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What to pack, what to wear in Tucson

Posted on May 9, 2013

Tucson is many things, but the bastion of formalwear it is not. Like most western U.S. cities, Tucson is a laid-back town. The casual culture here has even spawned its own dress code: “Tucson casual.” What is Tucson casual? In the most general terms, it’s comfortable clothing that is neither ratty nor formal. It’s what you would consider “country club casual” in many places.

Tucson’s take on country club casual includes the guayabera (pronounced why-a-BEAR-uh), also called the “Mexican wedding shirt,” also known as Tucson’s unofficial men’s shirt. There are versions of the guayabera all over the world, but they’re very popular in Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines (where they are called “barong” shirts). Typically, the guayabera is made from linen or cotton with four pockets, two panels of embroidery or pleats and a hem, so it’s worn outside pants.

Tucson casual includes sandals (please, men, no socks with the sandals!). It can even extend to nice shorts for lunch (they’re frowned upon for nighttime dining; Paul Newman got away with it here, but you may not). Leather loafers are also popular. Polo shirts, short-sleeved button-down shirts and nice T-shirts paired with a jacket are considered Tucson casual.

Women don’t seem to struggle too much with the concept of Tucson casual. For women, a simple blouse and skirt will suffice as will a full-fledged ranch-style prairie skirt and peasant blouse. Well-kept jeans, slacks, capris, sneakers, designer heels, boots sandals – they all are Tucson casual, too.

For those who want to dress western, cowboy hats and boots with starched jeans are common here. While men might shun the formal business suit and tie – especially in the hotter months – don’t forget about Arizona’s official tie: The bola, which has its own range of casual to very expensively decorated versions and often comes decorated with the official state gemstone, turquoise.

If you’re going somewhere that requires “Tucson casual” and you have second thoughts about what you were going to wear because it’s either too formal or too casual, don’t wear it. Be comfortable, look nice and you will be Tucson casual.