European style: the ‘in’ crowd

Article published on April 3, 2006
Article published on April 3, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Do all Europeans dress the same, or does each country have its own style? We reveal the latest fashion trends across the continent and give you the key to the Eurolook.

“If you take a teenager from every country in Europe and shut them in a room together, it is impossible to work out which country each of them is from. But if you add a young American, you will see that all the other youngsters look like him.” This is the comparison used by Imma Urrea, historian and 20th Century fashion expert, to explain the global urban fashion trend in which Europe is living today; what you could call the Eurolook. Despite the cultural diversity of Europe, our clothes are increasingly standardized.

How was the Eurolook born?

The main clothes companies set certain fashion criterion each season on the catwalks of Paris, Milan and Barcelona. “Companies from around the world attend these events, and from these basic elements contained in these events, each stylist will make their own creation,” explains Ramon Costa, a garment specialist who has worked with such names as Ellesse and Burberry. They will all have similar styles, but with different tailoring and different materials depending on the social group at which the product is aimed.

On the other hand, in the case of the big chains, such as the Spanish Inditex, or the Swedish H&M, there are fewer differences. “Their aim is to do the biggest run of the same product to achieve a more competitive price and reduce production costs,” states Costa. It is thanks to these stores that the Eurolook was born.

As Imma Urrea explains, there is a global tendency towards casual wear: “it is a trend which was created in the United States after the Second World War. They stopped being inspired by French haute couture and instead created practical and functional clothes; clothes manufactured to make thousands of copies.” This style is based on applying the comfort of sportswear to everyday fashion, a far cry from the exclusive clothes suggested by fashion magazines. “Coco Chanel took the definitive step when they added comfort to women’s fashion, something which women had always been denied before. In the case of men, they have followed the influence of the English aristocratic style since the end of the 18th Century: comfortable, resilient clothes,” explains Urrea.

The Italians lead the way

Italy takes trends to the extreme. The Catalonian journalist Cristina Iglesias assures us that in Italy, “even the adult public wears the latest fashion, something which doesn’t happen in other countries.”

It is currently very fashionable to wear logos “as a status symbol”, explains the Italian reporter Tiziano Sforza. Also in are “high heeled boots, T-shirts that show off your midriff and small bags.” All this urban style however, is left to one side when at work, where a much more serious dress code is adopted. Furthermore, Italian girls are known across Europe for the length of time it takes them to get ready, probably because of the care they take over their hair and makeup.

So as not to abandon the stereotypes, María Gutiérrez from Valencia assures us that the English do wear fewer clothes. “Young people go out with almost nothing on, whether they are fat or skinny. They have no problem with showing their bodies. In the south, we should learn from the northerners and not be so puritanical.”

“In the big German cities like Berlin or Hamburg, they dress with a touch of 80s/90s retro. [This is] a fashion comparable to the English and similar to the American because of its mix of colour and boldness.”

The east lives for ‘made in the USA’

In Eastern Europe anything which comes from the United States is all the rage. Polish journalist Marysia Amribd points out that: “the American influence is so strong that there are brands of clothes which follow the style of singers such as Osbourne or Avril Lavigne.”

In Poland young people look for exclusivity in products offered by websites like wylegarnia, and they love brands, although the average Polish salary doesn’t always allow it. These trends can be seen in the contrast between generations; on the street the most fashionable youngsters mix old people who “still maintain an old-fashioned style with Soviet influences” claims Pierre Thibauld.

On the other hand, Lenka, owner of a modeling agency in the Czech Republic says “the Czechs have the worst taste in Europe. They lack certain elegance. For example, they go as far as to wear a white T-shirt, jeans and a pearl necklace.”

Eurolook or Globalook?

With globalisation, national differences have become ever smaller, above all in the big cities. Most of us buy our clothes from big multinationals that have regularised prices, and this process has meant that regional particularity has increasingly vanished from our dress. In spite of cultural differences, when it comes to fashion we are increasingly cut from the same cloth.