Dressing for a vacation to Washington DC
March 24, 2006 6:57 AM   Subscribe

We're taking our first trip as tourists to Washington, DC next week. As we in Maine and clean mucking boots is considered dressed-up, how casual is appropriate for this trip?

We're doing mostly touristy things. Also, we'd like to have a meal or two in a "nicer" restaurant. Are jackets and ties still required anywhere? Are chinos the way to go or can I pack jeans? And while we're at it, any other tips for two adults on their first vacation to DC would be appreciated. We're flying in and won't have a car while there, opting instead for the Metro to get around.
posted by SteveInMaine to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've always found tourists to be the most disgustingly casual dressers - sweatpants being pretty much de rigour at this point - so you can probably get away with anything. I guess it really depends if you care if people think you are a sloppy mess who lacks the courtesy to put half as much effort into your appearance as the parking attendant does.

Which gets me to my general rule of thumb: try to dress as formally as the staff does. If the waiter has on khakis and a polo, that's fine for you. If they have on a tie, put on a tie.

Its one thing to be hip and forward-thinking and all "I don't care what other people think about me or my clothes," its quite another to insult people with this attitude.
posted by ChasFile at 7:08 AM on March 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most DC tourists are decidedly casual: jeans, shorts, t-shirts. Sometimes you'll see people in more conservative attire at the art museums, but they are more likely to be professionals on their lunch break than actual tourists. Chinos are acceptable at "nicer" restaurants, especially in Spring, and casual restaurants are fine with jeans. Only the most expensive, exclusive restaurants require jacket and tie, as is the case in most of the rest of the country.
posted by juniper at 7:09 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: As far as I can tell, when it comes to touristy things in DC, anything goes, dress-wise. For the "nicer" restaurants, you might want chinos instead of jeans, but I don't think a jacket and tie would be necessary.

Check out the different Metro passes available. Depending on where you're staying and where you're headed, the 7 day short-trip pass can be a great deal. WMATA's site also has a very handy trip planner that can help get you where need to go.
posted by amarynth at 7:09 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: Do you have specific restaurants in mind? I don't think you'll necessarily be turned away from any restaurants for wearing jeans, but I know I always feel more comfortable accidentally dressing up than accidentally dressing down and feeling like a schlub.

At the chinos level you're going to be more dressed up than 90% of the tourists around you, but that's not a bad thing.

A lot of the dress code, restaurant-wise, will depend more on the type of restaurant than on the price range. And yeah, I think ChasFile is right. Dress like the staff does, or slightly nicer. There's no need for tuxedos, but leave the shorts at home.
posted by bshort at 7:10 AM on March 24, 2006

I concur with Juniper. Let me just add though, please don't wear pajamas to the Smithsonian, have a little decency, please, please. I'm sure this wasn't your plan, but you'd be surprised.

Very few places around here actually require a jacket and tie, chinos and a button down shirt are just fine for most places
posted by Pollomacho at 7:14 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: Business casual is fine for most nice places. Some might have a no-jeans policy.

The Washington Post's Tom Sietsema is one of my favorite food critics and hosts weekly chats that are archived. DC is a tough food town - you really have to do your research or you will end up with all sorts of crappy, expensive meals.

As for getting around, Metro will take you anywhere you need, including DCA airport and the Virginia landmarks (Arlington cemetery; Pentagon). Be aware that the system shuts down around 12:30 AM each night. But taxis aren't horribly expensive if you go a short distance.

Have fun - maybe you'll catch the cherry blossoms? Or has that happened already?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:15 AM on March 24, 2006

Be aware that the system shuts down around 12:30 AM each night.

Only on weekdays, it closes at 3 AM on Friday and Saturday nights (or should I say Saturday and Sunday morning). Metro does not open until 7 AM on weekends, so be aware if you have and early flight out on a weekend! See amarynth's link above for more details.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:21 AM on March 24, 2006

ChasFile - Word!
posted by Witty at 7:24 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: The cherry blossom festival officially starts this Saturday, so by next week there should definitely be blooms to enjoy -- and beautiful weather! There are some good suggestions for enjoying DC in this thread, especially the walking-friendly tip about getting to the zoo.
posted by junkbox at 7:29 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: For general touristy stuff, it's fine to wear comfortable athletic sneakers with jeans or chinos and a t-shirt or its equivalent. I suggest you not wear anything ripped or stained, as looking neat may get you nicer responses when you ask people for help/directions/etc. For the nice dinner, you'll want loafers and a belt - there is sometimes a no-sneakers rule.

Not to be TOO Maine-cliche, but you can use the LLBean catalogue as a guide: anything a male model is wearing with loafers is OK for tourism, and anything he's wearing in a holiday-party-type picture is fine for a nice dinner.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:04 AM on March 24, 2006

There's several of us who are DC folk, if you tell us what restaurants we can probably give some guidance. As others have said though, odds are you can wear anything you like. Even among the nicer restaurants there's not a lot of requirements. I've only been to one jacket-required restaurant in the city.
posted by phearlez at 8:23 AM on March 24, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your comments so far. I'll leave the jacket and ties at home, but pack the chinos and do the "dress-casual" thing.

We're staying near the Metro station in Crystal City, so I'll definitely check out the Metro pass. We really want to see as many of the museums and government-related sights as possible, but if the weather's as nice as it's shaping up to be, a trip to the zoo might be in order.

As restaurants go, I've been browsing the Washingtonian and other sites, but don't have any specific plans yet. Looking at their menu, a Vidalias-type of restaurant is appealing. Also, since they're hard to come by up here, some authentic Greek or Mexican/latin restaurants would be fun.

And no, you're not being too Maine-cliche by suggesting that, Sprout. Thanks for the tip. That said, we've been to very nice restaurants here where you would rarely see a guy wearing a tie and jacket. The only exception I've found so far is the White Barn Inn, down in Kennebunkport.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:24 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: I'm in DC, and my standard dinner dress has become green khakis, a black polo shirt, and brown leather shoes. I have some pretty ratty khakis, so I pull out the nicer ones; not really nice, mind you, but, you know, ones that still have most of their original dye, no fringe at the cuffs, etc. I've worn this outfit to $150-a-person places, and smoky dive bars. It works just about everywhere around here.

I don't think I've been anywhere in DC that required jackets and ties. I've certainly never worn them to dinner. Dunno, maybe the Palm requires them, but I'm not going to the Palm.

Jeans are fine anywhere for touristy things. I find that museums can get kind of hot, though, what with all the crowds and breathing and such. Spring break and cherry blossom time bring lots of folks to DC, so the museums can get a bit muggy. I'd avoid jeans for that reason alone.

If you like, you can email me with the details of your stay, when you'll be here and where you're staying, and I'll give you more specific advice about places to eat (and things to see). I give a pretty good tour, too, if you're into books and stuff.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:33 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: Hmm...Crystal City, Latin, Washingtonian...this all adds up to Jaleo. Seriously. You'll thank me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:35 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: It's Lebanese, not Greek, but close enough: Lebanese Taverna.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:37 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: OH, one big tip--museums close at 5:30 or 6:00, but monuments are open all night. One evening must be spent walking around the tidal basin, looking at cherry blossoms and visiting the Jefferson and FDR memorials.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:39 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: The zoo is a great idea and is one of my favorite prices: free. And despite what the Smithsonian claims, you may be able to get in to see butterstick tai shan without a pre-arranged (free) pass - when we went last week they were letting anyone who wanted to come in and look. He was in complete gymnast mode and damned cute.

I can't suggest any Latin restaurants - my former Miamian standards are too high for me to have liked anyplace here, though if you're okay with influenced rather than authentic Ceiba is not bad. Red Sage is great and there's the cafe if you don't want to spend as much money. I'm also a huge fan of Galileo but they're damned pricey.

For picking beyond that there's the comprehensive list at Open Table and the Chowhound DC message boards are always worth a look, despite their horrid navigation system.

If you're here over a weekend I'd recommend a walk through Eastern Market if you like the street fair kinda dealie. Saturday is a little more arty but both days are fun, though I as an occasional exhibitor am perhaps a little biased.

There's a lot of construction work going on in that area of crystal city and 15th st has the street winding around a bit, be careful crossing the street if you're at the Americana. While I'm a big metro fan you may also want to make use of the cabs; from CC to Dupont, for example, will run you about $15 vs $7 for 4 on the metro.

Feel free to drop me an email if you need/want a local contact.
posted by phearlez at 8:48 AM on March 24, 2006

Best answer: For Greek and the zoo in one fell swoop take the Metro to Cleveland Park (not the Woodley Park - Zoo stop, which is actually equidistant, also the stop for Lebanese Taverna as noted above*). When you come up from the train go left at the top of the escalator. Turn around (south), decent Greek place on the corner (not fancy, best for lunch). Keep heading south, over the bridge, the zoo will be on your left.

*Also at Woodley Park is Mama Aisha's, good Middle Eastern eats and you might sit next to a regular like Helen Thomas or Madeline Albright!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:56 AM on March 24, 2006

Note that Pollomacho's Lebanese Taverna and my Lebanese Taverna are different locations of the same local chain. Pollomacho's is actually better, in my estimation, and is, indeed, convenient to the zoo, but mine is closer to your hotel.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:01 AM on March 24, 2006

Good lord . . .if you saw the tourists around here, you simply wouldn't even consider having to ask that question.

Lebanese Taverna forever! Try the Fattech bel Bathejan or however you spell it. Go to the Woodley Park one.

As for the Zoo, try to see Butterstick!
posted by Ironmouth at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2006

A second vote for Jaleo.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:06 AM on March 24, 2006

You can wear whatever you want as long as you stand on the right on the Metro escalators.
posted by mookieproof at 10:51 AM on March 24, 2006

Ha, mookieproof, I was about to clue them into the same thing. Us Metroites like to rush up and down escalators. We're busy (and important, don't forget that) people with Congressmen to see and lobbyists to handshake -grin

More seriously, I've eaten at Vidalia's a few times. A tie and jacket isn't required. Casual is ok, but nice casual (no jeans).

Don't forget to see Grant Wood's "American Gothic" at the Renwick while you're in town (across the street from the White House).
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:39 AM on March 25, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody, for all of the tips. Our sojourn to DC was complete the week before last, so I thought I'd leave a bit of an update here, in the event other travellers are looking for information about that fine city.

As was mentioned in some of the answers above, tourists tend to dress down, maybe a bit too much. We opted for work casual, mostly chinos and casual shirts and comfortable shoes. I felt more comfortable than I would have had I worn jeans, what with all of the walking we did. Although the weather was relatively nice (50s during the day, usually sunny), I ended up schlepping around a jacket more than I would have preferred. If you're visiting the museums be advised that you need to go through security, so the more stuff you have, the more time it could take to get through.

Our visit lasted from early Sunday thru Thursday noon, which we found was a short schedule if you want to see everything that Washington has to offer. As soon as we could we purchased a Metrorail 7-Day Short Trip Pass ($22, and a great deal) and headed towards the Eastern Market. We stumbled into a restaurant called Bread & Chocolate. Unfortunately we ordered neither, but opted for a full breakfast since we had not eaten since the night before. It was a disappointment. Half the food was cold. We spent the afternoon visiting some of the Smithsonian museums along the Mall, and in the evening had dinner at Jaleo's near our hotel in Crystal City. And yes, I'd like to thank MrMoonPie for the suggestion. It was great.

The weather report for Monday called for sunny skies, so we decided to make it an outdoor day. We started at the zoo, which was an easy walk from the Metro stop. After visiting with the lions and tigers and bears (and pandas), we stopped for lunch at Yanni's Greek Restaurant for some wonderful gyros and stuffed grape leaves. The afternoon was spent on a marathon walk from the Washington monument to the White House to the WWII memorial to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial to the FDR Memorial to the Jefferson Memorial and back to the Metro. Whew. As much as we wanted to see the monuments lit at night, by the time we finished one pass we decided against hanging around until after dark.

The couple of days we opted for a slower pace, taking advantage of a tour of the Capital building, courtesy of one of our senators. Note that if you are an American, you should contact one of your senators or congress-critters. Besides the Capital tour, her office provided us with reservations for a tour of the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Also, if you plan far enough in advance, you might be able to get a tour of the White House (we didn't).

Wednesday evening we ate dinner at Ruth Chris steak house in Crystal City. Sure it's a chain and a bit pricey, but the steaks were great and we had a great view overlooking the Potomac.

Rounding out our last two full days, we decided to take in some of the museums we missed on the first day, including the Air and Space museum, the Botanic Gardens, and National Gallery of Art. We made like sponges, and did as much as we could in the time we had. Our final half-day was spent at Arlington Cemetery.

In the end we learned that you can get practically anywhere you need to using rapid transit. Also, there aren't really that many places to dine right on or near the Mall, at least not that we found. If I had to do it over again, I'd opt for an extra couple of days. That said, I look forward to our next visit.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:43 AM on April 8, 2006

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