Archive | December, 2013

European wardrobe vs.California wardrobe

Posted on 09 December 2013 by American expat!

Living in this general area of Europe–Northern Spain, Southern and central France, Northern and central Italy–requires modifications to one’s wardrobe. Not to try to fit in, mind you, but simply to deal with the climate, the terrain and the lifestyle.

I’ve tried to make my CA wardrobe work here, I really have. I’ve brought countless stored items of clothing over to Europe, only to have them sit sadly in my closet, unworn and forgotten. Oh, I’ll take them out every now and then to look at, remembering how I could throw them on, feel good and never have to think twice about the temperature. Then I put them away for another year and eventually carry them back to California storage, sell them on eBay or just sadly give them away.

Dressing for the Climate

While the climate here is proclaimed to be similar to Southern California’s, humidity obscures all that. Humidity is like adding salt to your food: it intensifies what is already there. So throughout the year I’m either boiling or freezing, with very little time spent in between the two extremes.

Spring lasts about a week here, the seasons change from summer to winter and back again nearly instantaneously. Unlike in California, which has kind of a perpetual Spring, with a month or so of summer and even less of winter. Here, even a day with a mild 73F degrees, you will burn in the sun and freeze in the shade thanks to the humidity, which is why everyone, including me, wears scarves all year long. Scarves with everything, even summer outfits of shorts and tank tops. Because the second that sun dips behind the mountain, or you cool down before your sweat dries, your neck will be the first thing to feel exposed and vulnerable. Better cover it up and look like an idiot before you feel that chill you know is coming.

The humidity is also why I find things like my favorite lightweight trench coat I brought from the US hanging in the hall closet, unworn. It’s been two years since I brought it over, just about time for it’s visit to the Spanish closet to be over. I’ll go put it in my “take to the US” pile now. Sigh.

Dressing for Daily Life

In the US, I tend to wear jeans and high heels. I’ve basically had to forget that high heels exist here. I’ve carried so many pairs of heels in my luggage from the states, hopeful that they will see the light of day, only to be carried back over the Atlantic a year later having collected dust under the bed or in the closet. In a place where you walk, bike, navigate cobblestones and countless stairs daily, heels are an impossibility. The closest I can get is a moderate heel (2.5 inches) on a sturdy boot. And I still trip.

The upside to treacherous terrain is the spectating entertainment it brings. Any visit to the center and you’ll find gaggles of British girls clomping from bar to bar in their highest platforms, usually paired with their shortest dresses, holding each other up awkwardly or walking like cowboys to keep their balance. Head to the beaches where the discotheques are, and you’ll spot smaller clusters of American girls teetering along in stilettos in search of nightlife. Of course, this will be around 9PM when you spot them roaming in their slow packs, three hours before the clubs actually open and five hours before anyone even shows up.


What leaves my hair smooth and shiny in California leaves my coif a greasy mess here. Anything other than the lightest conditioner gives my hair an unintended “wet look”- fine for summer, when you spend the majority of your day either sweating or swimming, but not so practical for the rest of the year. Winter brings the added bonus of static (how can air be dry and humid?), so I get to choose between electrified dry hair that clings to my face or electrified greasy hair that clings to my face. What the hell.


I hate shopping so I generally buy clothes online, or wait until I am in the US because anything of decent quality is far cheaper than in Europe. This is because we have sales tax, not a hidden Value Added Tax. VAT in Barcelona is now 22 or 24 percent (someone said it just went up to 24 percent but I don’t know if that is true and the government websites can’t seem to agree either), while sales tax in California is around 10 percent, and in places like Oregon or New jersey is zero. Additional government imposed taxes on businesses drive prices up here, the end result being a much higher priced product, even for items made locally.

But there are pretty good sales here, and what’s more you know exactly when they will be because they all happen at the same time every year. Like in France, the government controls when things go on sale in Spain. The winter shopping sale in Spain begins on January the 7th and continues until February. The summer shopping sale begins in early July and lasts for about a month. These are the two times during the year shops can clear out old stock, and there are three rounds of each sale with ever decreasing prices with each round. By the third and final round, things are pretty cheap, so I might venture out in winter to see what is left in the form of warm clothing, since that is all I can think about after freezing for two months.

The Change

For the first time in my life, I actually put seasonal clothing away for the season it is not. It makes sense to store things away when you won’t use them for six months and are limited on closet space, but I wouldn’t bother except that I don’t want my summer dresses staring me in the face everyday while I stand shivering in knee high wool socks and a hooded fleece sweatshirt (hood on) deciding what to wear. That’s just depressing. So away they go in plastic stackable containers, along with the sandals, shorts and tank tops, their places taken up by wool dresses, sweaters, boots and knit tights.

Only the in-between clothes stay in their place: hanging unworn in the closet, until I take them back to California.

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