Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fashion Victim

When I first moved to Switzerland I swore I wouldn’t change my clothing style. Let them stare, I thought, as I wore shorts in the 90-degree heat.

Baseball hats, white socks, you name it, I was wearing it. I was a non-stop tourist in my own town. I had the camera. I had the sneakers. The only thing I didn’t have was the fanny pack.

I laughed at the Swiss fashion and I’m sure they laughed at me. They wore leg warmers with capri pants; I wore sweatpants with Illini written across the butt. They wore big boots with tight pants tucked into them; I countered with bell-bottom jeans and flip-flops. Women that wore stilettos on the old cobblestone streets amazed me. As I’m sure my NASCAR baseball hat amazed them.

But then one fateful day as I was about to pull on my sweats and head to the grocery store I thought twice and put on a skirt. And I fought the urge to put on my hat and instead fixed my hair.

This was the turning point. Because when fashion changes so does your mindset. Three months into my move to Switzerland and I was tired of being a tourist. I wanted to be a part of Switzerland rather than just an observer. In short, I wanted to feel like it was my home.

Fashion is a part of culture, and I joined. It was one area that I could control. Unlike my German, I could be sure of what my new knee-high black boots looked like with my capris. But as my Swiss friend pointed out, I could never be sure I wasn’t saying “Zehnartzt” (toe doctor) when I really meant “Zahnartzt” (dentist).

And while I wore Swiss fashions, I also wore a look of bewilderment whenever someone tried to talk to me in Swiss German. But if I wore an iPod I could tune everything out. This is when I was at my most Swiss.

I’d warn visitors from the states that people here didn’t wear shorts or white socks. Or sweatshirts and sneakers. But they didn’t care. My mom put it best, “Well, I’ll look like a tourist because that’s what I am.”

But a year into being in Switzerland, I could no longer get away with the tourist look. Except of course, when I crossed the border.

Anywhere else in Europe, I was free. I didn’t feel self-conscious about putting on my ball cap, or wearing my gym shoes. My vacation clothes would have some Swiss elements, but in Prague, Budapest, and Paris, I wasn’t ruled by fashion like I was at home in Switzerland.

But as I observed other American tourists in various European cities, I realized something. White socks and gym shoes aside, people wore silly straw hats, bright obnoxious polyester shirts with hula dancers on them, and sunglasses with neon pink frames. Stuff they never wore at home.

My husband has had something called a “vacation shirt” for years. It’s only for vacations, as he would never be caught dead in it any other time.

So maybe it’s not so strange that I’ve changed my wardrobe despite telling myself I never would. After all, you can only be a tourist for so long. Then it’s time to go home. Even if that means never leaving.

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