It is in your best interest to dress conservatively when visiting a conservative country. First, you want to properly respect the culture. Second, not dressing appropriately could cause anything from unwanted stares and attention to possibly being face to face with law enforcement in very strict counties. American culture calls for freedom in every way including dress, but we as travelers must understand that when we visit another country we don’t take our freedoms with us. Being respectful and open to cultural differences will insure an overall smoother trip, especially if you are female.
In my experience, it has not always been a good thing to “stand out” from the crowd when traveling abroad. I’ve always been cognizant of the way non-Americans perceive American vacationers. Many times my fellow countrymen are too casually dressed or scantily clad for the tastes of some cultures. Living in Turkey, I came to realize that western women are often perceived as overtly sexual and women who welcome sexual advances from strangers. Movies and popular American tv shows that have increased this feeling overseas.
It helps to research at least a quick overview of culture as it relates to dress, particularly female dress. You don’t have to give up style to dress conservatively, just challenge yourself to show your personal style in a different way.
Here are a few tips to think about when traveling to a conservative country.
- Bring a long scarf- This can cover cleavage or turn into a headscarf in a snap. I recommend visiting mosques and different places of worship no matter what your believes because they are absolutely stunning. Most require you to cover your head when entering.
- Long dresses – Short dresses can get really uncomfortable when in a conservative country. Maxi dresses are a good option.
- 3/4 length sleeves or longer- Even if the locale is hot, go with a longer sleeve, but in a light fabric such as cotton or linen. Tank tops could be a disaster. Even when I visited Vatican city in Italy, tank tops and short shorts where frowned upon when visiting St. Peters Bacillica and the Sistine Chapel.
- Pants – Again, even if the climate is hot, pants are still a safe bet. Make sure they are cotton or linen and not at all tight fitting.
- Cardigan – These are perfect for the airplane and to cover up in a pinch. I like to bring a thin open cardigan in a neutral color that I can throw over any outfit when needed.