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Madrid: 5 ways to dress like a local

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Look like a local as you stroll Madrid's Gran Via. Photo: Tom Meyers
Look like a local as you stroll Madrid's Gran Via. Photo: Tom Meyers

The day has come. You’re packing a bag for your trip to Madrid, Spain’s largest city. Seeing that lugging three rolling suitcases is neither savvy nor cost-effective, you have to be choosey with clothes, shoes and accessories. So should you pack the sandals or the sneakers? Just jeans or slacks, too?

Here are some tips for looking like a local.

1. No socks with sandals… or sandals too early

It’s primavera in Spain and this makes it a snap to see who is local and who just landed for spring break. How can I tell? I look at people’s feet.

It is still too cold for most locals to wear sandals, and while they may not be wearing warm, leather boots anymore, we’re still not ready to get the manicure and show off our ankles yet. Sandals make their appearance more in May, and definitely in June. When sandals are firmly on Spanish feet once more, you will never, ever, in a million years, see them worn with socks. There should be a law…

Nice scarf! Photo: Thelastminute

In addition to not wearing sandals yet, locals will also be the ones wearing a coat, perhaps of the light mid-season variety, and scarves… which brings me to tip number two.

2. Pack scarves for color, variety and warmth

When a friend came to visit he told me that “real men don’t wear scarves, or eat quiche, or wear pink.” While this may have been true in his part of the world, it is not so in Madrid.

Scarves are in year-round (especially on women) and will give you Euro-flair and something warm around your neck when the cold spring rain beings to fall (and it will fall). Also, bringing a few scarves in different tones and textures will spice up your wardrobe if you’re traveling light.

If you don’t have any scarves, don’t fret, you’ll find an abundance of them for sale here.

Related: 10-day itinerary for Spain through Barcelona, Madrid and Seville

Buying sunglasses on the streets of Madrid. Photo: Enric Archivell

3. Consider hats and sunglasses.

Every local has at least two pairs of shades. You need them in Madrid for those long strolls through Buen Retiro Park and lunches on sun-drenched plazas.

Hats are also in, but not so much the baseball cap or cowboy hat. I’ve seen many locals donning newsboy hats which work for hiding a bad hair day and keeping the sun off your nose. In the summer months those with sensitive skin should wear a hat, as the Spanish sun is fierce. However, most locals do not.

4. Keeping it casual?

For the most part, people do dress nicely when they go out, and Madrid is not a “sweatpants” culture. This does not mean you need to wear your best dress and high-heels (unless you want to) or a suit. Instead, a pair of ironed jeans or slacks, a button-down shirt, a pair of stylish sneakers (not bright white Nikes), and perhaps a sweater or jacket will work for guys.

More informal? Jeans and a t-shirt will work, too, depending on where you are planning to spend you time. Ladies: Do pack a dress or two for a night out. Jeans and sneakers also work for girls, and can be dressed up with the right blouse or sweater. I’d go for flats or sneakers any day over heels simply because there is a lot of walking in Madrid.

Overall, dress up rather than down for this sophisticated city.

Related: Which Madrid neighborhood is right for your visit

5. Accessorize!

I see many visitors on the Madrid Metro wearing their backpack in front of them. While this is a clever way to not get robbed, it makes you look like a tourist. To which you may respond, “But I am a tourist!” And there is nothing wrong with that. I’d sling the backpack over one shoulder and keep a good grip on it. I’d also tuck the camera away if you’re not using it, as nothing screams “I just got off Delta” like a dangling Nikon.

Instead, wear your favorite watch. Spanish men (I’m generalizing) add fashion “bling” with fancy-pants watches and nice belts. If you’re a lady, show your style with a large handbag that has a million zippers (making it impossible for anyone to rob you on the bus).

Note: This article was updated on July 6, 2014 with new links.

About the author

Regina W Bryan

About the author: Regina W.Bryan is a Barcelona-based freelance writer and photographer. When not eating tapas and exploring Europe, she is tending her balcony veggie garden and practicing Catalan. For more of her thoughts on Spain, check: www.regwb.com and www.thespainscoop.com.

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3 Responses to “Madrid: 5 ways to dress like a local”

Spaniard says:

I had never thought about it, but YEAH, we really do wear scarves! xD We even have a lot of different names for different things that Americans would simply call “scarf”!

Also, I think this is universal, but just in case… Never ever wear sneakers with a dress!

jpoxon says:

Thanks so much for the great info. We’re making our first trip to Madrid in June and have wardrobe anxiety. We are from Florida where it’s shorts and sandals most of the year. We will now plan for more conservative fashion with layering and sensible shoes. Very helpful!

Thanks for the tips. I notice that American tourists love backpacks on their travel. I think that it is better to carry an oversized tote bag — to look more sophisticated — in sophisticated cities like Madrid. On crowded bus and trains, backpacks are a pain (literally) when they are scratching other passengers’ faces. In one of my overseas travel, I was sitting in a crowded train, when something poked me from one of the passengers’ backpack. It was a knife! But if people prefer backpacks, they should carry them infront of them, away from other people’s bodies.

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