What to Wear in Spain to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist

Shawn Forno

Spanish style is as diverse as the many regions and dialects that make up this wonderful exciting country. If you want to look like a local, focus on what the locals wear in the places you’ll be visiting.

Dressing like a local in Spain can be… challenging. On the surface, Spanish style doesn’t seem that different from the rest of Europe, or even from the States. Jeans, sneakers, high waisted pants, and well matched basics are everywhere. But it’s all the little details, quirks, and style tweaks – like fit and fashion trends – that make Spanish style strangely hard to replicate for visiting tourists.

There’s also really no such things as “Spanish style,” at least not one cohesive style. If you really want to look like you belong on your trip to the Iberian peninsula, it’s all about embracing the local style of the city or region you’re visiting. People in Madrid wear different clothing and styles than people in Barcelona, Pamplona, Bilbao, or San Sebastián. Seasonal weather, cultural norms, the time of year, even the number of students in town and the size of the city can determine a lot about how people dress in Spain. Understanding the nuances of the region you’re visiting will go a long way towards making you look like you’ve been there once or twice.

Here are a few style tips and packing tips to help you dress like a local in (most of) Spain.

What Not to Wear in Spain: Don’t Wear Hiking Clothes (Especially Boots)

Let’s start with what NOT to wear in Spain:

Avoid anything that looks like it came from REI and you’ll be fine. You know that button up trail/hiking shirt that you think looks good enough to wear to dinner? It doesn’t. You look ridiculous. And those “cool” cargo shorts you got to keep all your stuff safe while walking through old town. Yeah, you’re the only guy within a hundred miles wearing cargo shorts. Except for the other American across the street.

Hiking clothing, outdoor gear, and especially hiking boots, are instant signals that you’re a tourist, which is totally fine (you are after all!), but it’s not always awesome to broadcast it. 

Try to pack at least one nice button up shirt, and a pair of pants that you’d actually wear to work. I have some great travel pants from Bluffworks and Western Rise, but they don’t look like travel pants. That’s why I love them.

Also, no one in Spain wears tank tops. Even when it’s hot. They just stay inside until it’s not that hot anymore. So, that’s something.

Spain Dress Code & Style Tips for Men

Honestly, guys, the bad news is that Spanish men just don’t dress anything like American, or even British or Australian, guys. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but the differences between the shoes, pants, shirts, and even haircuts that Spanish men wear are so distinct that you can usually spot the tourist in a crowded pintxos bar in seconds. But if you want to avoid looking like a blatant tourist, there are a few things you can do to look more like a local in Spain.

Get a Haircut

Hair styles vary, but Spanish men tend to keep their hair high and tight. Think of an athletic boy band singer and you’ll be on the right track. Younger guys typically opt for a tight fade that looks like it belongs on the soccer field. Shaggy, unkempt hair is a no-no for the socially mobile in Spain, unless you’re going for that long bohemian look. Then grab a hacky sack and let it hang to your knees. You do you.

If you really want to look like a Spanish local, it’s not about what you wear, but how you’re groomed. A dapper look – clean shaven with freshly styled hair – will get you a long way toward hopping the line at vermu hour. Get a haircut before your trip to Spain and you’ll be halfway towards getting that local deal on pintxo pote night. 

Embrace Your Inner Athlete

Honestly, I don’t understand it, but it seems like every guy in Spain is wearing some kind of jersey, fitness or sports team shirt (both Spanish and American franchises), or training pants. Think adidas track pants and a CrossFit shirt, and you’re not far off.

While this can sound like American gym rat style, it’s somehow different. It’s almost… aspirational, not functional. Guys wear clothes that make them look like they should play sports, but not like they actually do play sports. Gym shorts for instance, are a no-no, but sweat wicking sleeveless shirts and jerseys at the bar? Yup.

If you want to look like a Spanish local, watch a few games of European soccer and dress accordingly. 

Skinny Jeans Never Go Out of Style

Honestly, I thought super skinny jeans had gone the way of the dodo, but they are alive and well in Spain. I saw unbelievable snug jeans on guys in Madrid, San Sebastián, Lugo, Bilbao, and Barcelona this summer. Skinny jeans aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so dust off your old pair and savor life in 2005 again. Remember My Chemical Romance? Those were the days.

If skinny jeans really aren’t your speed, opt for slim fit travel pants that you can roll up a few times at the ankle. That’s a great look, and it’s perfect for warmer travel days when you’re walking around Spanish plazas. Lots of guys wear espadrilles with no socks and their pants rolled up. And if you really need to wear shorts, remember that Spanish guys either wear their shorts long and tight or really, really short. It’s weird, but true.

Spain Dress Code & Style Tips for Women

The good news for ladies, is that it’s almost comically easy to blend in with Spanish styles. Again, it depends on where you’re visiting, and what the weather is like during your visit, but if you’re traveling to Spain in spring or summer there are a couple of things you should pack to avoid looking like a first-time tourist to Espana.

Culottes (High Waisted Flowy Pants) are Everywhere

I can’t count the number of effortlessly stylish and sophisticated looking Spanish women I saw walking the cobblestone streets of Madrid, San Sebastián, and Barcelona in a pair of cinched high-waisted flowing pants. Typically, in muted yellows, tans, or orange colors, and often featuring stripes, some people call these pants “culottes” or “paper bag waisted pants.” No matter what you call them, they’re everywhere in Spain, and they look comfy and stylish as hell.

Even if you don’t go in for the high waisted flowy look, high waisted linen pants and high waisted jeans are very in style across most of Spain. Pair these pants with a basic, solid colored blouse or fitted t-shirt and you’ll have locals asking you for directions in Spanish in no time.

Tuck In Your Shirt & Keep It Simple

I might be biased, but Spanish women look ten times better than Spanish men. And a lot of it has to do with how clean and put together most women look. Simple lines, well matched basics, and tasteful jewelry are the hallmarks of Spanish women’s fashion. And the best part if how well this look translates to your capsule wardrobe.

Pack a few quality merino or lightweight basic t-shirts and simply tuck them into your high-waisted pants for an effortless, travel-friendly series of looks that work well for tapas in the afternoon or the dance club at 2am.

Stripes are the Unofficial Spanish Flag

Striped pants and striped shirts compliment the overall clean lines and simple, effortless aesthetic of fashion capitals in Spain. Women pair striped pants with a basic top or striped top with basic pants for a timeless look that transitions well throughout the day. Honestly, I don’t remember seeing many prints on shirts, aside from the cloying (and yes, strangely popular) glitter text shirts with obnoxious slogans like, “Love is everywhere” bedazzled all over the front. Don’t be that girl. You’re better than that.

Colors tend to be muted, but patterns and textures are everywhere in Spain. Add one or two of your favorite patterns to your packing list and you’ll be all set.

Chunky Sneakers are Back

Sadly, chunky thick-soled sneakers are everywhere in Spain. Yes, many (stylish) women still wear thin flats or espadrilles, but the growing number of younger Spanish women wearing borderline platform sneakers is on the rise. I never recommend packing bulky sneakers for travel, but if you’ve got a pair of hulking high tops, Spain is the place to show them off.

What to Wear in Spain in the Summer

Madrid, Barcelona, and San Sebastián are all hot spots in the summer. Literally. This past June (2019), saw temperatures over 100 degrees across most of Spain, so pack accordingly. 

That means light, breezy, flowy layers for women with some kind of sun coverage to help get you through any siesta sightseeing you have to do. Guys, bring a stylish travel hat (baseball caps aren’t really Spanish) or pair of sunglasses to protect you from the sun. Open-toed shoes or sandals are common just about everywhere, even though the recent trend is toward thick-soled sneakers or trainers (aka “marshmallow shoes”). There’s also been a massive surge in younger girls and college age women wearing shockingly short denim shorts during summer, but Spain can still be a surprisingly conservative country when it comes to revealing clothing. Try to avoid super short shorts or low cut dresses, especially if you plan to visit any churches or cathedrals.

For the truly stylish traveler, embrace your inner hipster and dust off those overall cutoffs. The 90s are back in the chic neighborhoods of Madrid and Barcelona (or maybe they just got here?). Solid colored fitted shirts and tan, or light colored pants are always in season.

Try to avoid making plans between 2-5pm as siesta is still a thing in Spain, especially during the summer, but keep a light layer, scarf, or pashmina style wrap handy for the inevitable evening chill, as the temperature can drop rapidly as soon as the sun goes down – even in summer.

Guys, dressing for Spanish summer means dusting off your best pair of adidas trainers, skinny jeans shorts, and athletic t-shirt, at least if you want to look like a local. Most guys under 30 are trying to look like they’re trying out for the national football (soccer) team during the day, and while the classic “European” leather jacket and jeans look is still popular, most young Spanish men in the city where either snug jeans shorts or snug joggers. If you don’t know what “joggers” are, they’re those fitted sweatpants that taper to a tight fit just above the ankle. They’re absolutely everywhere in Spain, even in the summer. If you’re traveling to Galicia in the northwest of Spain, pack three pairs of joggers and you’ll look like the mayor of whatever town you’re in.

A few of the more stylish Spanish men dust off their dapper blazers and hit the town with a fitted (often brightly colored) shirt underneath, but in summer, even these guys often opt for tight shorts and athleisure style shirts. Seriously, everyone in Spain looks like they just came from soccer tryouts, pretty much all the time during the summer. If that’s not your style, pack your skinniest jeans, your most CrossFit looking shoes, and a shirt that says something about sports and you’ll blend right in.

What to Wear in Spain in the Fall

Fall is all about scarves. Guys, girls, kids, pigeons – everyone wears a scarf or wrap. If you don’t have a good scarf (and odds are you only have a heavy wool scarf from that one time you went snowboarding five years ago) don’t sweat it. Leave the bulky winter gear at home and pick one up when you get to Spain.

I’ve always thought that some of the best souvenirs are clothing that you buy to augment your wardrobe while traveling. Spanish scarves are typically very affordable (less than 10 euros) and not only help you blend in with the locals, but make a great talking point when you’re back home.

Oh this old thing? I picked this up in BarTHelona last THeptember when I waTH walking to get some THapATH.”

That’s a story everyone can’t wait to hear.

What to Wear in Spain in the Winter (or Galicia!)

Spain can get pretty cold in the winter, especially if you’re in the mountains, on the northern coast or in any part of Galicia. Puffy coats (aka Uniqlo down coats) are common and extremely easy to travel with. If you can justify packing a wool peacoat, go for it, and a great travel blazer will fit in like a champ in Spain during the winter. However, I still like to opt for a nice trim, fit, travel jacket that can keep the chill and rain off you as you hunt for the perfect bocadillo.

TL;DR: What to Wear in Spain: Don’t Look Like a Tourist

Spanish style is as diverse as the many regions and dialects that make up this wonderful exciting country. If you want to look like a local, focus on what the locals wear in the places you’ll be visiting. Beach fashion dominates the coastal regions of the north and the Basque Country, as well as the scorching hot cities and playas down south. More trendy fitted urban styles can be found in places like Madrid and Seville. It’s all about honing in on a particular region.

  • Guys, embrace your inner athlete with sports themed shirts, and jogger style pants
  • Ladies, pack at least one pair of high-waisted flowy pants
  • Simple basic styles (t-shirts and fitted pants) are the way to go
  • Espadrilles were practically invented in Spain. Grab a pair and leave the socks at home
 

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