Expert tips: Dress codes in Germany
Expatica's intercultural expert Hilly van Swoll writes about German fashion style and tips on how to dress in Germany – beyond 'lederhosen' and 'blaumann'.
German fashion is just as diverse as its landscape and dialects. Sure, there are Lederhosen in Bavaria and yes, manual workers often wear their blue overalls (Blaumann) with pride but there are many other cultures and varieties of German style.
Err on the side of conservative – but don’t be afraid to go bold
While there is more flexibility and individuality in a private setting, dress codes in the workplace are dictated by their corporate cultures. Bank and insurance companies, for example, tend to be more conservative in dress — this means a suit and tie. Combination suits are usually for everyday wear, whereas two-piece suits are for slightly more formal occasions.
Be aware that the German taste for ties is more elaborate than in America; it is often an important fashion statement. Shirt colours can also be more pronounced and can be checked or striped. For the most part, the 'safe' shirts are a shade of blue or white.
It is ok to get comfortable, sometimes
If your job does not require contact with clients, for example, a data systems engineer, then the dress code is much more casual: chinos and shirt or polo. Quite a number of office staff have clogs (Birkenstock) for the office. Workers slip out of their more formal shoes after arriving at work in order to get a little more comfortable. Speaking of comfortable, 'casual Fridays' are slowly becoming more popular in Germany, allowing workers to wear (clean) jeans to the office.
For the most part, (facial) piercings and earrings for men are permitted in the German workplace. If client contact is frequent, companies may encourage the removal of piercings. However, this depends on the culture of the company.
Polish your shoes
One big tip is that well-polished, solid shoes still make a big impression in Germany. A German executive mentioned to me that he invites his potential new recruits to sit at a glass conference table, giving him a good chance to check out the state of their shoes.
Know your context and be true to yourself
Do all these codes mean you have to change your personal style? Not really. However, it is important to be aware of your context and to feel comfortable incorporating elements of the German dress style into your personal one. But do not go overboard. Wearing lederhosen in Munich will not necessarily make you accepted.
In the end, as the old German proverb goes, 'it is all a question of taste said the monkey, and bit into the bar of soap' – or in German, "Ist ja eine Frage des Geschmacks, sagte der Affe, und biß in der Seife."
Hilly van Swoll / Expatica
Thumbnail credit: nicolas genin (Claudia Schiffer). / Published 2009; updated by Expatica 2015.
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