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We have a lot of chuckles in Alaska about tourists being so easy to pick out of a crowd. Any trained Alaskan eye can spot an out-of-towner at fifty paces. Usually, visitors are way overdressed for the weather. Or overdressed in general (we’re a fairly casual place, y’all). Dear reader, I’d like to help you to blend in on your visit to Alaska, dress functionally, and avoid ridicule from the locals. These tips apply to most occasions within the traditional Alaska travel season. Dressier restaurants, hunting/fishing trips, and other sporting/outdoor expeditions such as rock climbing and rafting merit their own separate considerations.
First of all, an umbrella is a dead giveaway. You may think it’s a grand idea since it’s so rainy in the summers (especially in Southeast Alaska). You’d be dead wrong. For starters, the wind is going to destroy your well-intentioned brolly pretty quickly. If it doesn’t blow away completely, it will at the very least become irreparably damaged. Infer what you can from this about wearing floppy sun hats, ladies. Short of a blizzard, a hooded sweatshirt is considered enough of an intervention for the weather. I lived in Ketchikan for two years. It did not matter the temperature-if the sun appeared, there were women in bikinis and shirtless men everywhere. Businesses would close just because the sun was out. They need their vitamin D in that cloudy place, let me tell you! As a teacher, I can also report that no matter how much snow is on the ground in the winter at least one kid is going to wear shorts to school.
When we first moved to Ketchikan (a cruise ship destination in the middle of the Tongass National Rainforest) I bought several very cute umbrellas and imagined my self stylishly well-prepared for my new climate. What a waste of money and packing space! You will do well to purchase a comfortable, lightweight rain jacket with a hood. This will be serviceable for any and all activity during the Alaskan tourist season which runs from late spring until very early fall. If you are visiting Alaska during the winter time, that is a WHOLE other blog post!
Footwear for your journey should be taken very seriously and considered carefully. Of course you’ve got some epic nature hikes in mind if you’re visiting the Great Land, so sturdy and well-made hiking shoes or boots are in order. As a Southerner, when I first came here I thought of Alaska as the “land of the ugly shoes” since there were no stilettos or strappy sandals in sight. Alaskan women are not style-challenged! They have adapted to the landscape and understand that a fashionable foot is one that’s not broken. Terrain is rugged in the Last Frontier, and flip-flops just don’t get the job done. For example, Ketchikan is very hilly. The hills themselves are rocky and slippery due to the fact that at any given time they are mossy or slick with precipitation of some sort. You need sturdy. You need closed-toe. You need comfortable. The Xtra-Tuf boot is considered the Alaskan sneaker, because it performs so well on dry land or on a boat. However, a brand new pair of Xtra-Tufs will out you as a tourist almost as quickly as an umbrella-unless you get my favorites from Salmon Sisters. The most stylish Alaskan ladies sport these babies. Your best bet is to select a stylish pair of high-performance boots (I like these for toddlers) that you would pull out in the appropriate weather conditions in your hometown. If you are fortunate enough to be invited into the home of an Alaskan, it is always good form to remove your footwear at the door.
Dressing for the weather is a challenge in general, but especially so if you are taking a cruise and will be visiting different parts of the state. Overall the Southeastern portion of Alaska is much rainier because it is covered with an expansive temperate rainforest. Heavy sweaters and coats, snow boots, and anything you would wear on a ski trip make you stand out like a sore thumb during peak tourist season. The weather is mild during the season, and these garments are not needed. Locals consider the hooded sweatshirt a staple, almost a uniform item. Only on the most formal of occasions would a hoodie not be appropriate. If blending in is your goal, this item is a must. I will say my best advice is to wear what you like and enjoy your own personal style, within reason, and have a good rain jacket handy to throw over it all.
Hair and Grooming
A complicated hair style is likely to be ruined by wind or rain, and is entirely wasted on Alaska. It’s always ponytail weather here! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my hair blown into my lip gloss. Let me save you the trouble. You’ve got lots of exploring to do, so save your valuable time and energy by keeping your coif simple. A nice manicure is always a treat, but I wouldn’t wear long nails or easily chipped polish. Fishing, hiking, beach combing and other Alaskan fun doesn’t go easy on the mani. The larger tourist towns do have salons available but walk-ins are not readily available. Smaller bush communities (such as mine!) have no salons to be found. I believe the reason we call it Bush Alaska is because your eyebrows get so bushy out here.
In summary, function is the height of fashion here. It’s of course not necessary to look like a local, but sometimes it’s nice to blend in a bit. (You might even score a local discount if you’re lucky. It’s a thing.) Keep it simple, comfortable, and casual- and don’t overthink it. Happy travels. LASKA!