As a recent arrival in tropical Mérida, you might be interested in knowing that there is a dress code for going out in the “White City.” It has relaxed in the last few decades with more and more expats and folks from other parts of the country moving here, but there are still a few things to consider.
People in México generally dress up nice when they leave the house. I’m not talking about the kids here; I am referring to adults. For the longest time, conservative Mérida was just that: conservative. Fitting in and not sticking out were important tools in your social-acceptance toolkit.
In my own personal experience, the idea of dressing properly when leaving the house is a concept I learned quickly upon my arrival. On one occasion I was about to leave the house in jeans and an undershirt. My dear wife, who was born and grew up in Mérida, quickly put a stop to that; and in spite of my protestations that I was “only going to the mall” encouraged me rather vigorously to put on a shirt. She even insisted on one that was not wrinkled. Lesson learned.
Now you’re probably thinking that it’s warm. Hot even. This isn’t a free pass to wear your shorts just any old where. Shorts are for the beach, period. If you are going out for dinner at one of the fancy new restaurants in Centro or the north part of the city, you will need to put on some clean pants and a shirt (jeans are fine – if they have holes in them make sure you have them in the right places and that you are of an age where others will be convinced that you are making a fashion statement and not that you are a slob)…there’s ripped jeans and then there’s ripped jeans. One is the result of a rather unfortunate accident involving an errant electric gardening tool and the other is a pair of pants that cost you $400 USD. If you can’t tell the difference, you are ineligible for this look.
Back to the shorts: along with the rule of keeping shorts at the beach, for Pete’s sake don’t wear shorts with knee-high dress socks and shoes. You can always tell when someone is not a local when you see them at the beach in an undershirt, with shorts and dress socks wrapped in sandals. Really. It’s a look, and not a good one.
There is of course, also the practical aspect of not wearing shorts in the city. Mérida is located in a warm, humid climate and that means you will come up against the occasional mosquito from time to time. Wearing long pants (and socks even) with closed shoes will ensure that you enjoy a bite and itch-free evening and vacation.
Another interesting – alarmingly interesting I would hazard to opine – look I have seen on the streets of Mérida is the safari outfit. These are people who are convinced they are on an African trek as they trundle down Calle 60. Long-sleeved in khaki, with pants and boots to match and even a walking stick and pith hat, in the middle of downtown, urban Mérida! This is an overstatement at best and potentially condescending to locals at worst, as they, who are decked out in the finest and latest fashion might feel like you don’t respect their recently-acquired cosmopolitan urbanity. Please, people, you look like you just walked into town from Uxmal with John L Stephens. Again, a terrible look that smacks of colonialism and one to be avoided at all costs, at least in the city.
For formal social events, there are two kinds of dress-up modes, depending largely on the time of day of said event. Afternoon or daytime weddings or other events, for example, will require a guayabera, those 2-4 pocketed Cuban dress shirts, worn untucked and long sleeved, usually over khaki pants with dress shoes. An undershirt is a must, to avoid the inevitable signs of sweaty discomfort. For evening affairs, the invitation can require guayaberas again, or perhaps ‘rigurosa etiqueta’ which means suit and tie. Yes, some events require you to wear a suit and tie in steamy Mérida; however, it is quite possible that the reception you will be attending (and perhaps even the church) will have air conditioning, so it’s not as daunting as you might think.
To sum up, when dressing keep in mind that Mérida is in the throes of becoming a modern, somewhat cosmopolitan urban center and dressing appropriately will help you not only fit in, but also show that you understand and respect local traditions and customs.
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
Photography by G. Candila and Ayuntamiento de Mérida for use in Yucatán Today
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