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When you are in your own city and see a group of foreign tourists, you take a quick look at them and make an instant judgment of them, whether they are educated or not. This is human nature and first impressions are important. When you go to Spain, the Spanish people you come in contact with will also be getting their first impressions of you, depending on your dress. You may not get the best treatment at hotels and restaurants if you are not dressed appropriately. Some restaurants and discotheques will not let you in.
This is a guide for educated visitors to Spain who want to blend in and not stand out as tourists. Those who dress properly according to Spanish customs will not be ashamed if they meet Spanish people. By not standing out in crowds, they will not be the targets of pickpockets. Dressing according to local customs shows respect for the country that you visit.
There are foreigners who are proud of the fact that in their vacation to Spain they wore shorts all the time. This is not the guide for them.
Spain is a modern country, but with many traditions of dress. The Spanish take pride in the way they dress, and they dress well compared to people of other western countries. Also Spanish women are much more feminine than their counterparts in other western countries. All of the Spanish take much care and thought when buying their clothes because they want to be well dressed.
The typical visitor to Spain will be using only one medium sized suitcase, so much care has to be used for packing good looking clothes that will fit in one suitcase. Another thing to think about is that Spain does get all of the seasons of the year, meaning spring, summer, fall, and winter. This applies to the south of Spain also, which is Andalusia, although it may be a tad warmer than northern Spain in winter.
You want to pack lightly and leave about a third of your suitcase empty for the souvenirs you will buy. Going to stores and buying things you cannot find in your own country is one of the fun things of travel.
There are hardly any self service laundromats in Spain, because this is not the custom in the country. You may want to bring two wire hangers, in case you have to wash some of your clothes in your hotel bathroom. You can buy liquid detergent at any supermarket in Spain, so you do not have to bring this. If you are staying in an apartment, it may have a laundry machine, but it may not have a clothes dryer.
Jeans are acceptable during the day, but they are not the most practical if you have to wash them. It takes a very long time to dry jeans. It is better to bring wash and wear clothing that does not need ironing, because you may not find an iron in your hotel room.
For non-business visitors, the best clothing to pack are dressy casuals. These can be used almost everywhere, including good restaurants at night.
Before you go to Spain, research the temperature averages for the place you are visiting, so you can plan your wardrobe properly.
B. Business Attire
1. If you are coming for business to Spain and you are a man, you should always wear a dark conservative business suit and tie, even during summer. The only exceptions seem to be programmers, who usually use dressy casuals. The geek look seems to be the standard for programmers in Spain.
2. Men should wear a good watch because most Spanish businessmen wear good watches. If you wore a plastic watch, they may think you cannot afford a good one and they may get a negative impression of you. Go to Calle Serrano in Madrid and look at how the men look at the watches in jewelry stores for long periods of time. The watch is a status symbol in Spain.
3. Men should be sure that the pants they were are the correct length and break a little at the instep. All Spanish men have the correct pant length because when you buy a pair of pants in Spain, the alteration for the pant length is free. If you did not have the correct pant length, it would be very noticeable in Spain.
4. Women should wear dark suits, with skirt or pants. If the suit has a skirt, be sure that the length of the skirt is conservative. A miniskirt for business is not considered good practice in Spain.
5. Women should wear a good watch. Discreet gold jewelry, such as earrings and a small gold necklace are fine. Only young girls wear plastic jewelry in Spain. If you wore big plastic jewelry, it is a dead giveaway that you are American.
6. Men should wear leather shoes with rubber soles. Women should wear leather shoes with low heels and rubber soles. The reason for rubber soles is that many cities and towns have cobblestone streets and if the soles are leather, the person may slip and fall down. A good fall can ruin a vacation. Shoes should be clean.
7. Spain is one of the countries that has a wonderful shoe industry. Some of the best shoes in the world are made in Spain. People are very conscious of wearing good shoes. Be aware of this. Good shoes are a good souvenir buy. If your shoes are not good, people will notice it.
C. Summer Attire at the Beach
1. Men can wear shorts and T shirts at the beach, with flip flops, if they want to. The T shirts should not have any message, such as proclaiming that you are from New York City. There are many people who are anti-American and it is better to be discreet. Also no wild colors. Tank tops are a sign of low class.
2. Women can wear shorts and T shirts also at the beach.
3. If one goes for lunch or dinner at a fancy restaurant, the men should wear shirts or polo shirts and long pants. T shirts are not allowed. The shirt always has to have a collar. Sandals are allowed. Socks are never worn with sandals in Spain.
4. Women can wear fancy casuals.
5. Men and women should not wear swimming clothes at any restaurant, unless it is at a beach and it is a chiringuito (beachside restaurant). If it is a chiringuito, eat outside in your swimming clothes, not inside the restaurant, which is reserved for better dressed customers.
6. Here is a tip to women who want to go topless on the beach. The law permits topless attire at every beach. However look before you remove your top. Many beaches, such as San Sebastian's La Concha, are conservative and you do not see any women there topless. You do not want to be the only one going topless. Also do not cavort on the beach if you go topless, but be discreet. Many Spanish people are asking the government to put rules because they do not want their children to see topless women at the beach. This is quite controversial, but be aware that the conservative members of this society do not approve of topless women on the beach. Also be aware that many unscrupulous men take pictures of topless women on the beach with their cell phones and then place the pictures on the web, many times in porn sites.
D. Summer Attire in the City
1. What would you wear if you wanted to dress casually and go inside the Hotel Ritz in Madrid and sit in the lobby to await a friend? Picture yourself in that situation. If the outfit you choose is appropriate for that situation, then you can go to any place in Spain and have the confidence that you are well dressed. If not, rethink your outfit.
2. Men should always wear long pants. There is no exception to this rule. It is better to bring dark pants that will hide any stains.
3. Men can wear polo shirts or shirts with a discreet color or pattern. Do not wear anything that calls attention to yourself.
4. Women can wear pants and a conservative top. Remember that churches are usually included in any tourist place, because the churches are repositories of much of the art produced in the past. Women should not wear anything they would not wear when going to their own churches in their own countries. Would you wear a strapless top if you were going to your church for Sunday Mass? It would be an insult to your congregation. The same holds true for Spain. There are many conservative Catholics who would disapprove of revealing dress in their churches.
5. The perfect bag for both men and women is the messenger bag, a bag that has a long strap that can be worn diagonally across the chest and held in front of you. That leaves your hands free to hold merchandise in stores or to help you keep in place in the bus or metro. The bag for women should have zippers that can be closed, to avoid being pickpocketed.
6. For chilly days or nights, and for going out to restaurants, men can bring a navy blue blazer or a dark jacket. The inside pocket should ideally have a zipper so that you can keep your wallet safe.
7. Women should also bring a light jacket and or sweater. Layering is important to keep warm. Spanish women always bring a light scarf and are experts in wrapping the scarf around their necks. Scarves change the look of a basic outfit and are good in disguising the fact that you are not bringing many clothes with you.
8. A small foldable umbrella should always be taken for traveling. You can never tell when it will rain.
9. Do not wear white jogging or tennis shoes. This is a dead giveaway that you are a foreigner. Use good leather shoes with rubber soles.
E. Spring and Fall Attire in the City
1. Bring similar things as for summer, but bring warmer clothes. Bring a basic sweater with a discreet design that will match with your jacket.
2. Jackets should be warm. Leather jackets are used frequently in Spain for cooler weather. You can buy very good leather jackets in Spain and this could be a good choice for a souvenir. The store will usually fix the cuffs for free, but allow them enough time to do this.
3. Places like El Escorial can be extremely cold, even in spring and fall. Bring scarves and gloves.
F. Winter Attire in the City
1. Be sure that your winter coat is warm if you are going to a place like Madrid in winter. Bring warm scarves and gloves.
2. Many women in Madrid wear fur coats during winter. People walk on the streets very much in Spain and the fur coat is a light weight coat that is perfect for this weather. In the US, people many times shop in enclosed malls where heavy clothing is not needed. Spain is very different in this regard. Also the Spanish do not pay any attention to the small anti-fur lobby that exists here. The attitudes towards fur here are very different from the attitudes in the US. Wearing fur in Spain is politically correct.
3. Bring a light raincoat if you are going to a place where you expect rain.