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.
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…
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!