Is There a Dress Code in Peru?

In short, there is no formal dress code in Peru. On a day-to-day basis, there are no strict social taboos or religious requirements to consider when it comes to clothing etiquette.

That said, there is still a deep-rooted sense of tradition and conservatism within Peruvian society. If you stroll around Cusco in a pair of pink stilettos, painfully tight hot pants and a sparkly tank top, be prepared for… well… pretty much anything. In general, respectably casual is a safe middle ground.

peru-dress-chullo

Nothing says “tourist” like a chullo hat (photo © Jenny Mealing, flickr.com)

Standard Dress in Peru

Peruvian’s react to tourists in many different ways, ranging from accustomed indifference to outright fascination. Either way, your appearance — while unlikely to cause an international incident — does make a difference (a fact certainly not unique to Peru).

Like pretty much everywhere else on the planet, some people in Peru will judge you based on your appearance:

  • Designer gear, fancy shoes, expensive wristwatch — the tourist has cash, would make a good husband, would also make for a great mugging.
  • Ragged t-shirt, straggly hair, well-worn sandals — poor thing, looks like it needs a bath and a nice warm bowl of soup. I wonder if it has a home?
  • Short skirt, tiny t-shirt, showing lots of skin (maybe even blonde, heaven forbid) — mamacita! Let’s follow her down the street while whistling and making inane comments before asking her out on a date…

So yes, it can make a difference. And yes, there’s some stereotyping involved. That’s life.

If you want to avoid unwanted attention, dress casual, don’t show too much skin and keep things simple. Jeans and a shirt, shorts and a t-shirt, a skirt and sweater — you can’t go too far wrong with classic combinations. If you couldn’t care less about how you’re perceived, then feel free to experiment with the hot pants combo…

Quick Tip:  If traveling to or from Lima Airport, it is strongly recommended to use the luxury Airport Express Lima  bus to get to or from your hotel. Safer and cheaper than a taxi with no baggage limit as well as Free WiFi and USB chargers onboard, it is ideal for travelers.

Oh Heck, What Do I Wear for a Quinceañera?

What, you forgot to pack a tuxedo? Strolling around in the street is one thing, but special occasions may require a little extra effort:

  • Family Events: Peruvians are a hospitable bunch, so there’s always a chance that you’ll be invited to a family occasion, be it a meal, a birthday, a quinceañera or — gasp — a wedding. Unless you’re James Bond, you probably didn’t pack a tuxedo. That’s okay, but you may need slightly more formal clothing for a family event, mainly as a sign of respect. For men, pants and a smart(ish) shirt should be fine; for women, a dress or a skirt with a respectable top (sorry, I’m not too good with women’s clothing). Your best option is to ask a fellow attendee for advice beforehand — you may not need to dress up at all.
  • Religious Events: Again, edge towards formal attire, especially when entering a religious building — pants rather than shorts, shoes rather than sandals. Not essential, perhaps, but it’s good to show respect.
  • Dealing with Officialdom: Peruvian police, border officials and other government employees are more likely to treat you with respect if you look reasonably respectable. A t-shirt emblazoned with a spliff-smoking Bob Marley is not recommended.
  • Doing Business: Peruvian businesspeople dress in a similar way to their North American or European counterparts — suit and tie for men, suit or skirt and jacket for women.
  • In School: If you’ve landed a teaching position, the school or institute will probably have a dress code for all professors to follow. This could include a no shorts or sleeveless shirts rule and no excessive tattoos or piercings.

For more information about traditional Andean clothing, read Look Like a Local: Andean Textiles in Peru.

If you have any questions, observations or further tips about how to dress in Peru, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

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