What Shoes Should I Wear While Traveling in Europe?

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I will be visiting Europe for the first time this summer and I am looking for advice on stylish walking shoes. I usually wear dresses, but I have noticed that my feet tend to swell up when I wear ballet flats for a whole day of walking (sneakers are comfortable but not the most fashionable). Do you have any suggestions for closed shoes that would not make me stand out as an American?

In the past, shoes were often used to stereotype nationalities. Germans were known to wear sandals and white athletic socks while traveling. Italians were recognized by their brown shoes, regardless of the color of their suit. The British would proclaim “no brown in town.” American tourists were often seen in sneakers. However, times have changed. Sneaker culture has exploded, Birkenstocks have become fashionable, and comfort clothing has become more accepted. Wearing sneakers in Europe, whether you are American or European, is no longer a sign of being a tourist.

Sneakers and Birkenstocks are now a common sight and are no longer a giveaway of being a tourist. They have become an integral part of everyone’s wardrobe and are even featured in designer collections. Therefore, don’t be too quick to dismiss them. According to Dana Thomas, an author and New York Times contributor who has lived in Paris for over two decades, the only footwear that screams “tourist” these days are Crocs, Chacos, and Keens. While Chacos and Keens may not specifically identify you as American, they do show that you belong to a certain nonurbanite tribe. Walking around with Chacos or Keens is like having a sign over your head saying “hut hiker in the house” or “which way to Mont Blanc?”.

While generalizations about certain types of shoes and the people who wear them can still be made, the situation is much more nuanced now. Sneakers are still the most comfortable footwear for long walks in the city, and rejecting them altogether would be a mistake. However, the type of sneaker you choose does matter. Sneaker silhouettes in Europe tend to be slimmer compared to those in the United States, so it is recommended to opt for low-top running shoes instead of high-tops or basketball shoes.

Different sneaker brands can also evoke different associations. For example, Adidas Sambas or Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 sneakers are often associated with cool-girl fashion tribes, while New Balance 550s are linked to advertising or creative directors. Vejas are seen as eco-warrior chic, and Supergas are favored by Italian influencer royalty and British royalty alike, such as Chiara Ferragni and Catherine, the Princess of Wales. These inspirations should be enough to help you put your best foot forward in Europe.

If you have any fashion-related questions, feel free to send them to Vanessa anytime via email or Twitter.

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