What to wear in the Middle East

Posted on Posted in Body, Travel tips

Don’t let conservative ‘dress codes’ put you off going somewhere!

Here’s what I wore when I went to Turkey, Jordan and India, and what I’m packing for my trip round the Middle East and beyond! Even if you’re in a fairly liberal and touristy destination, it’s worth considering the following tips, because if you’re wearing teeny shorts and a revealing crop top, you won’t be allowed in a lot of churches/ mosques, which means missing out on some awesome history and culture.

Furthermore, dressing more conservatively can help deter some male harassment. I know it shouldn’t have to, but truth is that it does.

I know it can seem quite sexist and unfair that women have to dress a certain way in certain places, but it’s important to respect the culture when you visit. It’s rude not to, and can lead to hostility from locals and greater discomfort. The more similar you look to the locals, the less you’ll stand out. And most of the time, it won’t be a question of putting yourself at danger, but it will just make other people uncomfortable and they’ll be wondering why you aren’t uncomfortable too.

Dressing conservatively doesn’t mean looking boring. You can mix up the colours and patterns and styles, and have a lot of fun with it! Remember that there are no laws on what colours you can and can’t wear.

I hope these 5 top tips inspire you with some packing ideas for your next adventure!

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  1. Cover your shoulders. Avoid strappy tops and anything off the shoulder; pack lots of t-shirts instead. Ideally avoid super tight fitting, figure hugging tops, because in some regions of the world it’s taboo to show your figure.
  2. Below the knee on your bottoms- the longer the better. If it’s hot weather, a long, floaty skirt or maxi dress can work a treat. In countries such as Iran, make sure that if your skirt has a slit in it, you wear a pair of leggings or tights underneath. Loose/baggy trousers are equally as comfy, but contrary to popular opinion, most women do sometimes wear skinny jeans, so don’t be afraid to pack a pair if the weather’s going to be a bit chilly.
  3. It goes without saying, but hide your cleavage! V-neck t-shirts are a no, although showing your neck and a little bit of collarbone should be fine. Remember that the worst thing that’ll happen is someone will feel uncomfortable, or make a comment. For the most part, people go easier on tourists wearing ‘daring’ clothes than they do their own women. It’s ok to make mistakes!
  4. It may sound obvious, but wear a bra. Though my friends and I often prefer going bra-less at home as it’s far more comfortable, bare nipples poking out are likely to give someone a heart attack in the Middle East, so I really wouldn’t recommend freeing the boob while abroad.
  5. Bring a couple of floaty scarves. These can be wrapped around your head/over your hair, or over your shoulders when entering mosques. It’s always useful to have one to hand in your backpack. Check if there are any laws in place about covering your hair before you go. If you happen to forget one, they provide you with a headscarf at the airport, but I doubt it’s particularly flattering or fashionable!

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My one last piece of advice would be this: veer on the side of caution if you want an enjoyable trip. For example, though I heard that in India, bare midriffs aren’t an issue, I didn’t pack a load of little crop tops because at the end of the day, the more skin that’s covered, the better. I figured I’m going to stand out enough while being foreign, white and blonde, so may as well try not to openly accidentally disrespect a culture in the process!

Remember: less skin is more! If you’re in a home, a private space, wear whatever you want (within reason, maybe don’t run around naked), but it’s good to respect a culture in their shared, public places.

Happy travels!

Love, Sophia x

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