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What Should I Wear?

Malaysia

Most days I wore short-sleeved, mid to lower, calf-length dresses in acrylics that could be washed in the sink. I found these cooler and more comfortable than pants and was treated with more respect when I wore them.
Shannon, Seattle, USA

Contrary to popular beliefs, you can wear anything you like in Malaysia as long as it is considered decent. If you are going to religious places like temples & mosques do wear something more appropriate - sleeveless & shorts are out of the question. But most of the times, I think what most tourists wear in Malaysian are ok. Being a Malaysian who has travelled around Europe, I noticed that some travellers especially women do not think ahead of what they are wearing so that they can be culturally correct.
Azlina, Michigan, USA

I spent a month in Malaysia and my one regret is wearing sandals that buckled up. Every time I went in or out of temples, homes, even some museums, I had to do up the straps. Next time I'll pack slip on sandals!
Guylaine, Hamilton, Canada

If you're a woman travelling in Malaysia, most of your body should be covered. Wear blouses or shirts with sleeves, slacks or long skirts and closed collars. The Muslim women wear a tudong, a veil or scarf over their head and covering their bosom. They do not expect foreigners to do the same except when visiting their mosques.
Mylene, Manilla, Philippines

I travelled in Thailand and Malaysia and would like to share what I learned with other women travellers. Dress in SE Asia is (not surprisingly) conservative, but there are some subtle differences between countries. For example, in a business setting, a pant suit is acceptable in Malaysia but not in Thailand, where a longish skirt is better (knee-length or below). In Thailand, women do not usually wear trousers or shorts (except for students who wear jeans but only in casual settings), they never wear sleeveless attire or swim in t-shirts and shorts (if they swim at all).

Malaysian women overall dress conservatively but there are variations due to background (Muslim Malays, Chinese, or Indian). Whereas Thai women will wear form fitting outfits (not trashy though), Malaysian women opt for looser and longer clothing - no short skirts here.

Conservative dress implies a respect for SE Asian culture and without it, you will be denied access to religious sites (an integral part of Asian culture) and treated without respect.

While the dress codes may seem restrictive, there are a multitude of options which will not require steamer trunks to be carted around - long skirts, tank tops under long sleeve shirts (to help mop up perspiration and combat the sub-zero air conditioning), etc.
Helen, Boston, USA

Martinique

Martinique, for all intensive purposes, is France in the form of an island in the Carribean. Its very, very chic and cosmopolitan. Women do not step outside of their homes without "dressing up". Being an island and hot weathered, sundresses (black is common)with heeled sandals (platforms), strappy tops, backless dresses...you name it are appropriate. If its cool and fashionable, its the mode of dress here. Brassieres are optional even in the workplace, with most locals seemingly going the bra-less route. Tourists tend to follow suit and leave their bras at the hotel. Beaches are top-free, and pointe de boute beach is clothing optional. All locals go topless, about 3/4 of tourist sun topless. Only Europeans, it seems, go completely nude. Wear comfortable shoes when shopping, but make sure they aren't sneakers and are something "vogue."
Penny, Boca Raton, USA

Mexico

See also Latin America

Wear skirts and blouses rather than shorts and blouses; don't wear bathing suits anywhere other than the beach and pool. You get more respect, and are more accepted. The best inadvertent piece of information I received was from a male co-worker, who said that "Mexican men think all single women are looking for a bed partner." That may or may not be true, but I was careful not to give that impression, and I think it helped.
Joan, California, USA

Lightweight pants with pockets are key. They are equal parts basic and stylish, and can be dressed up or dressed down. Short skirts and shorts are a no-no for most travelers - you really stick out in Mexico as a North American when you wear these. Lightweight cotton also dries faster when you wash it and takes up less room in your suitcase. Pair your pants with a somewhat feminine blouse or tee shirt (layers are, of course, a travel must). I add a scarf to give variety and also to look more "dressed up". This made me feel more respectful and at-home, plus I avoided leering from men. An elastic-waisted lightweight skirt is also nice for walking, keeping cool, and evenings out.
Jenimae, USA

I traveled in Southern Mexico and I noticed that the friends I made during the trip, especially non-Mexicans, were continually bothered by unwanted attention. They were wearing clothing that exposed their midsections and cleavage, a definite NO-NO , especially in the rural parts of Oaxaca and Chiapas (San Cristobal). Most of the locals consider this an invitation, so leave those revealing clothes for the beach, not the mountains.
Claudia, Ensenada, Argentina

When travelling in Mexico City and/or Oaxaca (interior, non-beach areas) bring long, cool cotton skirts and light pants and if you are traveling with a man tell him to bring long pants, too. No one in Mexico City/Oaxaca wears shorts, except for children and tourists and you feel a bit uncomfortable when you find that you are the only one in the subway station in shorts. It can be hot in longer pants but your body adjusts quite quickly and you will be happy to blend in just a little more.
Ingrid Emerick, Seattle, Washington

When travelling in Mexico, my advice is to wear cotton skirts - not shorts. Mexico is more formal than you might think. The added benefit to wearing a skirt is that it is cooler than long pants and is acceptable clothing for a good restaurant and when touring churches.
Jayne, Santa Ana, USA

If you want to blend in, don't wear shorts and a backpack. Mexican women get dressed up to go out, with careful grooming of hair, some makeup, ironed clothes and shined shoes. And if you prefer to avoid comments from people on the street and metro, avoid the 'tight & short'. You'll enjoy yourself 100 times more.
Susan, Winnipeg, Canada

Do not wear shorts into a church! Really, I advise against wearing shorts anywhere but the beach or resorts. The Mexicans are actually really conservative in their dress and you will get lots of unwanted attention if you dress inappropriately.
Michelle, Midland, Texas, USA

In Mexico the best thing in the world for me were those stretchy gauchos. I should have brought four pairs of those and left my jeans at home. Denim turned out to be uncomfortably hot.
Elizabeth, Orem, USA

I just returned from 25 days in Mexico (July 2010). I found that in general Mexicans dress more or less the way Americans do--or at least enough of them do that I don't feel at all compelled to change the way I dress when visiting. Shoes tended to be a little dressier there, perhaps, but jeans or shorts and sneakers were far from uncommon, even for women. For men, especially young men, they seemed to be the uniform. I saw local women wearing tank tops and jeans even in a small mountain town.

Near the beach (Puerto Escondido) I often wore a short halter top dress or short shorts and felt perfectly comfortable in them, both physically and socially. I agree with others' advice to avoid swimwear and short shorts away from the beach (who wears swimwear away from the beach anyway?) but even inland I felt perfectly comfortable in a pair of knee length shorts, which were especially great because it was the rainy season. Long pants would have gotten soaked, but the shorts were mostly covered by my poncho. Sport sandals meant I didn't have to worry about wet socks and shoes. The shorts probably marked me as being a non-local, but no more so than the fact that I'm white with short reddish brown hair and my Spanish could use some work. I'm not going to "pass" no matter what I wear, so as long as I'm not offending anyone or inviting inappropriate attention, I don't worry about it. The only time I got whistled at, I was wearing an ankle-length skirt I'd bought in Oaxaca, in a style that was for sale everywhere there and worn very commonly by the local women.

When it wasn't raining I often wore jeans and a fitted T-shirt or tank top. I did get one sideways glance while walking down the street by myself in Oaxaca wearing a tank top and no bra; I zipped up my hoodie and that was that. No one treated me disrespectfully at all, anywhere I went. Our itinerary was Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca with a few side trips, and the Xalapa area. We spent nearly two weeks in the small towns near Xalapa, which is mountain country.
Zannie, San Francisco, California

Micronesia

Wear long dresses that are below the knee. It is considered very rude and inappropriate to expose the thighs or rear to males. Always bring a sarong (lava lava) even when swimming.
Heidi, Mountain View, Hawaii

Despite the romantic notion of skimpy clothes in the South Pacific, the Marshall islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and islands of Pohnpei and Palau demand modest dress for women--calf length skirts, blouses with sleeves to the elbow are most appropriate. A quick dip in the ocean, then COVER UP! You'll be more comfortable meeting the delightful, gentle island people when you are dressed appropriately.
Sharon, Eugene, USA

Middle East

Go to the open market and buy an Abaya (a full length cloak that covers from neck to ankle) and wear it over your own clothes. You will have far less problems with men. It does not mean that you are Muslim -- only respectful of covering up due to their religious beliefs. An abaya is cool and lightweight to wear. Each country has their own style and colour according to region.
Katherine, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emeritus

Travelling to the Middle East? If you want a lot less hassle, wear long sleeved tops and long skirts/trousers. When you think that the local women wear trousers and a dress and a bhurka/jashmak - the men fall over themselves when they see someone prancing around in a bikini. Save yourself potential trouble -- being a foreigner you'll get hassle anyway whatever you wear but not as much as when you're covered. You'll feel a lot less exposed and people will stare less.
Sam, Southend, USA

I packed loose, long skirts and conservative tops. Jeans and pants were OK for horseback riding and hiking around and shopping. I saw some Europeans in shorts and scant tops...bad taste for sure. Locals wear black till summer even though it is very hot before then.
Susan, Florida, USA

Take a sarong - it can double as a towel and when its really hot (I was there in midsummer) you can just wrap it around as a skirt and avoid offending the locals. They are also thin enough to dry overnight saving you from packing several different skirts (I hate carrying too much weight when carrying my own luggage)
Andrea, Wellington, New Zealand

Always, always cover your arms and legs. Let your t-shirt hang loosely around your breasts. Wear pants that don't hug your bottom. Tie your blonde hair back so it doesn't shine in the sun. Dress this way and the local women will be much more comfortable with you-- just what you need when you're in trouble. You'll get better bargains in the bazaars, and a safer room in the hotel. And finally it keeps the sun off, even if you seem to be boiling with heat at the time.
Ailsa, Adelaide, Australia

Make sure your male partner knows about the boy's dress code. Cover up his legs with full length trousers - Arabic men never wear shorts. Long sleeves are probably a better bet too. Ties are usually not necessary and sandals are fine. Men's clothes are cheap, especially cotton in Egypt and Turkey. But beware, if he's larger sized -- there's not a lot available.
Ailsa, Adelaide, Australia

When traveling on a long car trip alone or with a female friend, or with my small children, I always wear a baseball cap on my head, so that anybody passing might think that a man is driving. I have short hair so that's easy for me, but if your hair is long just tuck it up in the cap. I have never been bothered and of course the car doors are always locked.
Ann-Marie , Boca Raton, USA

In some places in the Middle East it's best to cover your hair - but it's not necessary all the time. I carry several favorite scarves, with one around my neck when I'm out. That way, I can slip it up over my hair if the situation requires (or someone looks disapproving). Dressing this way means I'm always ready for interesting visits to religious sites!
Joanne, Nicosia, Cyprus

As a woman who used to be married to an Arab Muslim man, I have a few tips for women traveling to the Middle East or Northern Africa. Dress modestly! Do not wear shorts, tight pants or short, tight skirts, or anything sleeveless. It isn't always necessary to cover your hair, unless you are traveling to a small village or the country-then I would suggest at least wearing a loosely draped scarf.
Brenda, Seattle, USA

My advice to single women travelling in the Middle East is: Dress conservatively and pretend that you are married (because respectable single women in this part of the world do not travel on their own). Wear long sleeves, full length skirt, nothing tight or sexy, light scarf head cover. This attire makes one seem a "foreign muslim" woman. A fake wedding ring and photos of your (imaginary) 'children' complete the outfit (and an imaginery 'husband' somewhere in the Middle East helps too)
Karen, Sydney, Australia


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