Misadventures in German Underwear Shopping

Does anyone else hate shopping for clothes?  It can’t just be me. So it’s not totally a surprise that German underwear shopping turned out to be quite a misadventure.

To be fair, it isn’t Germany’s fault. This all started a long time ago in a country thousands of miles away.  I realized today while digging around in old photo albums to send one to a friend on her birthday just how much I must loathe shopping for clothes.  In photo after photo – 5 years ago, 10 years ago, even 15 years ago – I’m wearing the same handful of t-shirts and the exact same pair of jeans: Old Navy stretch low-waist flare jeans.  The “stretch” is important; it means I can buy a size smaller than I otherwise could.

Smart, I know. 😏

Why do I love them so much?

Besides that they’re relatively cheap (25 bucks on sale), super comfy, and last for a decade, they come in TALL which means I can actually buy them with a 34″ inseam. There’s nothing as bad as being a tall woman and parading around in a brand new pair of regular jeans – you look like you’re wearing your older but shorter sister’s hand-me-down high-waters.

Hello, 1980’s!  I missed you.

I’m wearing the exact same outfit today – a ratty Universidad de Costa Rica t-shirt and Old Navy jeans – as I was 10 years ago while rock climbing in New Mexico.

Before we even bring poor ol’ Germany into this, what’s behind my general disdain for shopping?

  1. I’m cheap.  While Travis grew up in a working-class family and learned a solid work ethic and budgeting skills, I grew up in a single-parent household with a bit of a warped sense of money.  Of the two of us, I’m more frugal, driven by a pervasive fear that we’re always one catastrophe away from destitution and a life on Welfare.  I’m fanatical about finding bargains and have a low threshold for what things “should” cost: $15 for shirts, $20 for shoes, and $25 for pants.  Exceptions can be made (I’m not a total freak), but they lead to buyer’s remorse.  (Maybe I am a total freak. 😂)
  2. I’m tall with freakishly broad shoulders and arms for a woman.  I seriously have to try on 30 pairs of pants to find one that fits.  It sucks.  Long-sleeved shirt?  Forget it.  It’s 3/4 sleeve on me.
  3. I like a few brands like Mountain Hardwear, REI, prAna, and Athleta because they fit and are high quality, but they’re expensive.  This doesn’t play nice with point #1.
  4. Money is finite, and fancy clothes are low on my list of priorities when it comes to how we spend it.  Given the option to spend 30 bucks on a pair of pants or rent a fire tower in Oregon for a night of camping, you all know which one I’d choose.

So what’s the problem?  Just don’t go shopping.

Well, despite the longevity of my beloved Old Navy jeans, at some point everything good must die.  In hindsight, I shipped way too many clothes to Europe when we moved, particularly since I don’t wear most of them.  I have a problem with getting rid of things that are still perfectly usable, so I hang on to every hand-me-down freebie and ill-advised clearance shirt I’ve ever bought.

Thanks for teaching me to be crazy thrifty, Mom! (Emphasis on the crazy.)

You don’t even want to hear the internal conversations in my head when we sold our things in Oregon to move here. Some of them could’ve come straight out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Of all those clothes we shipped, though, only two pairs of pants were Old Navy jeans.  I was sporting the dangerously threadbare Pair #1 when we road-tripped to Madrid last year.  You guessed it – one fateful step up onto a castle wall in Segovia and my butt was suddenly saying hello to a whole street full of unfortunate Spaniards.  I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested for public indecency.

So the problem is threefold: I’m down to my last, equally tenuous pair of Old Navy jeans, the company doesn’t have stores in Germany (nor do they ship to Germany), and having it sent to a family member to ship here pushes the price over my $25 pants threshold into the land of buyer’s remorse.

Which brings us to the question I know you’re all thinking…

Why not just go German underwaer shopping in Germany? Germans DO wear underwear, right?

I know you’re all thinking that.

I mentioned I hate shopping, right?  It was bad enough having to set aside one day a year to replace things that finally just gave up the ghost, but at least in the US we knew which brands to avoid because they wouldn’t last a year, which ones were true to size, which stores to avoid because of high prices, and who had the best sales.

But shopping in Germany is much harder.

  • Stores have limited opening hours.  It’s rare for anything to be open after 9 pm, and most clothing stores close much earlier.  On Sunday everything‘s closed.
  • Because of the limited opening hours, everyone in Germany shops at the same time.  The grocery store on a Saturday is like Carnival!
  • Clothing prices are higher here than in the States.  Most things cost more than my “thresholds” allow, so we tend to postpone buying anything in favor of stocking up during our next trip to the US.  Problem is, we haven’t been back in over two years and don’t have immediate plans for a visit, soooo…..if Travis’s underwear all fall apart before we make it home, I suppose he’s gonna have to go commando.  TMI?  I think not.  (Although he might. 😳)
  • The styles are really different.  While I find many of the clothing displays fascinating, skinny jeans and ankle boots will simply never be in my shopping cart.  I don’t care which famous French model says they’re now in fashion.  If they look dumb on me, they ain’t goin’ in the cart!
  • The sizing system is a mystery.  In the States I wear a women’s size 8 shoe, which is a UK size 6 but a 39 in the EU.  From measuring my bust size in centimeters to trying to decipher German terminology,  the thought of buying a new bra gives me the heebie jeebies.
  • You know those palatial 5-mirrored runway fitting rooms at stores like Macy’s?  The ones that are fully enclosed with walls that go to the ceiling and doors that lock?  Yeah, those are nice.  I haven’t seen those here.  Fitting rooms are more likely to consist of a single make-shift booth with a little sheet that doesn’t quite close, just for funsies.  Last thing I need when I’m trying on a pair of size large pants that I can barely fit above my calves is a flimsy see-through curtain billowing out to showcase my  size”Large” American booty .
  • A “small” in the US is not the same as a “small” in Germany.  I don’t think that one needs further explanation.

Online German underwear shopping it is, then.  That never fails.

That leads us to my little misadventure in German underwear shopping. Or as Trav calls them, underoos (the underwear, not the Germans.)

All the ones I’ve seen in stores have been sealed tight in little plastic packages.  Trying them on for size would mean ripping into the packaging.  I don’t know if that’s illegal or just frowned on in Germany, but I didn’t want to find out.

With online shopping, I wouldn’t have to worry about that; plus, I’d be spared the horror of trying on underwear in a drafty, public fitting room.

Since I was already familiar with Bonprix, a huge online clothing store with distribution centers in Germany, I started there.  It’s the same place where we bought our crazy cheap curtains. Browsing through their clearance, I carefully scrutinized their online sizing charts to figure out my German size before placing an order for a package of plain women’s underwear, confident that I was reading their diagrams correctly.

This would be a test run. Cuter and perhaps even more expensive underwear could follow if the experiment was successful.

Shopping for German underwear
Apparently German size 48 undies are NOT American size Medium.

It was not.

A couple of days later when my package arrived in the mail, I was dismayed to find that the size medium I’d ordered sagged half-way to my knees.

In hindsight, it’s quite possible that I accidentally mixed up my Taillenumfang (waist size) with my Hüftumfang (hip size).  A size 48 in German is actually closer to a 1x, not a medium.

The final kicker is that I later found out the company is based in the UK and has a website in English.


So now I have five pairs of super soft, super stretchy colorful underwear sitting in a box on a shelf in the living room. I have no idea what to do with them. They’ll probably still be there a year from now.

Heck, we’ll undoubtedly end up moving them wherever we go next unless one of our readers speaks up for them. Pay the postage and they’re yours! After all, I certainly can’t just throw away five perfectly good pairs of underwear.  Who knows?  If I wait long enough, one day they’ll probably fit.

For now, they’re a daily reminder of my misadventures in German underwear shopping.

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