The Dutch Vogue Versus Canadian Style

Recently, I spent five months in Amsterdam as an exchange student from the University of Victoria (UVic). Five months is not a long period of time but enough to get a slight grasp of the city. Amsterdam is quite similar to Vancouver in some aspects, but a person like me who is a quick spectator of outfits could observe that the Dutch play with their fashion game differently than Canadians. One of my favourite passtimes was to sit on a bench in Leidseplein (one of the downtown areas) and just stare at people! Well, it's not as creepy as it sounds. I just enjoyed observing their outfit pieces and noticing the way they carried themselves. During these people-watching escapades, I latched onto four reasons which explained the differences between Dutch and Canadian fashion. 

  1. 1. Unpredictable Weather–High Frequency of Wind & Rain  

    Unpredictable weather and rain are pretty common in both cities, but The Netherlands are way more congested than Canada. The Netherlands has small footpaths and lots of canals. Most of the houses there use space heaters whereas houses in Canada are centrally heated. In short, walking around streets and spending time outside is more restful in Canada than in the Netherlands. Dressing fancy during the unpredictable weather of both countries is an effort, but in Amsterdam it is more of an effort, which explains why street fashion is more experimental in Vancouver. One is likely to see more funky hairstyles and mismatched outfits loud colours in Vancouver. In Amsterdam, you are more likely to see basic hairstyles and perfectly matched ensembles.

    You would most likely see a typical Dutch working woman wearing waterproof boots, a dark-coloured trench coat, and a black skirt with tights underneath while carrying an umbrella. A school/university going girl would probably swap the trench coat for a rain jacket.

  2. 2. Importance Given to Professionalism

    The Dutch take their school and work more seriously than Canadians. Few Dutch students work part-time with school. Instead, they generally go on internships since higher-level education is subsidized, whereas more students in Canada work part-time or full-time in summer. The frequency of Dutch students not going to university or dropping out of university is much less than in Canada. The same concept applies to their work culture. Due to more variations in their professional life, Canadians get a chance to explore fashion more. For instance, an individual would likely not wear the same outfit while working as a barista as she would as a bartender.

    Dutch fashion styling is hugely influenced by their attitude towards work. Their formal colours are dark colours, including black, grey, brown and white. One would notice dark-coloured trenchcoats to be way more popular in Amsterdam. The Dutch also buy the classic collection pieces of luxury brands more than Canadians do. Professionalism requires you to wear fitted clothes and collared shirts—whereas Canadians love their hoodies.  If you stepped into a bar, which is popular among the working-class group, you would notice at least one formal piece in everyone’s outfits. To me, this signified that showing more skin is favoured by Canadians, and it affirmed the popularity of black tights, pencil skirts, trench coats & scarfs in Amsterdam that I was starting to notice.

  3. 3. Engraved biking culture

    This would be the top reason that explains the fashion divergence in both countries. About fifty percent of the people in The Netherlands use their bicycles as a mode of transportation (from my observation), and the rest tend to use public transportation. Since driving gives you the luxury of wearing a fancy or a not-so-comfortable outfit, riding ones bike or taking public transportation puts a limitation on clothing selection. After all, it's easier for a woman to experiment with heels if she has the option to bring flats in the trunk of her car.

    Most Dutch women dress keeping in mind that they have to bike for twenty-five minutes in windy weather to work. I had a colleague who was equally intrigued by fashion and she would carry a tote and heels every day in her backpack while biking, but an average woman would probably not be willing to put this amount of effort into her outfit. I assumed that sportswear would be more popular in Amsterdam for this reason, but surprisingly, college students across Canada wear more sportswear (specifically Lululemon); however, Dutch women feel congenial in their skirts and jeans while biking. Skirts might be on the experimental side for Canadians, but the Dutch treat it as their comfort zone. 

  4. 4.   Influence From Neighbours With a Strong History With Luxury Brands

    The world’s top luxury brands, including Gucci, Prada, LVHM and Chanel, belong to the Western European Subcontinent—which also happens to be the largest luxury consumer market in the world. On the other hand, brands like Old Navy, Levis, American Eagle, Lululemon have influence in the North American market. The collections that these two sets of brands include are miles apart. The former includes designs more on the classy side with high-quality fabric and follows a certain signature pattern for all it's collections, while the latter one is more on the relaxed style, putting an emphasis on affordability. 

    From my experience, an average Canadian would reflect on buying affordable clothing whereas a Dutch would prefer to buy good-quality clothing. This is a result of cultural influence on the Netherlands by neighbouring countries like Italy, the United Kingdom, and France. The idea of purchasing second-hand clothing is more common in Canada than in the Netherlands. Dutch do have stores for second-hand clothing, but in Canada it's present everywhere: stores, donations in schools and online.

On average, Canadians are more experimental in their fashion, while the Dutch are more classy! Fashion tells a lot about a culture’s historical background, and what this exchange taught me is that both approaches of practising fashion are unique in their own way.