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Mexico Guru

What Not to Wear (In the City)

by Jane Onstott

Tourists don't have to wear shorts, tennis shoes, and baseball caps. These ladies pull off a comfortable but classy look.

Some tourists seem perversely determined to brand themselves as such, as if disappearing within a crowd were akin to losing their identities. I once had a friend who, during the period of intense Franco-American discord (the early stages of the American invasion of Iraq, in 2003), told me that a French merchant had simply turned his back and refused to serve her.

“How did he know you were American?” I asked, intrigued.

“We were wearing shorts,” she replied. “It was really hot.”

Well, DUH!? Shorts in Paris? Maybe the store owner was simply enforcing the strictest of dress codes, a sort of “I’d rather be dead than Red” of business etiquette. Better to lose a sale than to encourage this sort of riffraff! Or maybe it was because their shorts and tennis shoes did identify this trio---mom, pop, and arguably innocent tot---as the worst sort of American underachiever:

The sort who wears shorts in Paris.

Mexico may not be the fashion mecca of the New World, but there are standards. Dress for success if you want to blend, if you want respect, or if you merely want to avoid pickpockets and thugs. Don’t use the weather as an excuse for dressing like a tennis pro or someone on safari. Chinos (for the men) and---ladies take note---flowing skirts are every bit as cool as shorts. And you’ll avoid sunburn and prematurely wrinkled legs.

Speaking of safari wear, khaki numbers with innumerable pockets do have their place. This would be on an African safari. Are you really going to stuff all those pockets? If you do, your pockets will bulge and ruin the lines of your otherwise priceless safari outfit. Standard khaki-colored slacks are fine, as they are generally cool and don’t show the dirt. Look for models with the standard number of pockets; at this writing, that number is four.

Socks and sandals. Please. Don’t. Do. It. Sandals are designed to let the feet breathe. While people who wear socks with sandals undoubtedly have their reasons, there’s really no good excuse for this fashion faux pas. You might escape the fashion policia if you’re wearing socks-with-sandals and trousers. But with shorts? Please, God, no. No, no, no.

Hats are helpful to ward off the sun, but there are hats … and then there are hats. A baseball hat may pack well, but consider buying a hat actually used by the people in the town or city you’re visiting. Or something worldly and universal. Panama hats (most likely made in Ecuador) keep your head cool and, if you buy one of the more expensive models, are supposed to retain their shape even if you roll them up. (I’ve never found this to be so, but maybe I didn’t get the top model.) It’s challenging not to leave your new hat on the luggage rack of a bus or the back seat of the rental car but, hey, fashion has its price. As with pricey sunglasses, it’s easier to keep track of things with a higher price tag.

Returning to footwear, it’s important to have comfortable walking shoes for your days sleuthing the city. (My mother had pumps in a half dozen colors that she swore were so comfortable she could play basketball in them.) Lucky for us, walking-shoe manufacturers like Clarks, Josef Seibel, and Dansko now produce walking shoes and sandals that actually look like they belong on city streets. A rule of thumb when purchasing walking shoes for the city is this: If you’re considering buying big, boxy numbers that look like they could find their way back to the hotel with little or no help from you (like a horse returning at full gallop to the stables), keep looking. Trust me, your über-cool shoes are out there, waiting for you. As shoes really should.