Last week, I went to Malta (shameless plug alert - you can read more about it somewhere within the pages of this fine paper). It was hot. Ridiculously hot. I got on the plane in Dublin in six degree weather wearing a metallic biker jacket and grey marl sweatshirt flecked with silver thread. I got off to 28 degree heat and enough accumulated sweat to power a desalination plant.
My make-up immediately slid off my face on to a puddle on the floor and started mocking me for not knowing that metal is a conductor of heat and polyvinyl fabric is not breathable. I was either extremely dehydrated or in possession of a subconscious that is so self-loathing that even my slap talks back to me. It could be both, but if that’s true, it turns out that my subconscious is easily soothed with a glass of water and a change into a fresh cotton t-shirt.
The native Maltese women are different creatures altogether. The next day, while taking a coffee break in the island’s capital of Valetta, I noticed that it was very easy to distinguish the natives from their tourist counterparts just by clothing alone - although it would have been just as easy to identify the tourists by their (and my) wheezy, sweaty honey-glazed ham exteriors.
The Maltese women I saw out and about had impossibly shiny hair and were wearing some great tailoring - breezy white shirts, and pencil skirts the ended a few inches above the knee. Colours were light, silhouettes were flattering and any perspiration, presumably, was absorbed into nothingness like total magic.
Dressing for a holiday is difficult, especially if you come from a temperate (read: my toes have frostbite) country into a slightly sweltering one. Tourists dress like, well, tourists. To call the way we tourists dress ‘predictable’ would be far too predictable, but why call a spade a gardening implement when ‘spade’ will do just as well? We are predictable.
I blame the media. I blame fashion journalists and, to a lesser extent, I blame myself. We think we’re so smart, writing and reading articles on how to dress for certain occasions without ever thinking if the context is really correct. The pictures in the magazines tell us to buy floaty maxi dresses, thong sandals and khaki shorts - which is only really just as well if these are the kind of things that you’d wear anyway.
We shouldn’t be reading articles about what tourists are wearing on holidays, we should be reading articles about what the women who live in our holiday destinations are wearing (especially if what you pack will be weather-dependent). Going to Paris? Make it black and expensive. New York? Have impeccable hair and nails and the rest will follow.
Next time I go to Malta, I will be thinking about dressing like a Maltese woman. Not in a weird, cultural-appropriation, ‘I’m going to wear your traditional embroidered costumes’ way, just in a normal, everyday way.
How many times have you seen a tourist in Ireland struggling to deal with the constant oscillation between rain and sun? Irish people know to always have an umbrella and sunglasses on their person if they’re going to be on the street for more than a few minutes. It a reflex that is the product of years of conditioning. For once, we’re out on top.