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What Should I Wear?

Iceland

Even though it's rather cold in Iceland, Icelanders generally dress fairly well. The younger crowd -- it's very trendy but you can get away with a pair of nicely fitted dark jeans, a black turtleneck, a dark coat, maybe one skirt for dressier occations and dark bowling style sneakers or dark boots. You'll definitelly need good hiking boots when you're outside of the towns, the terrain is rather rough.
Hulda, Reykjavik, Iceland

India

Remember this hint. Skirts are so much easier than pants if you have to use squatting Indian toilets!
Megan, Vancouver, USA

When travelling in Bangladesh it is important to cover up. Showing your legs, upper arms, or any cleavage is frowned upon and you may have unwanted attentions from the local men. Your clothing should also be loose. Not only is it important to be modest there, but loose clothing is more comfortable in the tropical heat. Wear sandals or slip-on shoes when you visit a local's house because most Bangladeshis take off their shoes when entering a home. When I went out in public I often wore sunglasses. Not only were they good for eye protection, but they also stopped me from meeting men's eyes, an action that can be interpreted as in invitation in Bangladesh.
Becky, Grand Rapids, USA

Buy a 'Salwar Kameez'. It's a dress-with-pants-and-shawl type of thing, worn by Muslim women, but also by Hindu women. The shawl can be draped around you shoulders and across your chest, saves you some stares, or used as a headdress if you go into temples or mosques. As almost all women in India wear either a Saree or a Salwar Kameez you will be regarded well as you are dressing appropriately. Wearing jeans and a shirt is okay for travelling, but only for that. You can buy a Salwar almost anywhere but the best way to have one that suits you is to buy some cloth at a store and then go to a tailor and have it made for you.
Bloem, Huizen, Netherlands

Wear black because no matter how posh your accommodation, you will get covered in dust. Wearing black requires fewer trips to the laundromat. I'd recommend a long skirt ...ankle or calf length in a cool fabric with a loose fitting long-sleeved top... that seems to please everyone. Not very exciting but certainly handy. I also found a long piece of dark viscose fabric very helpful - this was wound around my head and shoulders. Even where it's not necessary to do this for cultural reasons, it really is one of the best ways of keeping the sun off.
Katelyn, Auckland, New Zealand

My day-dress was a light khaki shirtwaist with plenty of pockets from a popular travel outlet; worn for years when traveling in Asia. In India, however, it seemed to attract unusual attention. Finally someone explained that it was like the dress worn by Candice Bergen when she portrayed a photojournalist in the movie "Gandhi" which all Indians have practically memorized!
Eleanor, Sandwich, USA

I bring groups of American students to India every year, and always ask my students to be respectful of local custom and dress modestly. Several girls last year saw other foreign tourist women wearing tank tops and/or shorts and followed suit. The difference in how they were treated was dramatic. Wearing tank tops and shorts invited countless more lewd comments and attempts to look down the girls' shirts. While it won't entirely eliminate stares and cat calls, wearing modest clothing, particularly wearing Indian clothing, almost always brings you more respect and courtesy, anywhere in the country. I have people commenting to me all the time how much they appreciate that I wear so much Indian clothing and that they automatically treated me differently.
Mary, Burlington, USA

When you're in India, please don't wear shorts. Wear ankle length skirts and cotton blouses that can be washed out and quickly dried. No tight tee shirts -- they are trashy and dry slowly. Wear sandals that you can slip out of easily when visiting temples. If you are trekking, a blue jean skirt and camp shirt is ideal. Bring running shoes for around camp at night or in case you get a blister from your boots. While in India carry a large scarf to make your own hood and personal space while in crowds or on buses.
Margaret, Evanston, USA

Be culturally correct and know what you're wearing. Many western women wear sari petticoats and blouses without the sari. This is the equivalent to walking on the street with your underwear on and is considered in very poor taste.
Anita, Toronto, Canada

I traveled in Southern India. My family is originally from a state called Kerala in the southern part of India. We went for a short visit two years ago. The South tends to be a bit more conservative than other parts of India. I would advise women to leave their shorts and halter tops at home. If you take skirts make sure they are at least knee length. Not advisable to wear super clingy fabrics (loose cotton and other natural fibers are best).

In more religious parts of the country, Hindus may take offense if you are wearing clothing made out of leather (shoes are often excusable).As a foreign woman you will undoubtedly fall victim to catcalls, stares, physical advances etc. regardless of how you dress. For this reason it is advisable to travel with one or more people.
Bindu, New York, USA

One nice thing about travelling in India is that you don't have to worry about looking ultra-fashionable. In fact, the only way to fit in with fashion in India is to wear a sari or a punjabi suit. My favorite travelling item was a long, olive green skirt made from a polyester micro-fiber. It looked like silk and wore like steel. It also dried in about 1 hour in the sun, and did not need ironing. Also good for travelling in India are very loose fitting light cotton pants. If you are going to India, you need very few clothes because if you need something along the way, a tailor can make it for you in a few hours. Also make sure you take clothes that hide the dirt well, it is very dusty there.
Krista, Vancouver, Canada

Blondes and Red Heads take note!
Indian men love to stare. As an Indian woman I find that foreign travellers can lessen curious on-lookers by avoiding shorts, short skirts and sleeveless shirts.
Archana, Seattle, USA

Blondes and Red Heads take note!
In India, if you have a fair complexion and have blonde or red hair, you will be an object of great curiosity regardless of what you wear (especially if you travel outside of the major cities where tourists are a more familiar sight). Simply ignore the stares and go about your business. Also travel as lightly as possible--both clothing and laundry service are very inexpensive in India
Teresa, Annapolis, USA

Go to the local bazaar and buy a Selwar Kameez - that's a long, dress-like top with pants. They are also known as "Punjabi Suits". You can get really inexpensive ones or very fancy and elaborate ones too with gold embroidery etc. Prices vary from $10 Can. to more than $500 Can. These are traditional dresses and cover a woman's body from head to toe. They are also very feminine and elegant. Pants are accepted in the big cities in India but the smaller towns are not accustomed to anything more than these beautiful clothes.
Sheila, Scarborough, India

I have found the Kurta or Salwarkameez -- a pair of baggy pants and a long top to be the best dress for women traveling in India. It's cool, it's comfortable to wear, and fits with Indian standards of modesty and western ideas of modern design. You can buy them ready made, or have them custom designed. Next to the Hotel Imperial in Delhi there is a shop to get you started, or try along the tourist streets and markets. Also, if you have a favorite dress at home, Indian materials are beautiful, their tailors superb and inexpensive. Bring your dress along, and see how many ways you can adapt your favorite pattern!
Dr. Antonia Neubauer, Myths and Mountains, California

Women are encouraged to cover their heads with a scarf when visiting a Sihk temple. Slip- on shoes and sandals are handy when visiting religious sites. But, take note! Don't go out in your underwear! Indian style skirts, available in plenty of ethnic shops, are actually sari petticoats. So, wearing one in India is akin to going out in your underwear in the West.
Lee Ronald, Tiger Travel, England

Dress conservatively in India. Foreign women who dress in a sari seem to experience less harassment. Tempting as it is to defy custom and to dress in sleeveless shirts and shorts, it's not worth the hassle. I found a T-shirt (with sleeves) and light, cotton pants kept me cool and respected Indian custom.

Also, avoid eye contact, because in their culture, contact signals to Indian men that you are both available and approachable. A useful Indian phrase to add to your armory is chale jao, pronounced chelo, which means "go away". Match this with a cool, sharp look and you've got yourself a lethal weapon. I also began to allude to a husband who was close by or who I was meeting shortly. (One woman I met even wore a fake wedding ring to keep men at bay). In India, the fact that you are connected to a man commands respect for a woman.
Mei-Yin Teo, Toronto, Canada

On a recent visit to Kerala I saw tourists in all manner of dress. Along the beaches, anything goes, really, but during a home visit I recommend having upper arms and most of the leg covered. I wore very loose pants that I could zip into shorts when I was in my hotel or on the beach. I'm tall for a woman, 5'10" and blond, so I didn't blend in well, but I still had no trouble with inappropriate attention. I followed another woman's advice on this page about always wearing sunglasses in public and I think that was a big help, also walking with my eyes down in crowded areas helped.
Heidi, Kenosha, USA

Have some salwar kameezes made up at a local shop as soon as you get to India. I'd taken long shirt dresses with long sleeves to wear over pants but they were too fitted and the silk they were made of was too thin and therefore you could see the outline of my legs underneath -- totally unacceptable. Drape the dupatta (scarf)-- usually comes with the salwar kameez -- over your chest to hide your curves. Wear sunglasses to avoid making eye contact with men. Always wear a bra.
Brigid, Toronto, Canada

I went bike riding in India recently. I packed some loose fitting (mens actually!) zip off trousers. When zipped off, they came to about my knees. While bike riding, I got a bit warm so I risked taking the bottom part off and revealing my knees. BAD MOVE. We were riding through rural villages that don't get to see white folk too often (about 2 or 3 times a year I was told) let alone white female knees. I had cars driving really close to me, almost knocking me off, just to cop an eyeful of my lily white legs!!! I found it better to be a little warm than risk being knocked over! I found as soon as I had them full length again, they left me alone.
Annie, Adelaide, Australia

Indonesia

Pagodas, temples, etc. are other religion's equivalents of church, synagogue, etc. Wear clothing that minimizes leg/arm exposure. No 'loud' clothing. Some temples require you remove your shoes; carry heavy socks to cover your shoes (if permitted) or feet (when demanded) but carry your shoes in a bag with you. Why leave them outside and give someone a footwear upgrade!
Jay, Buon Me Thuot, VietNam

Wear breathable clothes since it is always humid in this destination. Tailored or fitted style clothes are the best, especially in big cities like Jakarta (people generally treat you better if you dress up). I think it�s okay to wear shorter skirts (not too short), but I would recommend covering your chest. Some Indonesian men think that a cleavage is meant to be touched.
Katherine, San Francisco, USA

Even though it is not as strict here as in the Middle East, it's best to cover your shoulders and upper arms as well as your legs to below the knees. In Jakarta they are quite used to foreigners. However, outside of Jakarta it is more important to be modest in dress.
Pierrette, Calgary, Canada

I traveled in Malaysia and Indonesia. The cities are very hot (and smoggy), so the best clothes both culturally and for comfort are big loose long sleeved light cotton or linen shirts and equally loose long trousers - nothing exposed for the locals to stare at (even though miniskirts are common - why attract unwanted attention?) and great for the hot sweaty days. Much cooler than a tight singlet or T-shirt and shorts which end up sweaty and sticky and attract too much attention, especially if you have a large bust!
Gillian, Sydney, Australia

In Indonesia wear a long skirt (sarong is good,which is a local "wrap skirt") or long cotton trousers (fishermen's trousers are a good local option) with a long shirt. This is especially true in big cities in order to avoid nasty comments ( not that important in jungle villages, it's much more free there). Remember, too, that Indonesia is a Muslim country (at least Sumatra is) so you don't go sunbathing topless.
Krista, Helsinki, Finland

You can really have fun dressing up in Indonesia. Silk wrap skirts and long, fitted or loose silk tunics with three-quarter sleeve plus a matching scarf will ensure you are comfortable in the heat. These outfits will take you from day to evening. They clean and dry quickly. During the day subtle makeup will be easiest, but in the evening you can go full on glamour, sparkle with pretend diamonds or other costume jewels from your own country. In Indonesia always think feminine, elegant and glamorous.
Robin, Wellington, New Zealand

When you're in touristy beach areas (like Bali), bikinis, tank tops, boardshorts, sundresses all are comfortable and acceptable. However, the less touristy it is, the more conservative it gets and I would recommend wearing Ts and long sleeve tunics instead of tanks, and longer skirts or cargos instead of shorts. Tunics, scarves (for head and neck coverage) and long skirts are also the most acceptable for visiting temples and mosques.
Rina, Vancouver, Canada

Iran

Having just returned from two weeks in Iran, I would like to offer some comments about appropriate attire for women. Iranian law requires that heads and necks be covered and female bodies must be modestly covered to at least mid-thigh. All the women on our tour purchased a manteau (resembles a lab coat and comes in different fabrics and colours) and hijab (or scarf) on arrival. We found that we could wear anything - or nothing - on our upper bodies under the manteau. Loose pants or ankle-length skirts with no bare skin showing meant no critical looks from passersby. Bobby pins or safety pins ensured that scarves would stay draped. It was interesting to note that local women, especially the young ones, often showed a lot of hair and had their headscarves artfully wrapped around their heads. Their coats were often quite form-fitting. Their liberal use of makeup made us foreigners all look like frumps.
Pam, Toronto, Canada

When travelling within Iran women should wear loose fitting cotton trousers and loose fitting long sleeved shirts with a headscarf at hand. This clothing is very cool and comfortable and does not cause offence.
Gina, Wellington, New Zealand

I bought a black coverall that women wear over their clothes and a black scarf when I got to Tehran: that way, I did not stand out in the crowd and it helped me a great deal. Usually tourists wear a raincoat or a long shirt but it makes you stand out in the crowd like a sore thumb! Buying clothes in the country you are visiting is usually a good thing. In Iran, it is better to wear black. Never wear bright colors, or white, other women seldom do and you will attract unwanted attention.
Maryan, Paris, France

When visiting Iran, women must wear the hijab (headscarf and modest dress) in public at all times. At a hotel in Tehran a sign in the lobby of the Homa hotel reads as follows: "In the name of God, respectful ladies are asked to observe the Islamic hijab and not to use cosmetics in public. Please use a scarf to cover your hair and neck. A long loose dress and dark stockings (or trousers). We wish you a nice trip."

The hijab warning shouldn't come as a surprise to visitors. To obtain a tourist visa from the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, Canadian women must first submit two photographs showing them wearing a headscarf. And they must be wearing it when the plane touches down in Tehran.
Martin Regg Cohn, chief of the Toronto Star's Middle East bureau

I am an Iranian woman who read your Journeywoman article about how to wear [dress] in Iran. That was amazing to find this article on [the] net. Now, everything changes in our country. You do not need to wear socks, and coats are not so long, they can be printed in designs and short but with long sleeves to reach your wrists. Coats can be fitted now but not tight. You still should wear a scarf but not as before. Now they are long rectangular pieces of cloth that are used to cover your hair but not completely.
Sibora, Iran (2007)

I found this Reuters news item about culturally correct clothing and behaviour in Iran in our local paper (October 12, 2007). I thought it would be helpful for women travelling to Iran to understand this. ' Iranian police have warned 122,000 people, mostly women, about flouting strict Islamic dress codes since April and nearly 7,000 of those attended classes on respecting the rules. Such crackdowns ... are an annual event and usually last a few weeks. But this year's measures have been longer and more severe than in recent years... In addition to the dress crackdown, the newspaper quoted a Tehran police commander as saying 482 people were arrested for taking part in mixed parties. Men and women are not allowed to mix at close quarters in Iran, unless they are family members.'
Beverly, Winnipeg, Canada (2007)

Tehran, Iran is enforcing a stricter Islamic dress code for universities, including a ban on female students wearing long nails, bright clothes and tattoos. The new 2011 rules ban women from wearing caps or hats without scarves, tight and short jeans, and body piercing, except earrings. Tattoos, long nails, tooth gems, tight overcoats, and bright clothes are also forbidden.

If you're a guy, male students are banned from dying their hair, plucking eyebrows, wearing tight clothes, shirts with very tight sleeves and jewellery. Iran has been waging a country-wide campaign against Western cultural influences since 1979.
National Post, 2010, Canada

Ireland

I traveled mostly in the West of Ireland (Galway, Mayo, Clare) in early fall. In that part of the country, most women in their 40's and older wear skirts and blouses (or dresses), stockings, and shoes with a bit of a heel, and have short "done" hair. I wore corduroy pants, clogs, and pullovers, and have au naturel, shoulder-length hair; so, although I never felt that I was inappropriately dressed, I didn't blend in as much as I thought I would, given that I'm related to a lot of the locals!
Paula, Santa Fe, USA

The rainiest months in Ireland are August and December with 2.9 inches of rain.
Dan Richardson, Dublin, Mini Rough Guide

Editor's Note: Wait until you get to Ireland to buy your rainwear and umbrella. Styling is unique and...oh-so-effective!

Sightseeing in Dublin is wonderful however many of the old streets built with cobblestones still remain. While this adds to the delightful ambience of the city, it is extremely hard on your feet. Be prepared and pack good solid walking shoes. You'll be glad you did!
Caroline C., Alberta, Canada

When travelling in Ireland keep in mind that you can easily experience "four seasons in any one day." To say that the weather is changeable is an understatement. But don't let this deter you. Plan to dress in layers so that you can peel as necessary. Pack both a lightweight raincoat (that can be carried easily in a backpack or shoulder bag) and try to locate a umbrella with a handle made from aluminum. These are ultra light and fold down to practically nothing. If you are properly prepared for the passing showers, you can carry on with your "fun" plans just as the locals do. P.S. While sandals are nice to wear during the summer, the changeable weather here means that your feet could be wet much of the time. Closed shoes make much more sense.
Evelyn Hannon, Journeywoman Editor

I visited Ireland in January, when it is cold and very rainy. Layers were great for keeping me warm but not so great when going into pubs, restaurants etc. They take up a lot of room, can make a mess if you've been out in the rain for awhile, and are a pain to take on and off. A much better idea is to go with a pea coat (or something similar) with a hood or a longer, waterproof jacket. Invest in some good gloves, you'll need them. Not having to take layers on and off at each place makes it much easier to socialize, which I believe is what travel should be about.
Shannon, Trumbull, USA

If you want to blend in with the Irish, a nice dark pea coat, wool scarf, and leather shoes will do the trick. A cute hat is a lifesaver for rainy-day frizzy hair and will help to keep your head warm. Comfy shoes are a must; you'll be walking a lot. Leave baseball caps, fanny packs, bright rain slickers, and running shoes at home unless you want everybody to know immediately you're a North American tourist. People will tell you to 'layer', but I found that stores and pubs tend to be a bit toasty at this time of the year. You'll quickly tire of peeling off those layers each time you head indoors. I did just fine with a long-sleeved top under my coat. Remember that the weather changes abruptly in Ireland so bring an umbrella and enjoy the showers without feeling damp all the time.
P.S. Enjoy my favorite place on earth and drink lots of Barry's tea. It's fabulous. Ditto for the Irish butter.
Chelsea, California, USA

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