Dressing Like a Local

When traveling abroad it can be easy as an American to stick out like a sore thumb. The benefits of blending in can be many! You may consider doing some research on ways to assimilate into the culture a bit better before you go. One of the ways you can do this is by learning from the locals and dressing to suit the culture. Here are some ways you can be prepared when visiting Mexico, Brazil, or China, as well as some general assimilation ideas to take with you.


If you’re headed to Mexico you may feel that being a bordering country it won’t be all that different from here. However, the climate alone can be drastically different from your home in the states. Remember that the weather can be pretty hot and some areas are very humid while others are dry. Consider what part of the country you’re visiting and do some research on the climate to know what to pack to be most comfortable.

The beach areas of the country are traditionally laid back. It’s not uncommon to fit in wearing swimwear and shorts. As you head inland, it does get more conservative and people cover up a bit more. The attire is generally pretty casual so feel free to leave your formal wear at home. Pack for comfort and the heat. Lightweight and loose will be your best friend.


When packing for Brazil, you’ll need to be prepared for changes in climate depending on the region you’re in as well as cultural differences. In bigger cities you can expect a smart casual style where more inland a more conservative dress is preferred. One major country-wide rule is general tidiness including your shoes and hair.

In Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and the Northeast region colorful clothing and shorts and tanks are common. If you move more south, go for a bit more conservative look, but still casual (denim pants are wardrobe staple in São Paulo). Remember to keep a light sweater or shawl on you for the interior of cooled buildings as air conditioning is set high.

During the day, temperatures can reach higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit so pack light linen and cotton shirts and slacks. Temperatures further south in Curitiba and Gramado in Rio Grande do Sul, per example, can be more moderate to even chilly with freezing nighttime temperatures in the winter.

You’ll also want to bring rain gear and a wide brimmed hat for protection from the rainfall as well as the beating sun during summertime.

Doing business in Brazil? Invest in a nice suit because status will count in your favor. You’ll need a conservative dress shirt and a tie if you’re a man, or a knee length skirt, or slacks if you’re a woman. Also, be sure to wear well-polished dress shoes and keep accessories to a minimum. Avoid the colors of the Brazilian flag (green and yellow).


For some general style tips to blend in while in China, consider clean conservative clothing. The Chinese appreciate well-dressed individuals and designer brands. Pack casual, lightweight layers that aren’t too revealing. Things that are easy to wash and not delicate are perfect options. Light wool is another good choice as it will help regulate your body temperature. Bright colors are popular and red is a favorite as it is considered lucky.

Bring comfortable walking shoes and some stylish flats, and you’ll want to make sure to bring your own as buying some in China could be difficult with their sizes running much smaller than Western standards.

For women, you’ll definitely want pants as dresses and skirts are often forbidden from many temples. One-piece swimsuits are more the norm than bikinis and will allow you to feel less vulnerable. Bring a set of nicer clothes for formal dinners or plans for the opera and concerts. Business attire is pants and skirt suits, or dresses.

Men should wear suits without ties for business, and if it’s very hot even tailored shorts are acceptable.

The winter weather in China is generally pretty cold, especially in the North. Bring layers and padded jackets. A raincoat and gear would be recommended if you visit during the rainy season (May-August). In summer (July-August) bring sunscreen and an umbrella for protection from the sun. Be conscious of the time of year you’re visiting and the general weather to be fully prepared. The north is generally more cold and dry in the winter and the south very hot and humid in the summer. You’ll need to pay attention to the region your visiting to know how to pack.

General Tips

Wear muted clothes. Even if bright colors are popular where you’re visiting, muted ones will never draw the eye. And avoid wearing bold logos and sports teams as they may cause you to really stand out.

Pack for versatility. Bring clothing that you can wear out to eat as well as at a bar or at the beach. This will allow you to blend in no matter what your plans are for the day.

Keep picture taking to a minimum. Capture the things you want to capture of course, but the biggest way to stand out as a visitor is by bringing your big flashy camera along everywhere you go. Instead, bask in the moment and get to really experience it from more than behind a lens.

Buy clothes when you get there. If you can budget for it, picking up some local attire once you arrive can further assimilate your style. Buy from local clothing shops and not from tourist stands.

Most importantly – learn the language. Learning and using the language while visiting a foreign country is a surefire way to help you fit in. While the locals will still be able to pick up that it’s maybe not your first language, you’ll be surprised the slack and respect you will get for trying. Speaking with the locals and further learning from them will expand your abilities and will open even more doors for your future.