgoing, self-secure and have humor. everyone is a stranger somewhere. a smile breaks the ice in any language!

5 Annie September 3, 2010 at 5:27 pm

If you want to dress like a German woman (20s-ish), you have to wear a scarf at all times, no matter the temperature or wear jackets/sweaters/hoodies that zip up to your chin. For whatever reason, it seems critically important to always have your neck covered.

Go easy on the make-up.

You should probably wear flats or some variation of this shoe: http://www.zalando.de/tamaris-spangenpumps-graphit-black-ta1-fzw-0689-99.html or this one: http://www.zalando.de/victoria-stoff-schnuerer-gris.html.

6 Linda September 10, 2010 at 10:50 am

I just had to laugh about your comment that Germans don’t necessarily match colors well. We’ve been here this time for nearly 7 years and my oldest (who lived the first half of his life in southern California) honestly thinks that lime green and orange go well together! What concerns me is I lived in Germany over 20 years ago and orange was the only available color then, too. Is there a color psychologist who can explain Germans obsession with orange?

7 nicole September 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I’m a German citizen, but grew up on American military bases and my number one tip is if you’re a guy, dress like you’re going to a gay club and for everyone else, dress like a non-matching fool. Don’t forget platform sneakers and Starter jackets. And oh yes, the scarves. We have a fear that if your neck is exposed, we will get sick. I know this from my mom always making me cover my neck lol. Also drafts will make you sick (don’t try to open windows on buses and trains, no matter how hot, because everyone will get angry and shut the window because you’re going to make them sick). I don’t know anything about orange, but there’s an obsession with multi-colored shapes on stuff like pants and car interiors. Also, if you go to a club, German girls tend to wear sleeveless shirt or halter tops with pants. American girls are way more hoochie at clubs. But if you go to a fest, German girls will wear micro-skirts with super high heels. Also German deodorant is no good. I know this because I forgot my deodorant on an overnight ski trip in high school and bought some at a local German store (name brand, not some generic deodorant) and I had to reapply it over and over again.

Of course, you will never see a German wearing pj’s to a grocery store. Some guys will wear those adidas pants with the buttons on the side that can rip open. Also, I don’t remember anyone ever wearing jeans and sneakers.

Me and my (American) friends ALWAYS played “spot the American” when we were downtown (Wuerzburg). The jeans and sneakers, the fanny packs, certain polo shirts, cargo shorts, flip flops, oh and stuff like the terrified looking Army wives haha.

Glad I found this, I miss Germany lol:)

8 Herrenblatt April 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Funny pictures from the german Sunday afternoon look :D …I agree

We want the germans to dress better. Have a look at http://www.herrenblatt.de/journal/herrenmode/ and you`ll see good dressed people ;)

9 vgirl November 23, 2011 at 6:06 am

Do germens ever wear top hats?????

10 Allen Smith November 23, 2011 at 6:18 am

In my three visits to Germany, my experience is that if you approach them with a positive attitude and speak German, they don’t really care what you wear.

Just as we Amis become annoyed when someone comes up to us in our country and casually addresses us in an unfamiliar language, so do they. Well, duh. What a surprise.

Just make an effort to speak survival German, and they will appreciate it. There are a number of good German language methods on the market right now, including my favorite, The Pimsleur Approach, and the more expensive Rosetta Stone.

Just put yourself in their Schue.

11 EM January 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I can often tell by the glasses.

12 edwina February 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm

This post really makes me laugh! Love the comments. It gets even funnier on the 2nd page – conjuring up visions of white shoed and socked Americans running around in their baggy athletic clothes while the Euros play it cool in their svelt jeans and tops that don’t match! I’m laughing even as I write this and I’m alone! It’s too funny!

13 jeff May 22, 2012 at 5:30 am

I’m half German and my dad is full blood. He is very proud never slouches or is bad mannered neither am i Germans are proud so look for slouchers and those who act like they dont care and you’ll have americans i think

14 Karina September 16, 2012 at 3:50 am

Baseball caps and sunglasses combined are also a dead giveaway that someone is american.

15 Yms March 31, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Thanks so much for your posts. As I read this one, I couldn’t help, but nod my head. I asked the beautician to change my hair from the red to something more light brown. She came back with a VERY bright red (Lucille Ball) to mix with a VERY dark black. I just decided to go with it and wait till I get to the states for my short break there to get back to a honey brown color…just can’t find it here!

16 blue April 7, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Well, I am a vietnamese, but was born and raised in Germany, so I know how the things are going on here. If you would like to dress like a german girl, here are some tips:

1. dress casual, nothing special but pretty
2. don’t stand out with an unique style, just copy the normal stuff (e.g. top, jeans, tube scarf, not-outstanding sneakers/boots & voilà, you look german)

So … yeah, that’s how german girls look like. To me, at least. However, it should be said that there are also many girls which are geared to american/british styles.

17 LakeOfDreams November 3, 2013 at 10:38 am

So I live in Germany. I grew up in a multicultural Family. Through this i noticed a few Things that are different in the culture.

I can tell that midle aged women like to have short hair cuts. Some of them even look like men haircuts to me. And on top of that they like to colour it in a dark purple, red colour. Especialy in east Germany the women like that sort of hair. I belive that its different in the West side. Another thing I have noticed is that some women like to wear Headbands made out of fabrics.
German teenage girls dress different. The average wears longer hair but attention too long hair seems for some scruffy. If you want to dress to fit in wear some skinny jeans. A scarf. And for the top just got to h&m or some other place. The average german teenage girl likes to be fasionable and wear new clothes. Lots of the girls like to colour theire hair but with normal colours. Blond, Brown…

18 Pat June 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm

I just found your website on dressing German and have been laughing! I write WWII books – about Wuerzburger Fritz Bayerlein. I traveled to Deutschland twice per year, for 2-3 weeks each. Due to illness, I didn’t go for awhile. Last April’13 I went back to Wuerzburg. My friend Helga lives there so its great to visit! I do dress German, I like leather black shoes, darker clothes in winter (I travel October and March only). So I’ve not seen Germans in the Summer. Our local travel club asked me to give a lecture on travelling in German, and I did a ‘dressing German’ segment. Surprised the old folks! Yes, in Wuerzburg I saw plenty of us Americans in those huge white shoes! (Ugh) and sports jerseys. One man must have come from a rodeo in Wyoming because he was Western! Big black cowboy hat, tight jeans, checked shirt, cowboy boots. Looked like he ‘hadn’t a clue’ of blending in with locals, or cared not to, which is okay if you don’t mind getting stared at. I’m 61 now and some friends commented that I should ‘dye your hair’ as I have a natural light grey color. I can’t imagine it being red, or even with some, boot black. Does nothing for one’s old face to have stark dark hair! haha. Enjoyed the comments! Hugs to Wuerzburg!

19 ryan June 30, 2014 at 7:43 pm

I NEVER laugh out loud at something I read. And I just did. “Looking like a Tommy Hilfiger store barfed all over them
“. Thanks for making my day.

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