Austin’s casual dress code can be puzzling for those getting assimilated into the city. We’re nestled deep in the heart of a state that skews southern conservative, but we possess a distinct culture, mixed with a climate that dictates donning as few layers as possible. This makes it plausible to go out to a steak dinner wearing flip flops. We’re famously the “blueberry in the middle of the tomato soup” and our fashion sense is just as unexpected.
As a native Austinite who has lived and dined in a slew of outfits for thirty years, ranging from shorts and flip flops to sarongs and flash tattoos, I’ve often grappled with what to wear and when, and I know I’m not alone. The rules that apply to going out in Dallas, Portland and Denver don’t count in this funky college town.
To define Austin’s dress code, I enlisted the help of native Austinites and nostalgic ex-pats. I picked up tips on what outfit to don and where, and heard a few stories along the way. Whether it was the first time Austin legend Leslie Cochran surprised you at Fresh Plus, snagging an iced tea on a Saturday morning clad in a Dallas Cowboys string bikini, or the time you arrived at Halcyon during SXSW in threadbare foam flip flops after a pedicure, we Austinites are as talented at making fashion statements as we are at witnessing them. One you get used to the style here, it’s difficult to accept anything else.
Laid-back and Business Casual Dress Code
If you didn’t get the memo before you stepped off the plane at Austin-Bergstrom, it won’t take long to notice the overwhelming prevalence of t-shirts, shorts and flip flops. Whether you’re an app developer or a soccer mom, these three go-to pieces are de rigueur, and there are as many variations as there are boutiques on South Congress.
Wear your cause on your sleeve, spread an ironic message screen printed across your chest or accessorize with one of the thousands of burnt orange UT caps you can pick up on every street corner. Whether you work at a tech startup or on a sales floor, you’ll witness a sea of t-shirts every month of the year.
“I was shocked when I overheard someone at a Houston P.F. Chang’s complain that another diner was dressed too casual. Growing up in Austin, unless the president is in the room [and even then, you’re at Torchy’s!], shorts and flip flops are always welcome. I grew up going to the Omni Hotel Sunday brunch every weekend with my dad and not once did we blink an eye at the sea of casual clothes,” says native Austinite Shyla R..
Hipster Cool Meets Cowboy Chic
For recent transplants whose first stop was Allen’s Boots, never fear! While you quickly realized that we don’t (usually) parade around on horses, there are plenty of spots around town where you can don your pearl buttons and wide-brimmed hat.
Hipster cool melds into southwest cowboy swagger with such ease that you’ll find yourself swooning for Jack White and Merle Haggard at the same bar, on the same night.
“It’s important to remember that Willie Nelson could only be the patron saint of Austin. Dallas wouldn’t know what to do with his hippie braids. His style and ethos are what Central Texas is about,” says Ian J., a 15-year Austin transplant living in Hyde Park.
Check out hipster-infused live honky tonk at The White Horse. Susannah H., an Austin native living in Central Austin, recommends Whisler’s, The Grackle and Hotel Vegas as great spots to take your boots out on the town.
Where to Dress Up
“Skirts and Tevas are my uniform of summer” says Catie H., a native Austinite living in West Campus “It’s perfect because it looks festive and feminine, and you can always stop by Barton Springs to hang by the water.” The sheer diversity of Austin and our laid-back cool makes for a city that embraces all types of fashion styles.
Itching to dust off your blazer and high heels, but not sure where to head? The Driskill is a solid bet for taking your parents out or dressing to the nines for a date. Just don’t be surprised if the guy grabbing a top shelf cocktail next to you is sporting Birkenstocks! It is Austin, after all.
@kristinmleigh wants to know:
What’s the wackiest outfit you’ve seen in Austin?