Packing clothing for a visit to the City of Oaxaca is a completely different exercise than getting ready for a beach vacation. Forget the short shorts and flip flops.
If planning to vacation on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, for example at beach resorts such as Huatulco or Puerto Escondido, the usual casual beach attire is acceptable, during the day, and for evening dining. But if extending one’s vacation by traveling to the City of Oaxaca for a few days, and certainly if spending one’s entire trip in and around Oaxaca and its central valleys, the dress is different.
Sure, one can pack shorts, t-shirts, sandals and nothing more, and have an absolutely wonderful vacation. But if the question is “what’s acceptable attire for a visit to the City of Oaxaca,” the answer might come as a surprise.
It’s important to remember that Oaxaca is a city filled with culture: theater, music, museums, galleries, fine dining, crafts, fine art, colonial architecture, and a diversity of other cultural sights. To that extent, Oaxaca is no different from New York, Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles – but with a Latin flare, often reflected in relaxed dress – but not beachwear or cottage clothing.
How Urban Oaxacans Dress
Men in Oaxaca usually wear long pants and a shirt with a collar. Footwear tends to be leather shoes. Oaxacan women usually wear a blouse and skirt, a dress, or a top and long pants or capris, and again leather shoes, even heels. While for going out in the evenings the attire is at times a bit more formal, often there is no difference. Often throughout the daytime both men and women wear blue jeans.
The only time one normally sees urban Oaxacans wearing shorts is on Sundays, perhaps attributed to the fact that Sunday is often soccer day, and accordingly often one finds men in “futbol” attire throughout the day.
The Difference in Attire in the Towns and Villages in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca
In the towns and villages of Oaxaca’s central valleys, laborers, craftspeople and campesinos wear all manner of clothes, and anything is acceptable, dictated often by economics and type of work. But for the middle classes, regardless of occupation, dress is only a bit more relaxed than for urbanites. When Oaxacans from the state capital or other Mexicans venture into the villages, either sightseeing or for example venturing to the Sunday Tlacolula Market for shopping, they dress a little more casual, with jeans or shorts, a shirt and sandals or running shoes.
How Should Tourists Dress in Oaxaca
It is suggested that if reasonably possible, both men and women, as tourists to Oaxaca, wear clothing similar to that of urban Oaxacans. For men, a shirt with a pair of casual pants or jeans. Running shoes are acceptable. Safari wear is also acceptable, but one will definitely stand out, aside from skin color and camera around the neck. For women, just as Oaxacan women dress, of course without feeling compelled to bring along a pair of heels for the trip.
Despite the foregoing, as long as one does not wander about in a sloppy t-shirt or tank top, very short shorts and flip flops, a more casual approach to clothing is quite acceptable for tourists. For example, leather sandals or other shoes comfortable for walking, longer shorts and a more casual top is absolutely fine.
For the evenings, formal wear as customarily worn in the US or Canada, is not necessary. Men should never feel compelled to put on a tie, for example. Even for weddings in downtown Oaxaca, trousers with sport jacket and shirt is acceptable, or a long sleeved guayabera without jacket is fine. As long as a pair of trousers and a long-sleeved shirt is packed, men should be fine in most urban circumstances. Going to the theater or out for dinner, even to Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes, or La Catrina de Alcalá, the same attire is acceptable. For women, a simple cocktail dress brought along in a corner of the suitcase might come in handy, but is certainly not necessary; a blouse and skirt or long pants serve equally in most cases.
Touring the sights in the central valleys is a bit different for both men and women. Walking shorts are fine as suggested above. For footwear, certainly rubber soled shoes, running shoes or hiking boots are acceptable given that tourists will likely be visiting ruins, hiking, and / or walking along the occasional dirt road. Of course, time of year dictates attire to some extent, for example during the cold, hot and to a lesser extent the rainy season.
Respect, As a Tourist Visiting Oaxaca
The point to be made is that travelers to Oaxaca ought to show a modicum of respect for those living in the foreign society they are visiting. Of course it’s understood that tourists cannot bring along an extensive wardrobe. In fact some may wish to pack lightly for themselves, so as to enable them to bring an extra suitcase of used clothing to donate. But grown women in a halter top and short shorts, or men sporting a sloppy t-shirt and sandals, is neither appropriate nor necessary.