One of the first things I noticed is the way people dress here, in this up-market part of Madrid. Spanish men, especially, stand out compared to their American counterparts. The men here seem to take particular pride in their appearance. The other day I saw a man in what had to be the height of the Madrid "pijo" (preppy) look--cantaloupe-colored cotton slacks with a Kelly-green linen blazer. Now that summer's arrived, sherbet colors abound here--lemon, lime, orange, raspberry, pink has always been popular, for men. Shirts come with loud stripes and checks, and everything is always impeccably ironed. Los Pijos also seem to love labels as much as their American preppy counterparts. As my sister-in-law put it, when Izod and Burberry came back, it wasn't a problem, because, in Spain, they never went out of style.
My father who was an American child of the fifties grew up with (and continues to wear) a vibrant color-themed wardrobe. If you saw "Wedding Crashers" and the outfits that Owen Wilson and Vincent Vaughn borrowed from their hosts (I think some patchwork pants might have been involved)--you get the idea. However, for later generations of American men, it's primary and neutral colors only, scruffy dressing, absolutely no ironing except for the dry-cleaned work button-down. For a man to take any interest in his appearance and grooming immediately labels him as homosexual, although, lately, in the generation younger than mine, this has expanded to the more inclusive "metrosexual."
The children's clothing in Spain is very classic and beautiful. Think Liberty prints with color-coordinated cardigans and stockings, and Mary Janes for girls--cotton dress shirts, pull-overs or cardigans, shorts, knee socks and loafers for boys. People also take pride in dressing their children in coordinating or matching outfits. It's possible to find these sort of tasteful, coordinating clothes in very reasonably priced, mass-market stores. In the US, my complaint is homophobia-wear only for boys--see description of US menswear above--add massive truck or professional sports logo and, once your girl is older than six--and you don't want to dress her like a tart (hello JonBenet Ramsey) good luck. No I don't think little girl's party shoes need to have heels, nor do I think I should have to pay a premium to buy my children tasteful undergarments and sleepwear aka the type that does not come in heinous colors and is not emblazoned with the latest movie or cartoon themes.
For womens' clothing, I can't say much because I "don't got the look," (nor did I in the US). In contrast to the men, I would say that colors are darker or neutral and there are less patterns or large prints involved. Except for the long tops, pants and skirts are more tailored-fitting. They wear a lot more jewelry (costume and real) and accessories than their American counterparts and, if they go out, it's usually with make-up and their hair "done." Absolutely no sportswear anywhere outside the gym. They look at me with disapproval when I walk out the apartment in sweatpants, or jeans and schleppy t-shirt with barely brushed hair and no make-up. So now, I don't do that so much. I smooth my hair, wear dressier clothes, grudgingly put some powder and lipstick on my face--as some sort of armor against the disapproving stares of the neighbors.
The women my age are not so much judgmental as curious. My Spanish women friends ask me, Nathalie, how is it that in the US, with so many stores selling nice (and cheap!) clothing you Americans dress so poorly? I tell them that depends where they go in America, but they probably are right, in general. I say I don't know, I think it's because we have a car-based culture, where people drive everywhere and generally aren't walking in the streets (at least in "real" America :) Yes, we're an overweight nation but we do try to work out. So, if I am driving my car to drop off my kids at school, go through the drive-through at Starbucks, and then go to the grocery store, and trying to get a run in before the day gets too hot, it doesn't matter how I'm dressed, because nobody sees me, or if they do, it's just other mothers like me...