Lisbon is one of those cities where it is difficult to pin down a specific sense of fashion. It is a city with many juxtapositions, fashion-wise. In the same street, one might see women with sleek hair who look like they walked right out of a magazine cover dressed in the latest designer brands as well as hippies in dreadlocks and colorful dresses.
I have to admit that I struggled for a while to get a feel of when to dress up and when not to. One time you go to a dinner at someone’s house to find other guests in sweatpants. In such a situation, even a black linen summer dress is too dressed up. I go wearing jeans to another dinner to find people in nice blazers or fashionable tights.
When I was viewing apartments, I was advised by a friend to dress smartly. However, my real estate agent arrived in a t-shirt and Jeans. Another time a woman who looked like an haute couture model was my real estate agent. I had more questions about her jewelry than I did about the apartment she was showing me.
This is the point: fashion is that random in Lisbon! Unlike many other European capital cities, there are no strict expectations on how to dress.
I consider that a plus for Lisbon compared to France where I felt slightly more stressed about what I was wearing. It
was very easy not to look chic in one specific way or another. Having said that, Lisbon is not a city normally sought after for its apparel market. However, that does not mean that it does not have other exceptional women fashion trends to offer.
Of course you can find high end brands in Lisbon such as Armani or Louis Vuitton if you go to Avenida Liberdade as well as high street brands such as Zara or Mango or Massimo Dutti, if you walk around the city center. But if you are looking for a more authentic Lisbon fashion experience, that experience will not be limited to clothes but can include everything else. Think accessories!
There are crafts as well as products in the world of fashion which are synonymous with Portugal such as:
Portugal has a worldwide reputation for its leather work. Their leather shoes are some of the best you can buy. Ranging from inexpensive but good quality brands such as Guimarães and Seaside, all the way to Luis Onofre Boutique (a celebrity Portuguese shoemaker), there is always something of high quality and within your budget. Portuguese leather shoes have – arguably – the same quality as Spanish and Italian ones. Moreover, they are not as narrow as shoes you may find in Spain or in Italy, which makes them ideal for people with bigger feet.
I cannot think of a prettier souvenir one may take away from Portugal. Filigree is a metalwork (gold or silver) which is often used in jewelry. Its main technique relies on bringing together and twisting threads and beads. This intricate jewelry technique has existed in Portugal since the 8th century with the arrival of the Arabs. Many jewelry stores all over Portugal sell authentic filigree work. One of the most famous stores is Joalharia do Carmo in Lisbon’s city center. The shop has been around since 1924 and is sought for its beautiful filigree pieces.
Leather and metal are not the only materials the Portuguese have turned into fashion statements. Cork is one of Portugal’s biggest industries. As a matter of fact, more than 50 percent of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal. The Portuguese do not only use it (and export it) for practical purposes such as wine keeping or sound and heat insulation, but they also manage to make beautiful, colorful accessories out of it. You can see cork handbags and wallets in many local shops in Portugal. Cork is also used to make earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. They are easy to find anywhere, but for a wider selection to choose from, walk around Lisbon’s city Centre (Baixa-Chaido) as there are several small boutiques which sell creatively designed cork accessories.
For a shopping experience in Lisbon that does not lead you to all the tourists traps, you might want to be on the lookout for some of these signatures of women’s fashion in Portugal.
(Editor’s note: Fashion etailer Farfetch, now based in London, was founded in Porto by Portuguese entrepreneur José Neves.)
About the author:
Sarah Nagaty is a PhD researcher of cultural studies in Lisbon. She’s lived in Portugal for three years.
As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.
See all of Sarah’s Dispatches posts here.
See Dispatches’ Lisbon story archive here.