When most people think of Mexico they most often think of a tropical paradise. Just put your bathing suit and your flip-flops in a bag and you’re ready to go. Not so much. Although many parts of Mexico are in the tropics, what you should wear in Mexico needs to be thought through. You need to know the customs and unwritten rules about dressing when visiting our country.
I live in Puerto Vallarta, which is well known as a vacation destination. Vallarta is a small city where many of us live and work full-time. Because of the tropical climate, shorts are almost always appropriate. I say “almost” because there are some restaurants that prefer their guests not wear shorts unless they are longer (Bermuda length) and/or dressier. The same applies to flip-flop sandals – they are great for the beach and walking around town, but a summery loafer or espadrille gives a more polished look for the evening. And PLEASE, don’t walk through town in your bathing suit without some kind of cover up. It is offensive and unnecessary.
You can tell tourists by the clothes they wear, regardless of whether or not they are foreigners or nationals. Tourists are almost always in vacation wear. The locals are also easy to spot. Unless we are on the beach, it is highly unlikely we will be wearing shorts, even dressy shorts, and almost all men in business wear closed-toe shoes and shirts that are not T-shirts. I remember being in law school during the hottest months of the year with no air-conditioning in the classrooms and the male students still wore pants, shoes and a shirt with a collar.
One thing men do not have to worry about is a tie. If you see someone wearing a tie, they are either a businessman visiting from Mexico City or Guadalajara or a banker. In general, women can get away with a lot more when it comes to tropical clothing than men.
A great “formal” look for men is the very comfortable Guayabera shirt, which typically is distinguished by two vertical rows of closely sewn pleats that run the length of the front and back of the shirt. The Guayabera is worn untucked and it comes in wonderful tropical colors and fabrics, such as linen and cotton. I think it gives a man an element of class.
If you are going to be visiting some of the cities or areas in the interior of the country, remember that as a rule Mexicans are much more formal than their counterparts north of the border. It’s very common to see visitors walk through Chicago or New York in shorts and T-shirts in the summer, but you will stick out like a sore thumb if you dress like that in a Mexican city. Jeans, a polo shirt and a sport coat are the perfect travel combo for seeing the rest of Mexico, and you can still look smart here at the beach!