My rookie mistakes and other advice when clothes shopping in Europe–or the mall

I just got back on Sunday from a week-long trip to Copenhagen to visit one of my besties.

I’ve been to Denmark a lot–I think this was my 8th trip!–I really love my friend, and CPH.

And after that first trip in 2003, I’ve found shopping in Copenhagen really changed my thinking about clothes, opened up my fashion palette and expanded my personal style to be more adventurous with shapes and silhouettes.

It really feels like shopping in the future. You tend to see a lot of trends before they break in the US.

My love of jumpsuits happened with my first purchase of a fantastic grey strapless number in 2010 that is still one of the favorite things I own.

my first night out with erin in my jumpsuit from the future, 2010

But as experienced as I feel I am at shopping when visiting Erin–I still make rookie mistakes–and have a thing or two to learn.

So if you have an upcoming European adventure or an Epic work trip, here are some ways you can learn from my mistakes and find the best pieces to maximize your European–or any–shopping experience!

Follow the directions on the tax free forms and avoid buying something just because it’s on sale: Denmark has a fairly high tax on things including clothes–health care and education for all has to get paid somehow!–around 25%. On my first shopping day of the trip, I was offered a tax free form. Basically, it’s a receipt that you get from the vendor that says you purchased the item from them. They sign it and give you a form that you fill out. You need to bring the form and receipt to customs in the airport and they will stamp your receipt and you’ll get the tax back on the credit card you purchased the items. How great is this! And it’s available in nearly all European countries. All shopping would be a 25% discount on the ticket price. Except–I missed one small–but very major detail of the process. You have to bring the items WITH YOU when you go to customs for the stamps. Sadly–I had already checked my bags and couldn’t show them the items that went with the receipts. I was told I could take the items through US Customs to get the stamps and then mail them back for the refund. But guess what–US Customs really doesn’t care about your refund–or stamping your receipts. I was told an emphatic “NOPE.” when I asked for the stamps when I arrive back at O’hare. So the tragic end to this story is I’m out that tax money. I’m pretty confident in looking at my purchases that none of them were made because I justified it with the discounted price. I would’ve–and did–pay full price for the items. But being out that money is still a bummer. Consider it a donation toward your schooling, Ruby June.

little miss rj, age 5. photo courtesy of mama erin

Limit shopping at European stores available in the US: I love Zara. I go on a Zara spree a few times a year ordering a ton of stuff just to try it on and then sending most of it back. So when I’m in Europe, I try not to spend too much time in stores I can shop in the US.  If I have time, I pop into an H&M just to see if they have things different than we have–since they are Scandinavian based–and I pull up their app and tag things that I might want to check out later when I’m back home. But I try to avoid shops I can find here.

There are a few stores I love to visit every time I go to CPH. One of them is Cos, the older sister to Swedish based, H&M.

I’ve been getting some killer pieces there for years. During one visit in 2011, Erin brought me there specifically to get a piece she had and LOVED. There was one left and as she reached for it so did another shopper. Like a true American in Europe–Erin snatched it with ninja-like skills and carried it directly to the check out. I still love the piece today.

a random high school reunion in copenhagen in 2011 with erin wearing the top worth fighting for–one of many pieces we both have in our closets. #gologgers

But Cos has only been available in Europe, so it was a must stop on this trip. Except it turns out–it’s been in the US since 2014!!–and has a great online shop. Ugh. And the majority of what I bought this trip was from Cos.

To make myself feel better, it seems like SOME of the things I got on my trip aren’t on the website and the US price is about the same as the CPH price with tax. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

But I found many stores had Wifi while I was there and a quick Google search could’ve saved me some extra cash and space in my suitcase.

Allow extra room in your suitcase for new purchases: Speaking of suitcase space, I’m a notorious expert packer and this trip was no exception. Which was great until I found myself without space for my new purchases. Of course, I could’ve just used the limited space as an excuse NOT to buy so much–but really–what fun is that. Instead, it meant that I needed to purchase an additional carry on. And everything is a little more expensive in DK–not just because of the tax issue as previously discussed–but because it’s a major city without a lot of low cost expendable products on sale a la US’s dollar stores and tchotchke shops. Luckily, I found this really cute duffle that rolls up quite small and can become a feature of future packing performances.

Try it on: There are so many interesting silhouettes and patterns to check out when you’re shopping new places. Many times, things that look a little weird on the rack are actually the coolest finds.  Don’t just shop your comfort zone. Find pieces that are a little different than what you would normally reach for and serve as a awesome reminder of your trip whenever you wear it.

finds from one of my favorite shopping trips in 2012. all of these items are still in my closet–and worn!–still today.

Make sure you’ll actually wear it: I’m guilty of having a few items in my closet that I bought enthusiastically while on a vacation high–but then never wore when back to reality. Give each piece a look with an honest and critical eye. It’s cool–but will you really wear it? Where will you wear it? Is it too seasonal or event specific? All good questions to ask when you’re falling in love in a dressing room in a foreign country.

Sign up for the e-newsletter to receive a discount: Back to the Cos shopping extravaganza–while I lost out on the 25% off tax break–I did get 10% off by signing up for the e-newsletter. I found many places did have that option. And seriously–what’s one more email?

Shop with a trusted friend: Erin is really a huge influence on my personal style today. Before my first trip to DK in 2003, I was really nervous about fashion and felt like an admirer from afar. She forced me–in her very Erin way–to break out of my shell and be more confident in how I dressed. It’s quite a change from the days of her throwing me in a dressing room with a bunch of items she selected for me to try on to today where she has to save me from myself in overspending. My style has come a long way and I hope I’ve been a trusted friend to others as she’s been to me to get people to feel more comfortable with their bodies and unafraid in how to dress it up.

actual text exchange of my panic i’d be spending too much money and erin leaving work to help me edit. at least we cut out two things!

I hope this tips help you in your shopping adventures whether they be in a European boutique or West Towne Mall.

Do you have any fund travel plans coming up? Any great shopping trips or advice to share? We’d love to hear it!

4 thoughts on “My rookie mistakes and other advice when clothes shopping in Europe–or the mall

  1. OK, so I visit Europe a lot for tour, mostly Germany. And as a plus size woman shopping is usually difficult for me and I have to overpack. I’ve read a lot of articles lamenting the problems larger women have because if they forgot something it’s harder for them to go buy a replacement. Except that Germany has an Ulla Popken – the Swedish Lane Bryant but with actually attractive and stylish clothes – on nearly every corner! This was a huge relief and delight for me. If you are in the UK, Marks and Spencer often has larger sizes and even the same item in different lengths. So that’s my two cents 🙂

    • Awesome information, Jenni!! And it looks like they both have a nice online shop in the US. It’s so great to find favorite go-to stores when you’re traveling! I’m glad you’ve found your favorites–just don’t forget to get your VAT forms in! 🙂

    • Just want to say thanks to Jenni, for reminding me that Ulla Popken exists. As a big old lady with a taste for probably-not-age-appropriate-but-I-don’t-care clothes, I need all the help I can get finding interesting, nonstandard items in 26 plus size. Thanks, Lyn and Jenni.

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