I am not a fan of fashion. That is to say, I am not good at fashion. Never have been. But I have seen The Devil Wears Prada enough times to understand that I still very much buy into fashion as a concept and therefore I must, on some level, care about the clothes I dress in every day. And to some extent I do.
The fact that I am not good at fashion has never stopped me from trying though. There are some photographs of a young Steph trialling some of the late 90s/early 00s most popular trends. I’ll show them to you for a very large fee.
My friends are good at fashion. They’re the sorts of women who have wardrobe(s) full of clothes that they can reach into blindfolded and still put together an incredible outfit. They have the patience to sit and do their hair and make up for hours on end. They own several pairs of heels that they can actually walk in. And what’s more, they enjoy it all. The whole process.
Getting ready to go on a night out is just as exciting for them as the actual night out itself, if not more.
There is a stereotypical idea of what a night out in the UK should look like – particularly in smaller, more rural cities. The pressure placed on women in particular (but also men to some extent) to look a certain way is high. At least, that’s how I always felt in my teens/early twenties.
This pressure is heightened further when you have clubs that insist on “dress codes” (*sick face*). It is ‘expected’ that women will be wearing a dress and heels for a night out with their friends. If not a dress, then at least something “figure hugging” (*more sick faces*).
And I tried to fit in. I really, genuinely tried.
Partly because I felt this pressure looming over me. But also because I truly wanted to. I wanted to be the sort of woman who enjoys getting dressed up, who enjoys spending hours pouring over makeup palettes and experimenting with different hairstyles.
I so wanted to be like my friends.
The land where comfort rules all
And then I moved to Germany. Beautiful, comfortable, Germany. I brought the one pair of heels I own that I can actually walk in with me. I have never needed them.
I very quickly discovered that the biggest fashion trend in Germany was casual and comfortable. Trainers take the place of heels. Practical coats take the place of those silly little cropped jackets that do absolutely nothing for anyone. It is perfectly acceptable to go to dinner in the leggings, oversized shirt and trainers you’ve been wearing all day.
People do dress up here. But not on the same level as they do in Britain. Jeans are a very popular choice. I rarely see women wearing dresses.
However, eating out, or going for drinks (in ‘normal’ times of course) is part of daily life. Germans tend to frequent their local cafes and restaurants several times a week.
Back home, I feel like it’s more of a special occasion. It’s always an event to go out for dinner or drinks. Perhaps that’s why there is more of an emphasis on making it feel special by getting dressed up.
Has the pandemic helped?
Potentially. I feel like Germany was already halfway there. Many people do not dress super smartly for work. Suits are a rare sight where I live unless you work for the bank.
The rise in Homeoffice working has certainly had an effect on how we view and think about our fashion choices. Ultimately, I think Germany is just a country that believes in feeling comfortable over looking incredible.
I always felt self-conscious whenever I was dressed up for a night out. Always. I felt like an imposter. Like I wasn’t myself. Couldn’t be myself.. Therefore, I was almost always anxious and paranoid.
Germany has taught me that I no longer need to even try. If it makes me unhappy then why bother? I’ll just be thrilled to be able to spend time with my friends when I am safely able to.
Is it Germany or am I just ageing?
This question was the topic of a recent episode of The ExpatCast, which is what got me thinking about this from my perspective (it’s a great episode and a great podcast – check it out!).
As someone who has never felt entirely comfortable wearing glittery dresses and heels, I certainly think the move to Germany and the slow integration into its culture and society helped me solidify my feelings.
However, it is probably also that I am getting older. I have noticed a significant shift in myself over the past 12 months. I’m a lot more confident and sure of what it is I want out of life and what I like/don’t like. I’ve also become significantly more confident and okay about having different opinions and likes to my friends.
Ultimately, I think it is a mixture of the two. But I often wonder if I would have gone through that ageing process so quickly had I still lived in England. Probably not.
Germany has changed me in a very significant way.
I will never feel pressured to wear heels again.