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, 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
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
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
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
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
Sharon, Eugene, USA
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
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
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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