It is 5 o´clock on the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. I am sitting absorbing the rays and sweating in my summer dress. The average local wears jeans, boots, scarves, jackets and many layers. People across the Plaza seem impervious to the sun’s rays. The average European wears at least 5 layers. Scarves and a light jacket accompany most outfits. Pants or leggings darn the legs of the Spaniards. All around people dress in clothing acceptable for a Corporate job or a 3-4 star restaurant. This type of dress can be found in offices in the United States but not in the grocery stores or while walking in the streets. Here people dress up regardless of task.
Friends stroll around the Plaza Mayor wearing dress pants, styled button up shirts with necklaces and bracelets to match. The kids coming from school talk with their friends in jeans, stylish shirts and accessories. Most groups of Americans wear jeans and a t-shirt when hanging out with a hoodie to keep warm. No teenager or child wears hoodies here. In May, the freezing mornings requiring people to leave their houses in scarves, jackets and jeans. By 11 o’clock the sun shines down strongly. In a one-hour break between classes my skin soaks in the sun and gets some color; the people do not reflect this.
Every generation has style. Old men walk alone in the streets wearing dress coats and slacks with no destination or goal. The babies waddle on the hot stone ground wearing fancy little shoes with clasps. Their socks have ruffles that lay on the tops of the shoes. Overalls made of cotton or linen, never jean, allow for fast movement. Babies chase after balls and their siblings. A white undershirt hides the babies´ skin from the brutal afternoon sun. Their strollers have little umbrellas to keep the bright sun out of their eyes.
Dressing a child like this in the United States would be a great expense. The speed in which children grow requires many pieces of clothes in a short piece of time. The middle class American family would not spend that amount of money on children’s clothing. Many families pass down clothing from child to child and will even give the clothes to their friends for their children.
Spaniards spend money on different things here. Families eat at home and value a dinner together so eating out rarely occurs. Time spent with friends out in cafes keeps to a beer or tapa reducing the price of outside purchases. This elimination of expenses allows for extraneous purchases. Instead of a $70 meal at Chilis for a family of five adults spend 5 euro on a tapa and a beer. The children play in the Plaza with their friends and the whole family can return home around 8 or 9 for dinner.
That extraneous purchase becomes clothing. In the United States when the warm weather hits, the shorts, tube tops and summer dresses come out of storage. After a long winter Americans can be seen outside and wearing less clothing. The Europeans do not seem to alter their clothing to reflect the high of the day in the spring. They continue to wear long sleeves, boots, jackets and scarves. On an average day in May, the temperature can be 70-80«. The jackets and satin designed tops do not seem to absorb the sun. Jackets remain on while drinking coffee. My black tube top dress from Old Navy allows the sun to hit my legs and chest. My American clothes do not reflect the European style.
The lax atmosphere does not reflect the clothing choices. The siesta happens at 3 interrupting the day. The people stroll the streets hand and hand catching up. I would assume the slow society would follow suite quite literally. I have yet to see a person wearing sweatpants apart from those in my study abroad program. This society clearly values attire.
Finding my friend from across the Plaza is easy. His blue t-shirt from Aeropostle, khaki shorts and Reef flip-flops separate him from the dark jeans, button up shirts and closed toe leather shoes that surround him. As the JMU group heads to class our language and volume are not the only things that separates us. The most obvious thing: our clothes.
My mindset while packing was high quality, detailed shirts with slacks and silk dresses. I tried to bring clothes that would make me look less American and more European. That meant saying goodbye to flip-flops, torn jeans and JMU and high school t-shirts. Even with all my preparation I still stand out dramatically. This is not about denial of heritage and origin; I am trying to be apart of the Spanish culture. Here dress is extremely important to the culture.