The clothes and more specifically the business attire in Brussels takes a little while to notice. Well for me it did. Brussels isn’t known for high fashion, but the people living here definitely have a sense of style (as in other European cities). Everyone goes to work in business clothes. At the organization I work for, jeans are acceptable and the dress code is officially semi-casual. However, its not like the numerous semi-casual Canadian offices where you have people wearing jeans, a plain t-shirt or sweater (sometimes even a hoodie) with a pair of practical shoes. I’ve even seen running shoes on some ladies.
In Brussels, semi-casual for ladies means: a skirt — a short skirt in most cases — dark-colored (usually black, brown or blue) nylons or leggings, high heels which tend to be one to two inches high with a very thick heel for stability on the cobblestones, a feminine blouse or shirt which is often see-through or tight fitting, a very nice cut jacket (trench-style or short leather jackets), jewelry matching the outfit, and of course a scarf. Here scarves are practically like a purse. You don’t leave the house without a scarf.
You must accessorize as well. Nobody does the basics. Every lady’s outfit looks different, even if they shop at the same store. I once saw a lady wearing the same dress as me in a different color, but because they accessorize so much here it was hard to tell it was the same dress.
Even the older ladies (40-60s) wear short skirts, often times shorter than me and I’m in my 20s, with nylons, high heels and perfectly groomed hair and lots of make-up. Many times I’ve found myself walking behind a lady who turns around and I’ve been shocked to see that she is in her 50s. In general, Western European women have a certain dark, semi-messy style.
If you want to fit in with the Western European girls:
1) Be thin.
2) Wear a short skirt with dark nylons EVERYWHERE, at work, to the grocery store, to a patio, a party, etc.
3) High heels that are sturdy, not pointy
4) Wear a dark-colored top, which can be loose or tight. I would describe some of the shirt and sweater combos as “sloppy” in a way.
5) A scarf — usually not a knitted scarf unless its really chilly outside.
6) A short leather jacket with a zipper (not buttons). Acceptable colors include: black, dark brown, orangey-tan or a stone-navy color. Another option would be a knee-length trench coat.
Note to fellow Canadian ladies, before traveling to Western Europe, especially if traveling with your boyfriend, husband or any other man who is dear to you, you must GO SHOPPING and follow this list. If you’re going to Eastern Europe…that’s a whole other list.
Read about other positive trade-offs to living in Europe: