Before leaving for Berlin on the Cultural Vistas Fellowship, I got a lot of advice about how to dress, ranging from “100% black” to “skinny jeans” to “never smiling.” As someone equally terrified of airline weight restrictions and looking like a tourist, packing for this summer was an exercise in anxiety. I’ve outlined some of the major points for how to dress like a Berliner that I’ve picked up throughout the summer below.
How to Dress Like a Berliner On the Go
Berliners have a very relaxed sense of style–much more so than other European cities. Jeans and a t-shirt with some sort of jacket or cardigan are probably your best bet to looking like a native. Bonus points for the girls if you tuck your shirt in–I followed this formula on my first day and an actual Berliner tried to ask me for directions.
If you can’t stand something that basic, Berliners do follow trends similar to the ones in the United States, minus the preppy and rustic chic looks. Colors aren’t taboo, something that Berlin’s weird obsession with ’80s windbreakers is proving. Athleisure is definitely a thing, no matter what your university’s study abroad advisers try to tell you. It’s more Adidas track pants than yoga pants and a gym tank.
How to Dress Like a Berliner in the Office
My fellow Fields intern, Lanie, actually emailed our boss before packing to ask about the office dress code. She received the extremely vague answer of “loose clothing.” In practice, that mainly means our street clothes work just as well for the office. One of my coworkers back home laughed when I mentioned bringing two pairs of jeans in case I ended up wearing them to work. “Germans,” she informed me, “don’t wear jeans to the office.” Since she was German herself, I trusted her, leaving the second pair at home and buying a pair of slacks.
Well. It turns out that Berliners do wear jeans (and jorts!) to the office. My boss will occasionally break out some low heels. However, sneakers, flats, sandals, boots, and Birkenstocks are much more common. Outside of my first day at the office, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone in slacks. In fact, the only items I brought with me but haven’t worn are my blazer and pencil skirt, the items I thought I’d be cycling through pretty often.
(Each office is obviously going to be different. But our firm, as well as the startups and foundations with interns, have fairly similar dress codes.)
How to Wear Makeup Like a Berliner
I packed four different types of mascara and two t-shirts for this summer if that tells you anything about my priorities. German women definitely seem to share my mascara love, but the rest of their faces are fairly bare (or at least attempt to look bare). I don’t think I’ve seen any German women wearing eyeliner (aside from a few punk teenagers), and I definitely haven’t seen any eyeshadow. While some of my younger co-workers will wear foundation and blush, lighter coverage foundation, tinted moisturizer, and “nothing” are much more common choices. German women consider good skin more important than good makeup, so prioritize moisturizer over a high-coverage foundation if packing space is limited. Statement lipsticks, like the bright reds and darker berries that are really popular in the United States right now, are very hard to find.
If your goal is to avoid being spotted as a tourist, then the biggest style difference is going to be in your accessories. While sneakers might be a huge giveaway in other cities, a pair of Adidas or Nikes won’t stand out in Berlin. Sporty backpacks and sunglasses, cargo shorts, and leggings are much more likely to be spotted as American gear. A simple canvas or leather backpack will help you blend in better, even if they aren’t as comfortable for a full day of walking.
While you may want to dress up a little more than usual, don’t pack anything you already don’t wear at home. Moving to or visiting another city doesn’t magically redefine your sartorial comfort zone. Enjoy your adventure!
Interested in a fully-funded summer internship in Berlin, Bangalore, or Buenos Aires? Learn more about the Cultural Vistas Fellowship.