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What to Wear, Where, in Egypt
first-hand advice from around the world...

 

From Canada to the Middle East and from The United States to Australia, Journeywoman has received countless bits of advice on what is appropriate clothing for a woman travelling in Egypt. Here is a sampling for you to use when making your packing list...

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 longsleeved 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 Eqypt 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 definately 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 alright 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 shoulderss. 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

 

 

 

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