“What is Belgian style,” friends have asked me in the past and after some thought, I’ve come up with one word — individuality.
Some of my fellow expats and Belgians may scoff at this statement.
Sure, all of the chain fashion stores are here and there is a good number of teen girls who look like they’re in a Britney Spears look-a-like contest, but there seems to be something in the Belgian mindset that shuns consistency.
In clothing, this translates to lots of layers and accessories. For a gal with a shoe and bag fetish like me, it’s heaven.
Before moving here, my standard workday uniform was a blouse and dress pants. Weekends were spent in jeans and sweaters. The predominant colours were browns and black. Since moving here my wardrobe has been totally revamped …
Now it is a riot of colours from orange to lime. I have clothing with beads and sequins (okay, not many, but it was unthinkable before). And then there are the scarves …
The wearing of scarves seems to be a lost art in North America. Here it seems your ensemble is incomplete without something around your neck.
It took me months to be able to pull it off. Belgian women seem to be able to tie scarves in that perfect way so it seems like it was just tossed upon their shoulders haphazardly.
I soon learned that this was not the case.
I spent hours in front of the mirror trying to tie my scarf so that it didn’t look like a rumpled mess. I am convinced that this is something Belgian girls are taught in kindergarten … and also how to walk gracefully on cobblestones in stilettos.
The main thing that I have noticed about attire in Belgium is the effort that goes into getting dressed.
In Canada, I would often run out to the grocery store in fleece or sweats (or occasionally even pajamas with my coat thrown over the top.) And yet, I wouldn’t dream of doing that here …
In fact, I think you could probably be fined for such crimes against fashion in many Belgian provinces.
That said, it doesn’t seem to matter what you wear here, as long as you wear it with enough confidence. I’ve seen people pull off some major fashion faux pas on the streets of Brussels, but somehow, their confidence and individuality seems to shine through (the purple velour suit and lime green mini skirt).
The Belgian flair for originality isn’t just seen in clothing though. You can even observe it walking through the streets of my town, where no two house are alike.
Canada is being overrun with subdivisions of houses so similar, you could be lost for days trying to find your way home.
When I lived in the Netherlands, the houses in each neighbourhood were picturesque but all similar and very, very orderly.
Here in Belgium, my plain-looking row house is sandwiched between an old farm house and a renovated modern masterpiece. Across the street is an adorable cottage. Down the road in one direction is a log cabin that would look more at home in the Alps, while turning the other way will take you to a Spanish villa.
In houses, as with clothes, as long as you are self-assured, anything goes in Belgium.
So when I leave my house to hit the town, complete with scarf and heels, I may not look like a model, but with confidence in my personal style, I might look like a Belgian.