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Oaxaca is a place for artists.
Though we saw one group of drunk American chicks wandering past our mezcal bar while we were there, they were the exception to the rule. This magical desert town has an energy that attracts people who are looking for inspiration, who thrive in mystery and ambiguity. Not much English is spoken. The liquor is hard. The food is spicy. The sun is harsh, and the large hacienda doors have secrets behind them.
So when you’re considering what to wear in Oaxaca, Mexico, leave your cardigans at home and channel your inner Georgia O’Keeffe-meets-Frida Kahlo love child. Think flowing cotton dresses, wide-brimmed wool hats, ponchos and bright colors that pop against the color of sand.
Or, don’t pack much and leave room for shopping. I support either approach.
Some helpful guidelines:
Get creative. With such a vibrant community of artists and textile makers — both local and expats — the fashion vibe is artisanal and patterned, but with subtlety. Oaxaca is also quite socialist and anti-establishment, so I would leave any products with logos at home. From Adidas to Louis Vuitton, that will not impress here.
Layers. It’s the desert, an area where you sweat during the day and shiver at night, so come prepared.
Natural materials. Oaxacan artisans and artists have a reverence for natural materials, especially cotton, wool and leather. On a more practical level, you don’t want to be wearing polyester (itchy and bad for your girl parts), rayon viscose (attracts and retains B.O.), acrylic (same), or pleather (sticks to your skin, falls apart quickly). Merino wool wicks away moisture and lets go of odor in all temperatures (more on why I love wool), cotton is healthy for your skin for a whole day on planes, silk is lightweight and healthy for your skin, hemp is strong and long-lasting, as is linen, and artisan-made leather accessories will last.
No dry-clean-only. The desert was made for line drying. So pack items you can hand wash in the sink and throw over the balcony for a quick dry.
My Traveling Outfit
I left New York City in December, so I wore warm clothes that could pack down easily.
- Mini crossbody purse or sling bag – I’ve started carrying a sling bag when I travel, because it gives me quick access to my passport, wallet, and tickets, without me having to take off my backpack.
- Wool socks – I love merino wool specifically because it feels nice and wicks away moisture and odor. Check out these cozy Nisolo socks, perfect for the plane!
- Lightweight sneakers
- Black leggings in a natural fabric – natural fabrics are more comfortable and odor-fighting for long travel days
- Linen long-sleeved button down – Tradland has some
- Packable puffer jacket
- Merino wool light sweater – you’ll be happy you packed this if you do a hike in the nearby mountains
- Comfortable undies in natural fabric
- Wide-brimmed hat – To protect your face from the harsh sun.
- City-style daytime backpack or large purse. I liked a Colombian mochila (pictured above) because it packs flat but holds a lot and is the right vibe. Check out Nisolo’s tote.
- Passport case – We like this leather option or this recycled design. I’m so glad I brought this, because I stuck my visa in here, and still had it when I found out that you need to present your copy to leave Mexico, or else pay for a new one at the airport. Pockets for vaccine cards and extra passport photos are crucial.
- Phone and charging cord
- Portable phone charging battery
- Grayl purifying water bottle – this goes above and beyond Lifestraw to also take out viruses and heavy metals. Crucial for Mexico!
- SPF chapstick
- Camera and lenses, extra battery, battery charger, extra memory cards – I love my compact but powerful Fuji x-t10, with a wide-angle lens for landscape, architecture, and room shots; and a 50 mm lens for portraits and food.
- Matador camera bag
- Earbuds that can plug into the plane’s video console
- Hand sanitizer
- Portable spork – so you don’t have to use a disposable one. Make sure it’s plastic so it doesn’t get confiscated by security.
- Pack of tissues – this isn’t for your nose, so don’t think I’m advocating this over a reusable handkerchief. If you decide to road trip anywhere outside of Mexico City or San Miguel de Allende, the rest stops do not provide toilet paper. Mexicans often keep a roll of toilet paper in their car for this purpose.
- Reusable handkerchief – Yup, this one is for your nose.
- Chico reusable bag with stuff sack
- SPF chapstick
- Notebook – For jotting down inspiration
In My Suitcase
- Belt – Nisolo’s Noemi belt is just the right vibe and comes in several neutral colors.
- Ankle boots
- All-purpose sandals. Nisolo’s Go-To Flatform sandal and Huarache sandal are great everyday options.
- Jewelry – I had so much fun jewelry shopping myself, that I recommend you pack just a few basics: some earrings, maybe a necklace and a bracelet.
- Toiletry bag
- Ably white t-shirt – This has stain-resistant technology, which is crucial if you’re traveling!
- Reversible washable tie top – I wore this to the beach and out on New Year’s Eve in Oaxaca. Tie it in the back and it’s a lovely top that goes with any bottom, from jeans to a skirt. Tie it in the front and it’s super sexy.
- Cozy sweater
- Poncho/serape in a natural fiber – Of course, Mexican ladies love their ponchos and serapes. They can be wrapped around your neck as a scarf, thrown on in the morning when you get out of bed, or layered over a nice outfit. Try one of these from Lauren Manoogian or Voz.
- Par en Par mustard robe/dress – I can wear this as a beach cover up, a dress, or a robe. And Par en Par’s rich colors were made for the desert.
- Jumpsuit – I like the ones from Ozma and Mara Hoffman
- Wide-leg trousers
- Minimalist sundress
- White tank
- Leather jacket – Try one of these.
- Wool or cashmere poncho/serape – So I actually didn’t pack this. I bought a fringed cashmere serape in San Miguel de Allende from Recreo, and it became the most beloved thing in my suitcase! It can be draped around you in cold weather, is appropriate for the city or the resort, and you’re essentially wearing a blanket, but stylishly. If that price tag is too high for you (understandable), try this from Victoria Road, and these from VOZ. You can also buy this as a souvenir when you arrive to Oaxaca.
- Chila Bag – You can flat pack this in your suitcase but it holds a lot! I got the camel brown one, which goes with my Pons Avarcas.
- Wool socks – Merino wool keeps your feet cool or warm, and wicks away odor and sweat. Check out our socks roundup here.
- Sarong – Great as a cover up, towel, or beach blanket. I got mine in India from Anokhi, but of course you can get these anywhere!
- Pajamas – I chose this set because I could wear the t-shirt separately out in public (and did!), and the shorts to the beach.
- Bathing suit
- PurSteam traveling iron/steamer – this thing is tiny, but crucial!
- Travel yoga mat – So you can get a good long stretch in every morning, regardless of where you are. I fold mine up and pack it inside the suitcase.
- 3 bras and 8 pairs of underwear.
- Universal sink plug – So you can wash your clothing in the sink
- Travel dry line – Drying something on a line as opposed to over the railing or on the floor makes a huge difference in time spent. (I lost my bikini top in Hawaii drying it on the railing!) I like this one because it comes with a stuff sack.
- Waterproof reusable laundry bag
- Travel first aid kit – Get a basic one, then add in medications you’ll need, like malaria pills, altitude medication, ibuprofen, imodium, etc.