How to dress for respect
Destination and itinerary planned – tick! Flights and trip booked – tick! Now what to pack? What clothing will be most appropriate for this upcoming adventure?
Being prepared for the differences in clothing norms will go a long way towards helping you feel at ease and welcomed in your holiday destination. And it may additionally help, especially, but not only women, avoid unwanted attention.
Between the internet and modern aviation, the world’s people are in some ways closer than ever before. Western style dress may be more common in the big cities, but still in many cultures differences remain as to what is considered respectful.
In general, the best tip is to see what locals of the same sex and similar age to you are wearing, in everyday public life. Then ‘do as the Romans do’ and follow suit in regards to how much skin you expose, or how loose fitting your garments are.
It’s a safe bet, that in most non-Western cultures at a minimum your thighs and shoulders should be covered. Loose fitting clothes are always a comfortable and respectful option, especially in hot climates. A lightweight sarong is a very versatile cover-up item for any destination, improvising as a skirt, headscarf or shoulder-covering shawl, particularly when visiting places of worship.
Here are some tips from popular Intrepid destinations:
ASIA – throughout Asia, especially outside major cities, dress standards err on the conservative side. Loose clothing that covers your shoulders and at least to the knees is both respectful and cool in the predominantly hot Asian climate. In many rural areas in Asia, women will need to wear modest clothing even to swim. A spare T-shirt and sarong are always handy for these occasions.
If you are visiting temples, churches, mosques or other places of worship, adhering to the dress code is essential. For many religious sites men may need to wear long trousers and women a long skirt or sarong. Some may also require a head covering, so a large scarf or shawl is always a handy item to pack.
EAST AFRICA – though Western dress is more accepted in the major cities, East Africa remains on the conservative side. Women are best to cover their thighs with loose trousers or skirts. Coastal regions are predominantly Muslim and longer loose fitting clothing is definitely best. Shirts and trousers with UV protection, non-wrinkle and breathable fabric, commonly available in most outdoor clothing stores, is also great for protection from mosquitoes.
CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICA – Western style dress is generally common in the cities. As the region is dominantly Catholic, pack neat conservative (thigh and shoulder covering) clothing for any church visits, including long trousers for men and knee-covering skirts or dresses for women. This also applies for any rural village visits. Swimsuits should always be covered when moving away from the beach or poolside.
EGYPT & JORDAN – As dominantly Islamic nations, conservative clothing should be worn in all locations. Shoulders and knees and everything in between including midriff and cleavage should be covered at all times. Wearing shorts and singlet tops isn’t appropriate (for men or women) and may well restrict your entry into sites of a religious nature, as well as family homes and it will limit your local interaction opportunities in general. Loose, lightweight, long clothing (3/4 trousers that come to the calf are fine) is both respectful and cool.
IRAN – as a traditional Islamic nation, a strict dress code is enforced throughout the country, and must be adhered to at all times. Men must wear long trousers and generally keep themselves neat and tidy. Short sleeve shirts that cover your shoulders and open-toed sandals are now acceptable for men – but ankles must be covered and full-length shirts must be worn at religious sites. Women must wear the hejab at all times, a loose-fitting trench coat that comes down to just above your knees, plus a headscarf. The full details of what to bring and what to purchase on arrival is available in our comprehensive Iran trip notes.
Our experience around the globe is that if you dress like a local, and always keep in mind that you are a guest, doors will open, your travel will be easier, and experiences richer. Travel doesn’t get better than when you are widely and warmly welcomed into local community.
* Photo in Morocco by Greg Croft, for the Intrepid Photography Competition.