What to Wear When you visit Washington DC

Everyone is welcome in Washington DC!

Our beautiful Nation’s Capital is open and welcoming visitors. You can find what’s open at Washington.org. In this post, I’m going to offer some images of typical Washingtonians doing typical things. The theme is comfort and casual. People do dress up for occasions, but overall, dress for the weather, and wear good walking shoes. You’ll want to see all the amazing attractions, and that takes some shoe-leather.

First, many businesses continue to offer virtual work, so there are fewer people on the city streets these days. If you’re looking for where the locals are, consider making Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, U Street Corridor or the DC Wharf your home base.

Springtime (Late March to Mid-May)

Dining out at DC’s seasonal restaurant Residents Cafe&Bar

Cherry Blossom Season is our favorite time of the year!

Jogging around the US Capitol. Athletic wear is very popular year-round.
We all have spring fever in April. I’m wearing comfortable jeans and lightweight top to visit the Smithsonian museums.
Backpacks are great for spending the day exploring or commuting. Comfy shoes are a must. The weather varies so much, especially during the spring. Prepare for chilly evenings and warm days.
The weather transitions almost daily during the springtime. So, bring a jacket to layer on in the evening when it gets into the 50’s and 60’s but it will warm a lot during the day.
With DC’s bright sunlight, it’s smart to wear a hat or cap.
My favorite hotel in Washington is at the DC Wharf- The Pendry has the most fabulous rooftop bar called Moonraker where you can see the helicopters fly by. I love wearing Rothy’s flats because they’re so comfortable.
During cherry blossom season, everyone is excited to post photos on social media.
Most locals choose to wear nicer jeans. Casual clothing is accepted almost anywhere, but for theater or fine dining, skip the jeans.
Sophisticated, smart casual is perfect for brunch or dinner.
Cherry Blossom season is crowded but an unforgettable experience. The city comes alive with events and celebrations.

Summer (late May to late September)

Everyone should slather on and carry sunscreen year-round. In many parts of the city, there is very little shade. The concrete sidewalks get warm. There are a few fountains where you can cool down. The best is at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and Georgetown’s Waterfront Park.  

If you want to pack the right clothing for a summer visit, plan to be sweaty and sometimes chilled. Warm because of the heat and humidity, and cool because every building is air conditioned. During the summer, it’s sometimes rains for a short time in the afternoon, so check the weather before you leave. You might take along an umbrella, which can do double duty as rain and sun protection.

I think flip flops are not a good idea at all, but if you must, just wear them for part of the day. You’ll thank me for it.

You can use the bike and scooter rentals to get around. Backpacks do have to be searched when you enter government buildings.
This friendly bartender creates his craft cocktails at Whiskey Charlie at the DC Wharf. Shades/sunglasses are important because it’s very sunny in Washington most of the year.
For July 4th, people like to pack a picnic and watch the fireworks. It’s often hot and humid in July. Wear cool fabrics.
Summer time is warm, and shorts and sandals are fine most places. But choose nice ones that aren’t cutoffs to fit in.
Warmer weather calls for shorts but choose some that aren’t ragged or too short.
Dining at one of DC’s rooftop bars are the perfect place to break out your chic and fashionable clothing.
This statue commemorating the Battle of Iwo Jima in Arlington, Virginia offers a stunning view of the DC skyline. Washingtonians love being outdoors and playing with their pets.
The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is a fun place to cool off and people watch.
Chef Carla Hall knows how to dress. Here she is at an event at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Virginia. Wear what makes you feel happy.
The REACH at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a beautiful place with some free shows and the Victura Wine Garden.
You’ll see a lot of sundresses and colorful clothing for summer.

Fall (early October to late November)

Fall is such a gorgeous and less busy time to visit Washington DC. We have the most beautiful trees, in fact we’ve been called Tree City. So, you can imagine what it’s like to see them changing colors. It usually stays warmish all fall. So, it’s an ideal time for walking and especially visiting our many parks. It’s a great time for hiking on the trails and stopping in museums. Again, comfortable shoes are a must. Athletic wear is great for walking on the C&O Canal. Outdoor dining remains very much possible throughout the fall.

It can be breezy by the water so bring a light jacket in the fall. It’s usually temperate and sunny until mid-November.
Outdoor dining is a year-round experience. Northside Social, a coffee shop/bar in Clarendon, is a popular hangout.
I love seeing how couples seem to match up with their style.
Lots of men dress stylishly here.
The brew bus in Clarendon is another fun way to gather with friends.
So many great hiking trails – check out C&O Canal, Great Falls, Rock Creek Park and Glover Archbold Trail.

Winter (early December to early-March)

Hats are very important year-round to protect you from the sun and cold, of course, but when choosing headgear, make sure to bring something that won’t blow off when it’s windy.

You should plan to walk a lot (the National Mall is 2 very long miles), so especially in hot weather, pack double sets of thin socks rather than too-thick ones, and carry some precut moleskin bandages: They offer the best possible protection and won’t sweat off.

Washington DC is very dog and kid friendly, a perfect family vacation destination.
Get ready to see some gorgeous sunsets! This was taken at the reflecting pool by the US Capitol.
Ice skating at the National Gallery of Art is a favorite winter activity.
Strolling is a favorite activity of DC residents. Be sure to wear a warm coat, hat and gloves in January and February.
There are different Interactive Experiences in DC. This was from the Van Gogh event. Jeans, a cute top and sneakers are always in style.

Washington is not the trendiest place, so you’ll feel comfortable wearing casual, classic clothes. For men consider wearing a collared shirt, jeans/dress pants, and nice sneakers in the evenings. Women always feel comfortable in sun dresses. Casual jackets and sweaters are the perfect layers. In the winter, wear a heavy parka, especially if you want to dine outdoors.

Sunset at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s very hot and humid in July and early August. But it cools down in the evenings.
Wine tasting is a favorite weekend activity, but you’ll need a car to check out the wineries in Maryland and Virginia. There are few urban wineries in DC though.
Okay I threw this one in for fun, but truthfully, people do like to dress up with the cherry blossom trees for photos!

If you’re looking for insider’s information on visiting Washington DC, check out my guidebook, The Unofficial Guide to Washington DC.

My family and I can’t wait to see you!

My family at Sunday brunch – another favorite pastime of locals.

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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Not a hippie city. DC expects males to conform, look, act 100 percent male and CONSERVATIVE at all times, no hair below the earlobes. Must use restrooms that reflect 100 percent maleness. Not a transgender friendly area– transgendered males are NOT tolerated at most workplaces. Republicans LOVE the DC way of life. However, females do not face appearance discrimination that males must endure everyday.


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