You can spot a gringa from a mile away. Marked by brightly-colored Andean cotton pants, an outfit mash-up of contrasting patterns, and a mound of unwashed hair that has been stuffed into a chullo, it is easy to stereotype the quintessential style of a traveling gringa in South America. I am allowed to generalize because every day I walk down the streets of my South American city and I witness the fashion clichés sported by gringas. And although I am here to poke some fun, I am not innocent in my own style as I have a personal affinity for alpaca leg warmers and oversized sunglasses as well.
Here are a few ¨classic¨ fashion statements of a traveling gringa in South America.
Brand Name Outerwear
The North Face, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, I bet your windbreaker is worth more than the average salary of a local but you are still bargaining to receive a three peso discount on your thrift store mitten purchase. While I understand the value of traveling with proper technical apparel, I can also see how the locals become confused when travelers who are polished in expensive outwear brands are stingy with their money. If you are sporting your puffy north face around the barrios of South American cities, don´t be alarmed if street peddlers hassle you for change.
Cheap and beautifully woven, artisanal handbags in South America are a top fashion statement in the traveling gringa community. It’s hard to walk by the heaps of colorfully knitted wallets, trinkets, and purses without buying at least one that would otherwise cost an arm and a leg in your own country. Every gringa I pass in South America has some type of ornately woven handbag draped over their shoulder. Who needs Louis V when you can buy a genuine leather knapsack with intricately sown-in designs sown all for under $30 U.S.D. Buy one, buy six, either way you may as well support the local economy while you are traveling on their turf.
Leg Warmers and Wool Sweaters
Guilty as charged as I look at my sock drawer that is currently overflowing with alpaca leg warmers and llama printed socks. It’s true, leg warmers and wool sweaters are a traveler’s favorite. Travel anywhere in South America and expect to see a gringa wearing black leggings, an oversized alpaca sweater and fuzzy leg warmers pulled up to their knees. Although most popular in Peru, alpaca wool sweaters and leg warmers can be found almost anywhere in South American in the artisanal section and are cheap, cheap, cheap. To me, this stereotypical fashion statement makes the most sense as the climates between countries in South America vary tremendously and this buttery-soft fiber will keep you warm from the inside out.
What fashion statements have you witnessed while traveling abroad?