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What Should I Wear?

Eastern Europe

I traveled in Eastern Europe. From October through April, a coat is needed. I wear a black, wool, mid-thigh length coat. My camera and a small purse which holds my passport, airline ticket and money tuck nicely inside the coat around my neck. Black jeans or more conservative style black pants and a black mid-calf skirt are all that I pack along with assorted sweaters and blouses. No tennis shoes, only a pair of black boots and walking shoes. No bright colors. No jewelry, no hats, no scarfs, no t-shirts, no jogging suits. Though of English background, I have been mistaken for a "local" in Moscow, Bulgaria, and Hungary. I feel by dressing "nondescript" and low key I avoid unwanted attention.
Penelope, Franklin Park, USA 

Ecuador See also Latin America

When I was in the Amazon lowlands in Ecuador, I wore grey long tights to protect my legs from insect bites. These take no room to pack, will not wrinkle, and double as sleepwear in the significantly colder climate in Quito's high Andes. In the Amazon, count on getting your clothes really dirty because of the daily rains and all that mud. The mud was invisible on my heather-grey thighs. I took old T-shirts and sneakers too and left all that behind. (It is a good idea to pack old clothes and leave them behind or trade them for crafts with the locals.) Also in the Amazon be sure you've got a waterproof watch and Teva or other sandals that can get wet. For protection against the rain, a poncho will always work better then a raincoat because it covers up your daypack and luggage, also. (By the way this same advice on clothing worked very well for me in the Galapagos Islands).
Erika, Spokane, USA

Egypt

I did take a few decent skirt outfits along, but overall I felt way more comfortable in my field clothes -- khakis, safari jacket or windbreaker, long sleeve T-shirt and a cotton cardigan underneath. Of course our tour was very tomb - and temple - intensive, but even shopping in Luxor, I felt like I attracted a lot less attention in my desert gear. You will quickly find out that Egypt is littered with shopfront vendors who are friendly, but who can also be quite aggressive. Therefore it can be a bit of an advantage to blend into the woodwork a bit. Also, for sun-protection as well as fun, I wore a loosely woven cotton headscarf a lot in Egypt. The locals seemed to appreciate this deference to their culture...
Jennifer, New Haven, USA (2007)

You may consider bringing a scarf to drape over your hair in addition to covering your legs and shoulders. Also, if you have a female child with blonde hair, you may consider buying her a hat to wear in the street as the Egyptians like to (and find it acceptable) to touch blonde hair.
Phyllis, Palm Desert, USA

Having spent the last three years living in Cairo, I'd like to remind women to respect the local dress code. ie. no shorts. If you do wear shorts, you will be seen as wearing your underwear on the street, and will get attention you probably don't want. And even if you are French or German and that is what you do at home, topless sunbathing at hotels in Luxor is an absolute no-no. The waiters and other employees around the pool are generally Muslim and baring your breasts is disrespectful. This leads these men to believe that all foreign women are "Pretty Babies" and will pursue you relentlessly.
Heather, Ottawa, Canada

If you must wear t-shirts make sure they are baggy and the sleeves come down at least to your elbows. Don't wear tight fitting anything. Remember, long skirts past the knee, please. The less flesh showing the more respect you will be shown. If you have long hair try and keep it tied back. If you smoke try to refrain from doing it in public (women smoking is still not accepted in some parts of the Middle East).
Jennifer, Warriewood, Australia

For Egypt, I cannot emphasize that conservative clothing is better. No Shorts, halters, tank-tops, even short sleeves will get too much attention. You don't have to look like a nun on vacation, but don't be stupid enough to think that you can dress like you do in the U.S./Canada overseas. Also, being neat and clean (no raggedy jeans), combed hair counts for a lot overseas. Many cultures, especially the Egyptian and Bolivian (and many other Latin cultures) take much more pride in dressing up than North American culture does.
Brooke, Cambridge, USA

I recently spent 10 days in Egypt, mostly Cairo and Luxor; best advice is for women to bring mid calf cotton skirts and long sleeve linen/cotton blouses to wear when venturing out in public- you'll feel more at ease in the culture and still remain cool. You're going to attract attention as a foreigner anyways, but at least it won't be because of "provocative" dress. It will also show a degree of respect for their culture. If you have allergies, bring your meds - Cairo is extremely polluted - worse than anything I've experienced from LA to New York - some days are worse than others but all days were bad - my lungs and eyes burned! Luxor was a welcome relief but the air was still bothersome.

Mara T. Harrington, Fox Point, WI, USA

Travelling in the Middle East, I found my two most useful clothing choices were: a puffy, white, long-sleeved cotton blouse, and a full, calf-length, black cotton skirt. Both were cut generously enough that I was cool and comfortable, sober enough that no one could confront me, and formal enough that I could wear them to Shabbat dinner (Israel)and to mosques (Egypt) alike.
Miranda, Victoria, Canada

When I arrived in Cairo and saw what women were wearing, I felt relieved. I was expecting more veils and coverings on women. (It is true that acceptable attire ranges with who is in political power). I was fine -- I wore light (not see through) long skirts, a cotton long-sleeved button down shirt, and my hair pulled back. Outside of Cairo, a light colored patterned scarf tied or wrapped below the chin with no jewelry was more appropriate. If you are going to be outside most of the time, a wide rimmed hat with a scarf around your neck will keep you cooler. Carry a fan. It's ve-r-r-ry hot here.
Jody, Boulder, USA

Living in Cairo, I've found that sarongs (cotton) are absolutely invaluable for roaming around, touring, shopping, etc. You can adjust the length according to taste and surroundings (i.e., to your ankles for mosques, mid-calf while shopping, above the knee in Hurghada), they are cool in the hot weather, and can also serve as towel, scarf, or blanket while traveling. I use safety pins to fasten them. Also, wear sunglasses dark enough to hide your eyes. Making eye contact is considered flirtatious, even if it's unintentional. When touring, a silk chiffon scarf is also useful when going into mosques, etc. but also to protect your bare head from the sun. The chiffon isn't bulky to stuff or tie somewhere when you don't need it.
Susan, Cairo, Egypt

I travelled in Egypt and I wore a loose, midcalf length cotton skirt and long-sleeved white blouse with a big, square white cotton scarf. I was as cool as I would have been in shorts, I was ready to visit a mosque whenever we stumbled upon one, and I could "hide" under the headscarf anytime I felt uncomfortable. I had no unpleasant interactions with men - one shopkeeper even made a very favourable comment about my mode of dress--i.e.that I looked like an Egyptian woman. My whole experience of Egypt was very different from many women travellers I met who had been there -- I attribute this to the message my clothes sent. And, unlike one woman I met, I didn't have to go to the extreme of dying my naturally blonde hair to avoid unwanted attention!
Jolie, Toronto, Canada

While travelling with a group in Egypt, we came across one situation quite often and at first unexpected. Women MUST cover up any bare skin when entering most mosques. The first time (when we were unprepared) we ended up tying the men's sweaters and coats around our legs so we could get into these sites. This was definitely frowned upon by the locals and the employees. I suggest travelling prepared with a skirt or pants that you can slip on before entry if you find them uncomfortable to wear as you're travelling.
Jennifer, Toronto, Canada

Editor's note: A long skirt in a "cool" fabric is invaluable for day and evening wear. They are far less constricting in hot temperatures and a blessing when using toilets in some countries.

While walking shorts are all right for touring in Egypt, I would not recommend mini skirts or short-shorts. Not only is this culturally not acceptable, it can be dangerous (due to religious extremism outside of the large cities of Cairo and Alexandria). I wore long skirts or those casual, comfortable elastic waist, drawstring pants. A woman,( and a man for that fact), should be very considerate of religious "dress" while in mosques. While no one may prevent your entrance, it is considerate not to enter mosques in shorts (men & women) or with bare shoulders. You should also remove your shoes before entering. You will find that if you respect this culture's "semi-conservative" dress code, you will be harassed less and accorded more respect by men as well as women.
Lori, San Francisco, USA

I traveled in Egypt. My advice is as follows: skirts are cooler than jeans in a desert climate. For women, shorts are just not an option in a Muslim country, unless you want tons of whistles, stares, and very high "tourist" prices for cab fares and souvenirs. I like wearing "broom" skirts, as they are long (past your knees), cool, inexpensive, and pack well in a backpack (or suitcase). T-shirts are fine to wear in public. You'll almost never need to wear sleeves to your wrists, unless going into a mosque.
Alison, USA

I have just read in my local paper that according to Travel Holiday Magazine,it is illegal for women to expose their arms in mosques in Cairo.
Evelyn, Toronto, Canada

Bikini bathers beware in Egypt.. On public beaches there are few foreign tourists, and almost all Egyptian women swim in their clothes. On private beaches, you'll feel far less self-conscious as you'll be amongst other women (both Egyptian and tourists) who will be wearing swimming gear.
Natania Jansz, Miranda Davies, More Women Travel, Rough Guide Special

Though Egyptian cities are very modern and local women may appear in public with makeup, jewelry and flowing black hair, they always dress conservatively. They do not show their shoulders or wear tight shirts. Their skirts are always just past their knees, or they wear slacks. It is rare to see an Egyptian woman or man in shorts. In the smaller towns of Egypt, many females will wear the traditional galabiyya (loose gowns) and most will cover their hair.

In Egypt, my philosophy is to dress as the local women do. Bring shirts that cover your shoulders; T-shirts are fine. I always cover my legs with long, cool, cotton Indian skirts. And, in the evening, I wear long culottes that look like a skirt. If you follow this formula, it indicates a respect for the culture and, you won't be approached or stared at as often by the local men.
Johanna Sinclair, Toronto, Canada

My experience has been that at worst, women without their heads covered in Egypt may get whistled at or hissed at (to get your attention). If you're choosing to cover your head make sure no hair is showing. As most women cover their heads in Egypt, hair is seen as very sexual. It may sound obvious and/or odd, but there's absolutely no point in covering your head if your hair is flowing out. More so if your neck and chest are showing with lower cut tops. And before you go away, why not visit the Asian or Arabic shops in your area that sell material and saris to ask for advice about how to attach your headscarf securely and comfortably? Most people will be only to happy to help knowing that you are trying to be respectful.
Johanna, Manchester, England

Living in Egypt I found the parts of your body important to cover are: shoulders, chest, belly and knees. Egyptians find it very inappropriate to show even the tiniest bit of your belly or hip (try to avoid short t-shirts in combination with hipster trousers), or too much of your chest (beware of low-cut t-shirts, see-through fabric, or the gaps between buttons when wearing blouses). However I think it is only necessary to cover your head when visiting a mosque, otherwise people will be confused thinking you are Muslim - and Egyptian Christians don´t do it either.
Eva-Maria, Cairo, Egypt

El Salvador

Wardrobe depends on the place of your visit. If you'll be in a city, light skirts will do. Salvadoran women wear both tight-fitted tops as well as conservative dress, however keep in mind that men are very forward and if you do not want too much attention, dress somewhat modestly. In the capital and more touristed areas, the dress is very trendy and is usually the same as in the US. I saw lots of jeans and well fitted tanks, halter tops, etc. You are free to dress as you wish just keep in mind the message you send to locals.
Sandra, Houston, USA
Ed. note:
While you don't have to wear loose, loose clothing I would resist wearing clothing that is too form fitting. Keep a happy medium and stay out of trouble. Being a traveller means learning about a different culture -- not necessarily drawing attention to yourself.

When travelling in El Salvador wear skirts -- preferably long ones, and avoid revealing shirts. Culturally as well as for safety's sake it's a better call. Many of the friends I made in Salvador explained that some Salvadoran men assume that all North American women are "easy". There's really no need to invite trouble by dressing to get the wrong kind of attention! Even with my long skirts and (fake) wedding band, I was still hassled by aggressive men whenever I was alone.
Christine, Calgary, Canada

I've seen two posts here that say to wear long skirts and shirts that are not too revealing in El Salvador. However, I somewhat disagree. It most definitely depends where in El Salvador you are. You must first keep in mind that it is really hot in El Salvador. Yes, one needs to cover up in the Capital but for example one of the most tropical places in El Salvador 'El Puerto La Libertad' you won't be able to walk around in jeans and long conservative clothes there. Believe me you won't. Every time I go there I have shorts and a tanktop on and my bikini on under. The people there are really nice and like anywhere else if you have self respect others will respect you.
Nohemy, San Francisco, USA

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