It’s formal, it’s informal, it’s glitzy, it’s flashy and it’s laid back all at the same time. If you’re wondering what city I could be talking about, I’ll just let the cat out of the bag: it’s New York City! I know you’re thinking, “But how is it possible that one can walk down the streets of New York not looking like they just stepped off a catwalk?” Valid question! After all, New York is one of the top fashion capitals of the world, home of the incredible New York Fashion Week!
Now, you have it – deciding what to wear in New York is no easy task. However, stop worrying: you are in the right place! I have lived in New York and can reassure you have nothing to worry about. In this post, I will share with you my tips on what to wear in New York and what to put in the perfect New York packing list.
The first thing you’ll notice in New York is that there are people wearing whatever they want without getting a second look. That means you’ll see people wearing joggers alongside people wearing Armani suits at all hours of the day. That being said, I don’t suggest you wear joggers while touring the city nor is an Armani suit very practical. Balance is key, comfort is everything!
You may have heard about the “law” that states that wearing yoga pants or anything form-fitting is illegal. Well, that may or may not be something that’s still on the law books in New York City, but I can tell you that no one is obeying this law, nor is anyone enforcing it! Yoga pants are common on the streets of New York because they are comfortable and versatile and sure enough I have been caught wearing them once or twice (even do I don’t do yoga).
As for anything else you wear? Well, if you want to fit in with the locals, wear lots of black and neutral colors and enhance basic outfits with accessories. Or don’t.
Honestly, there’s no dress code in New York. And the key factor in deciding what to wear in New York is to just wear whatever you want! Do you want to stick out in the crowd? Go ahead and wear that flashy outfit you’d never think of wearing on the street back home! Very few people will give you a second look because no one cares what others are wearing.
Just be sure to wear something comfortable because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. The only time you may be required to wear something more formal is if you dine at a Michelin Star restaurant or you wish to access an exclusive nightclub. These establishments may have a set dress code in place that patrons are expected to follow to gain entrance.
Before sharing with you my tips on what to wear in New York, let’s look at a few things you must consider when planning your New York packing list.
Make sure to read my post The Best Things To Do In New York.
Things To Consider When Planning Your New York Packing List
Deciding what to wear in NYC doesn’t have to be difficult. Just make sure to consider the following and you’ll be fine.
New York is blessed with four distinct seasons and sometimes the differences between seasons can be quite dramatic! Summer is a lovely time of year with hot temperatures and a lot of sun. Spring tends to be cool and wet with warmer temperatures towards the end of the season. Fall is pleasant with some precipitation and temperatures plunging later in the season. It’s not unheard of to get a light blanket of snow in late fall. Winters are cold with lots of snow and rain and the temperatures often dip below 0.
The type of trip
It’s easy to pack for an urban escape but because New York is so diverse in terms of things to do within the city, there may be some things you’ll want to add to your list. If you plan on just staying in the city and doing some shopping and clubbing, pack accordingly. However, it’s important to note that there are swimming beaches within the city limits and Central Park has about 58 miles of trails where you can walk or run, so if you wish to participate in either of these activities, be sure to pack for them!
Will you be relying on public transportation, such as trains and buses, to get around? Keep in mind how difficult it is to maneuver heavy, bulky suitcases in these situations! You won’t be renting a car in New York (unless you have gone suddenly and completely mad) but if you are planning on taking cabs only, it might not be so bad. Otherwise, pack as lightly as possible!
If you’re on a tight budget, packing less will save you money. With just a carry-on and no checked baggage, you won’t have to pay the baggage fees many airlines now require. With some careful planning, packing everything you need into a carry-on is doable. One way to pack less and be more organized is to pack pre-chosen outfits rather than just random items. This will make it easier to mix and match items during your trip and you won’t have as much planning to do when trying to decide what to wear!
Make sure to also read my post How To Pack Light.
Now, let’s finally see what to wear in New York, whatever the season you’ll be visiting, and what items should not be missing from your New York packing list.
What To Wear In New York
What to wear in New York in Spring / Fall
In spring and fall, layers are your saving grace! The weather is unpredictable so you could experience four seasons in one day – trust me, it can happen! If you wake up to warm temperatures and sun in the morning, there’s always a chance it’ll be cold and raining (or perhaps even snowing!) by late afternoon. Having some extra layers on hand will help make this transition easy.
A waterproof / rain jacket
Just thinking about walking around a city soaking wet gives me shivers. You can easily prevent this unpleasant scenario by packing a waterproof jacket or rain jacket. Kuhl has an incredible range of rain jackets that are comfortable and stylish at the same time.
Jeans / comfortable pants
Jeans are probably the most versatile item you’ll pack. They are warm enough to wear in spring and fall, they match everything, they’re comfortable, and they can be easily dressed up with the right top and accessories. Likewise, comfortable pants are equally versatile. My favorite jeans in the world are a pair of Kuhl skinny jeans. They are skinny, yet so comfortable!
One or two pairs of leggings
Leggings are amazing! Not only are they comfortable and easy to dress up, but they’re also very compact so they don’t take up much room in your suitcase. As a bonus, they can also double as pajamas.
Long sleeve T-Shirts
This type of T-shirt is great because the long sleeves keep you warm, but because they tend to be thinner than a sweater, they won’t keep you too warm on warmer days. They’re also easily layered so one or two of these shirts will go a long way in your travel wardrobe. You can find some excellent ones on sale on Kuhl – some of them are super cute and trendy.
A couple of lighter sweaters are a necessity in spring and fall in New York. They’re heavy enough to keep you warm when layered under a jacket, but light enough to not be too stuffy when indoors. And if the weather is pleasant, you can take them off and tie them around your waste.
A warm sweater
You should pack at least one heavier warm sweater for those days when the temperatures dip below normal. If you plan to do some hiking in Central Park or spend a whole day outdoors exploring the city, a warm sweater will ensure you don’t get a chill during your outing!
A nice dress for the evening
If you pack something versatile in neutral colors, you can wear a nice dress multiple times. All it takes is the right accessories to create a whole new outfit! You should pack at least one nice dress because some higher-end restaurants and clubs enforce dress codes and it’s nice to dress up for a night out on the town anyway! For men, a nice pair of pants and a nicer shirt will do.
What to wear in New York in summer
It tends to get very hot in the summer. And humid. Oh, and oh so sticky. Be comfortable and stay cool by adding the right items to your New York packing list.
Light cotton or linen pants
For situations where you feel shorts may not be appropriate or you simply don’t feel like slathering sunscreen on your legs, a light pair of cotton or linen pants will keep you cool on hot days.
Between pants and shorts, cropped pants are great for day or night and what to wear in New York on any occasion (well, almost). They’ll keep you cool on hot days, comfortable on cool nights, and they’re easily paired with almost anything in your wardrobe.
A couple of pairs of shorts
Shorts are perfectly acceptable to wear in New York City during the day, especially if you’ll be walking or hiking in Central Park. They aren’t as acceptable in the evening when people tend to dress up a little more. My favorite shorts for comfort are Kuhl’s Freeflex, but I am also a big fan of the Kontour short. I have them in yellow.
Cotton T-shirts and tank tops
A couple of T-shirts and tanks are all you need to mix and match. This is especially true if they’re in neutral colors. Check out Kuhl’s website as they have a bunch – from the best day-wear ones to some that are dressier and perfect for a night out if paired with the right pants.
Packing a maxi-dress for your trip will save you a lot of trouble on those days when you’re not sure what you’ll be doing and you want to make sure you’re ready for anything. A maxi dress is great for wandering the streets, relaxing in the park, eating out, and accessing places that have a dress code. These dresses are comfortable and airy and the right one can easily go from day to night without having to run back to the hotel to change!
A nicer dress for the evening
Women should pack at least one dress to wear to dinner or for attending evening events. Nice linen or cotton pants paired with a nicer shirt is fine for men.
A light cardi
Sometimes the evenings get cool in summer, but no one wants to carry around a heavy jacket to wear over a nice outfit when going to dinner. This is where a light cardi comes to the rescue. Pack one in neutral colors and it can be thrown over any outfit to look stylish and keep you warm.
A light rain jacket
Rain isn’t as common in summer, but it does happen so you may want to add a light rain jacket in your NYC packing list – for those days when you’ll be wandering outdoors in the rain!
A bikini or swimsuit
Perhaps you didn’t realize that there are swimming beaches within New York’s city limits? Now that you know, maybe you’d like to spend a hot summer day cooling off at one of these beaches so be sure to pack at least one swimsuit.
If the sun tends to bother you, it’s perfectly fine to don a sun hat during the day in New York City. Just don’t pack anything too big or flashy and leave it back at the hotel when you go out for the evening.
What to wear in New York in Winter
Winters are harsh in New York City. A combination of wind, snow, rain, ice pellets and cold temperatures are the norm. Having said so, New York is simply magic when covered in a blanket of snow. If you plan to travel to the city during this time of year, you’ll have to pack a little more and you’ll have to pack some heavier items!
A winter jacket
One of the most important items you’ll pack for winter is a heavy winter jacket and waterproof is best. You will need something that keeps you warm for hours, as you’ll be wandering around a lot, and that is also comfortable and with plenty of pockets where you can fit things such as gloves, tissues, coins and other items. Kuhl makes some fantastic winter jackets and all of them are actually ecological.
Long sleeve shirts
The best type of top for warmth, comfort and easy layering is the long-sleeve type. Pack a few but make sure one of them is flannel for those extra cold days. My go-to brand for flannel shirts is once again Kuhl. They make the coziest, warmest shirts!
A few thick sweaters are very important to have on hand when traveling in New York in winter. Try to pack them in neutral colors so you can easily wear them from day to night if needed.
Thermal shirts / pants
Thermal gear is standard in New York during winter so make sure to add it to your New York packing list! Just make sure your thermal shirts and pants are thin and form-fitting enough to be easily layered under your regular clothes.
A pair of jeans
It’s a good idea to pack at least one pair of jeans that are comfortable and easily matched with many items in your wardrobe.
One or two pairs of pants
Long pants are comfortable and can be worn day or night – and you can use a base layer underneath to keep even warmer. Choose neutral colors to mix and match with your tops.
A beanie / hat, scarf and gloves
If you’re from a warmer climate and think that packing a hat, scarf, and gloves sounds like overkill, think again! Don’t underestimate how cold it gets in the Northeast in winter! A beanie is honestly essential or your head will freeze, and you’ll thank me for having suggested to bring a scarf and gloves.
Other Items For Your New York Packing List
Footwear in all seasons
If there’s any item that’s the most important in your luggage, it’s a good pair of walking shoes! There’s nothing worse than blisters and sore feet when on vacation. Since you’ll be doing a ton of walking, a pair of sneakers in summer, spring, and fall is necessary and yes, it’s acceptable to wear sneakers during the day.
In winter, waterproof boots with good grip are best for navigating city sidewalks that could be covered in snow and ice. A pair of warm ankle boots are fine for the evening.
In summer, a pair of flat walking sandals are perfect for the daytime and dressier ballet flats for the evening work great. I am also a fan of Paez espadrillas stile shoes. They are super light and easy to pack, comfortable and come in a million colors and styles.
Bags and purses
Since you’ll likely be gone for long periods exploring the city during the day, you’ll need something to carry your cell phone, wallet, water, snacks, and extra layers. A larger handbag or day pack is perfect for such outings. Come evening, a smaller purse for basic items is more acceptable.
Best luggage for New York
If you’re on a budget or only taking a short trip, you can get away with one nice carry-on suitcase such as the Level8 or a Cabin Zero. For longer trips where you’ll need to pack more, a larger suitcase with wheels is more convenient.
If you’re someone who hates to open a suitcase to see everything in disarray, packing cubes are an amazing invention! These allow you to create separate compartments in your suitcase to keep everything organized so it’s easy to find things when you need them.
Have you ever tried to carry all your toiletries to the shower room without a bag? It’s not pretty. Usually, it all ends up on the floor or you realize when it’s too late that you forgot something you need! This problem is easily solved by keeping toiletries packed in a separate toiletry bag. Just make sure to get one that you can hang on a towel railing.
Tap water in New York City is among the cleanest in the world, so it’s safe to refill your water bottle as you go. In fact, there are many fountains and water refilling stations around the city with more being added all the time. The best water bottles are the Super Sparrow ones. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and style and they will keep your water cold for hours.
If you’re traveling from outside North America, you’ll need to take a plug adapter with you so you can charge your devices.
We’ve all been there; you leave the hotel and realize you forgot to charge your phone. Having a fully-charged power bank at the ready will save the day and it’s easy to store in your day pack so you can charge your devices on the go.
While sunglasses seem like an obvious pick for summer, you’ll want to take them along during the other seasons too! Have you ever been outdoors at noon after snow has just fallen? Save your eyes from that blinding glare with a pair of shades.
Sunscreen is especially important while outdoors during the summer but you should also apply it to exposed skin during other seasons. The UV index can get high enough to cause sunburn even on winter days!
About 8 million people live in New York City and that’s not including the thousands of tourists that are exploring the city at any given time. This means that most surfaces are touched by a lot of people and even with regular sanitization, germs are everywhere! It doesn’t hurt to throw some hand sanitizer in your day pack and purse so you can wash your hands on the go.
Conclusions On What To Wear In New York
New York might be home to some of the most fashionable people in the world, but that doesn’t mean you have to go to great lengths to fit in. Most New Yorkers embrace casualness and comfort and, trust me, no one is looking at anyone else anyway! Be yourself, dress accordingly for what you’ll be doing and stick to neutral colors and styles and you’ll be fine. Most importantly, don’t put comfort on the back-burner!
If you are planning a trip to New York, these other posts will be useful:
- The Perfect Itinerary To See New York In 2 Days
- A Fabulous Itinerary For 3 Days In New York
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days In New York
- 5 Days In New York: An Easy To Follow New York Itinerary
- Where To Get The Best Views In New York
- A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty
- How To Get 9/11 Museum Tickets And Skip The Lines
- The Best Museums In NYC