What Not To Wear In California

No shoes, no shirt, no problems, is a sentiment that rings true throughout many regions of California. The laid-back, surfer attitude is well represented in coastal cities and towns across the entire state. With 24/7, 365 sunshine, it’s hard to argue against it. That said, fashion and style are a huge part of California culture. 

The clothes you wear in the Golden State have layers of importance. Firstly, California can get pretty hot so your outfit requires planning ahead. Secondly, cities like L.A. and San Francisco are very trendy, meaning your look can be important. Finally, wearing certain colors should be avoided for your safety

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What Not To Wear In California

In California, there’s no set dress code. With almost 40 million people packed into a single state, fashion is as diverse as the people. Because Hollywood is home to the stars, many visitors have a false impression that everyone dresses like A-listers. However, in reality, most Californians dress rather informally. 

Due to the sheer size of the state, coupled with its cultural diversity, there isn’t necessarily a typical Californian. That said, many locals who live on the west coast conform to a relaxed and down-to-earth way of being. The year-round sunshine and proximity to the ocean create a contagious sense of calm among residents. 

As a general rule, wear what’s comfortable. Angelenos tend to dress down rather than up, regardless of the occasion. While some restaurants may have a dress code, you’ll find flip-flops and t-shirts in most establishments. Despite the trend of casual dress, there are a few things worth noting ahead of your trip to the west coast. 

Colors Not to Wear In California 

While California is the most visited state in the entire country, it’s by no means perfect. Unfortunately, gang culture has been an issue in suburban areas for decades. The Bloods and Crips are two notoriously violent gangs that originated in the Los Angeles area. 

Historically, the Bloods wore red clothes, while the Crips wore blue. Wearing these colors was often seen as advertising your affiliation with either gang. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time brandishing either of these colors can spell serious danger, even for lost tourists. 

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Therefore, it’s best to avoid wearing colors associated with local gangs. Although gang colors are no longer as prevalent, you’re better off steering clear of overtly red or blue clothing. Moreover, be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and don’t stray into unknown neighborhoods. 

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Avoid Heavy Fabrics

In terms of style, pretty much anything goes in California. However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore the weather forecast. Winters are certainly cooler than summers. Nonetheless, temperatures frequently reach the mid to high 60s (Fahrenheit) throughout the winter months. 

Traditional winter clothing is most definitely optional at best. Unless you’re visiting the north of the state, you can leave your down jacket at home. Check the weather forecast ahead of your trip and pack accordingly. Jeans, shirts, and light jackets are typically the most comfortable options when it’s cool. 

Alternatively, consider packing layers of clothing so you can wrap up if the temperature drops suddenly. If you want to add a touch of style to your outfit, wear a hat, scarf, or vest to maintain the winter theme. In general, heavy fabrics are a serious no-go. 

There’s No Need to Overdress

If you ask any local what not to wear in L.A., San Francisco, San Diego, or any other major city in California, the most popular answer is likely to be formal wear. Unless you’re attending a formal dinner, gala, or strictly black tie event, suits and long dresses won’t be necessary. 

If you plan to visit nice restaurants or you’re worried about being underdressed, research the dress codes in various hotspots. In most cases, jeans, chinos, and a button-down shirt will do the trick. For women, a sundress, jeans, heels, and a nice blouse are more than acceptable for a social dinner or professional get-together. 

The main exception to the overdressing rule kicks in if you plan to go clubbing or dining in super fancy restaurants. In these kinds of scenarios, feel free to dress however you feel, be it a trendy cocktail dress or a high-street shirt and jacket combo. Although, we do recommend researching the dress code ahead of time. 

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What To Wear In California

Now that we’ve covered what you shouldn’t wear, let’s take a look at your must-haves for your upcoming trip to California. Unless you’re attending a wedding or formal event, your biggest concern should be the weather. We’ve outlined three separate packing lists that cater to the different types of trips you might take. 

Beach Life

Many people escape to California to get a well-needed dose of vitamin D by the beach. Fortunately, most California beach towns take the casual dress trend pretty seriously so your beach wear can double as street clothes. Here are our beachside essentials for a coastal trip to the west coast:

  • Swimsuit/bathing suit
  • Towel
  • T-shirts/shirts/vests
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Comfortable sneakers
  • Flip flops/slides/sandals
  • Light jacket or sweater
  • Body bag/beach bag
  • Portable phone charger
  • Headphones/earbuds 

Embracing Nature

One of the most appealing aspects of California is its breathtaking nature. No matter where you go, you’re always a mere car ride from a mountain, lake, forest, or stunning hiking trail. If you plan to embrace nature on your west coast trip, here’s our clothing checklist:

  • Hiking boots/sneakers
  • Polyester or nylon clothing 
  • Shorts/tights/hiking pants
  • Weather appropriate jacket
  • Rain jacket
  • Base layers
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses

City Sightseeing

Many tourists visit California to see the sights in major cities like L.A., San Diego, and San Francisco. If you’re staying away from the beaches and trails, you’ll need an entirely different wardrobe. For city sightseeing, make sure you have the following: 

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  • Comfortable sneakers
  • Jeans/shorts
  • Breathable t-shirts
  • Button-down shirt/blouse
  • Layers of clothing (e.g. light jacket or rain jacket)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat

What colors can you not wear in California?

Due to the association with Californian gangs, it’s best to avoid wearing red or blue throughout the state of California. While the prevalence of gang-related clothing colors isn’t what it once was, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How do females dress in California?

Female dress sense varies significantly in California. However, most women lean toward casual rather than formal, opting for sundresses, jeans, tailored blouses, and flats. Athleisure clothing is also a major trend in cities like L.A., San Diego, and San Francisco.

What should I wear to California?

When visiting California, fit in with the locals by wearing casual, comfortable, and hot weather-friendly clothing. During summer, shorts and t-shirts are the norms. In winter, layer up and pack your favorite jeans. Formal wear is a rarity in the Golden State.

What is California’s casual dress code?

Californians have a reputation for being carefree and laid back. This is reflected in their fashion choices as most people adhere to a rather casual dress code, consisting of jeans, t-shirts, blouses, button-downs, and sundresses.


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