Germans are good at many a thing, planning events, punctuality, contributing a large sum of their income to tax and social security, making cars, making engineers, making beer, making anything really, to name a few stereotypical examples. Yet they fail to astonish me, and many other non-Germans when it comes to a fashion sense. I shall refrain from any negative connotations when describing their style and stick to calling them "practical" dressers. Jack Wolfskin windbreakers and hiking boots make up a pragmatic outfit, fit for a German in the 10 months that assemble the one long season that is not summer.
I was amused at how long it took me to be hit by the fashion culture shock. I suspect the fact that the majority are dressed in a lacklustre fashion (pun intended), not significantly ugly, but merely uninteresting. Then again I'm Persian. I come from a culture where fashion, make-up and style whether on your body or on the walls of your home, is of utmost importance. Too significant at times, giving me enough reason to write a lengthy post on the phenomenon in future post. We are the people who find black as the go-to colour, for any event, from a wedding to a funeral and find nothing taboo about wearing white to a wedding (another aspect of the Western culture I am struggling to understand. For how can a guest in white be mistaken for the bride?) We accessorise with gold and no amount of lace, chiffon or tulle is "too much". And although I have managed to quietly step back while the fashion hum-drum is on full force, allowing myself to develop my own style, independent of what the recent trends are, turning a deaf ear to the comments attempting persuasion on my hair and outfit colour and length, I am not unfamiliar to bold colours and extravagant accessorising. Hence the delay in recognising the different taste the Germans portray when it comes to appearance.
Some other foreigners offer a justification of "they don't care". Yet I have enough German friends from both sexes and different sexual orientations to know that this is not the case. The majority do care. And they do spend time and money on outfits. And they do enjoy shopping. It's merely the culture. To be comfortable and practical. And I believe there is nothing wrong with that. Until there is.
A few Fridays ago we spent the afternoon at dkfz's assembly hall clapping and cheering for the newly graduates of the Masters and PhD programme; a group consisting of scientists ecstatic about their freshly achieved titles. I counted two male graduates that stepped on stage in a suit (one looked Middle Eastern) and although the number of dressed-up female graduates were more, I was left underwhelmed, disappointed and rather surprised. It is your graduation ceremony after all. You only get a PhD once, or twice in life, it would not kill or slightly harm you to don a smart outfit.
I wouldn’t be so defined when it comes to describing my own style. Rarely wearing black, grey and brown, I opt for colour, the darker shades of each, yet still favouring the vitality and variety they bring to an overall look. I am not afraid to wear high heels despite Heidelberg’s cobblestoned pavements, and dresses are what I slip into the majority of days of the week. Jeans and trousers are just not my cup of tea. However, Germany’s winters can be brutal, even for those of us residing in the warmer south. At times even two layers of woolen tights won’t give you enough protection against January and February’s sharp winds. That’s when I understand the German attitude of practicality… Only sometimes.
The other times I grin and bear the stares (after three years of living in Germany I have still not gotten used to how normal it is to stare right at someone) when going to a party with red lipstick on or simply not looking like I am headed for a round of grocery shopping or a quick nip to the local post office. I will add that there are many extremely well-dressed women and men that are spotted on the streets and do not require a research on German fashion blogs to reach that conclusion. Following my friends’ boards on Pinterest does make me doubt my current impression and generalising is the worst sin in research and writing. I like to think that a student city like Heidelberg does not allow for a lot of fashion explorations and expression. I have walked the streets of bigger, hipper cities such as Köln, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, and Hannover and have been happily surprised by the sense of style the locals portray.
I was raised by a mother with a timeless taste in fashion. Although Persian, she would shy away from dull blacks and glittering chiffon. Having her wardrobe and her fashion sense as my inspiration, I learned to not be too generous in throwing perfectly good outfits away just because they weren't in anymore. Now, I am aware that your dose of fashion blog reads, however scarce, has informed you to hang on to clothes since fashion, like history repeats itself, but this becomes even more of a vital habit once you step into the student lifestyle.
I have a whole post dedicated to working in Germany as a student, the number of hours we are permitted to work, the obligatory amount of tax and pension insurance the state requires us to pay and anything money related. But I also feel obliged to point this out. You cannot complain too much about incomes in Germany as a student. With a good working student position and some skills you can support yourself to live a comfortable life where traveling, partying, eating out and an occasional splurge on clothes (in my case more on the frequent and less on the occasional) is not considered a luxury. In my next post you’ll find all the essential information a student would want to know about clothes in Germany; from where to shop to where to sell or swap, from what to wear and what not to wear. Stay tuned…
(Top photo by Miriam Younsi)