How to Dress in New Orleans

By Meg Jernigan

Best wardrobe tips for a stay in the Big Easy

How to Dress in New Orleans

New Orleans’ hot, humid summer weather tempts some to forget everything they ever learned about how to dress in public. But, though Mardi Gras itself promotes partying with wild abandon and embracing all things gaudy, even it involves functions requiring formal wear. In every way, the whole hot city is an exciting, crazy mix, and the best clothing tip to remember when visiting? Whatever the style, dress for the weather.

What to wear

Casual chic: Wear dressy, casual and comfortable outfits for lunch or dinner at upscale eateries. Most restaurateurs, especially in the French Quarter, don’t insist on a dress code, but wearing something a little bit fancy can make the experience more memorable.

Shoes: Uneven sidewalks, including the brick and block commonly found in the French Quarter, call for comfortable footwear. Visitors wearing heels risk a twisted ankle or a fall. Women should choose flats, and men should choose boat shoes or loafers. Sneakers are a good choice for anyone.

Crossbody bag or zippered pockets: Tourists are more likely to be scammed by a street huckster than robbed by a pickpocket in New Orleans, but a nod to security brings peace of mind.

Leave these at home

Tight jeans are miserable in New Orleans’ humid summer temps. Pack a pair only if you plan to spend a night clubbing and don’t want to dress up, or if you’re headed to the Big Easy in the wintertime.

Tank tops, sleeveless T-shirts and booty shorts leave your arms, shoulders and legs exposed to the sun. Loose-fitting shirts and knee-length shorts help prevent sunburn.

Dress for the weather

In the summer, New Orleans is famously hot, and the heat is made less bearable by the humidity. Dress for comfort. T-shirts, shorts, sundresses and sandals all suffice. Steer clear of fabrics like cotton that don’t wick perspiration away from your skin. Expect afternoon thunderstorms, but don’t expect relief when they’re done. The humidity will swiftly creep into the uncomfortable zone.

Winter daytime temperatures rarely dip below 60 degrees F. Pack a light jacket, sweater or wrap for cooler evenings.

How to dress for Mardi Gras

Pack a light jacket, comfortable slacks, a long-sleeved shirt and sensible shoes for Mardi Gras, New Orleans’ most famous celebration. The festivities end the day before Ash Wednesday, but parties and parades start weeks before the official end in early spring. Some masked balls require formal attire, so check the invitation to see if black tie, white tie or costume de rigueur is expected.

The French Quarter isn’t the only part of the city that celebrates Mardi Gras. Some parades are family-friendly. Parade viewers and participants at these festivities should choose less risque dress than they might for the Quarter.

Select outfits with at least one of Mardi Gras’ official colors. Purple signifies justice, gold is for power and green, faith.

Packing tips

Pack day-to-day clothing and toiletries in a carry-on bag, and buy your costume, a mask and formal wear once you arrive. Mask stores are abundant in the city, selling everything from simple half masks to elaborate full masks like the Arlecchino, a joker-like mask with a large headpiece. Or, stop by the French Market Mardi Gras Mask Market for a one-of-a-kind creation, and ship it back home before leaving so you don’t have to pack it.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.