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What to Wear in Africa...


M countries

In Mali, West Africa, most women use only short pants for sports and play. These are tolerated for casual wear, but sometimes not appreciated. Exposing your breasts is generally more accepted than exposing your thighs.
Sharon, Montreal, Canada

Mauritania, in northwest Africa is a Muslim country but it is tolerant. Dress modestly and very understated. Even the cheapest watch that you own will seem amazing to a nomad child. The women wear brightly colored dresses or long skirts, their heads are covered but usually you can partially see their hair. I bought some cotton skirts before my trip. The heat here is a hot dry heat, so the long skirt kept me surprisingly cool by reflecting the intense heat from the sand and sun. I covered my head with a lightweight scarf to protect myself from sun, but it was also useful to avoid curious stares, as I have blonde hair. Forget about contact lens, there is often blowing sand.
Patricia, France

I would like to add my experiences of travelling to Morocco and Marrakesh in particular. I took with me a headscarf and wore below the knees cropped trousers or a long linen skirt, coupled with ordinary t-shirts with round neckline. I found that I was not hassled at all by anyone there when I wore my headscarf and sunglasses – even though I was on my own and wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and have blond hair and blue eyes. I saw women of many nationalities wearing extremely revealing clothing and I was offended on behalf of the locals as I believe in dressing appropriately and respectfully. Another tip is to wear shoes that cover your feet and not flip-flops / thongs or sandals. The streets are not fantastically clean and the sewerage system was non-existent and so wearing shoes that protected your feet from manure are essential.
Abi, Cambridge, U.K.

The airline flying me to Morocco lost my luggage. It came on the next flight - 3 days later. As a result, I had to wear the pants and shirt I'd worn on the plane until it arrived. Pants are considered very revealing in some countries and here my outfit got me a lot of unwelcome comments. Men followed me and strangers touched me when I was in large crowds. I highly recommend packing a skirt and long-sleeved shirt in your carry-on when travelling to a muslim country -- just in case.
Melanie, Alexandria, USA

Moroccan men usually think that all Europeans are easy and therefore they feel free to pinch and touch. I discovered that for some strange motive they didn't bother me if I wore long black skirts and long sleeved black shirts (even if form fitting). The color black seems to 'cool them down.' And my hair in a pony-tail seemed better than loose curly hair.
Sofía, Sevilla, Spain

Travel in a Moslem country is very different from that in European countries. Fortunately, I was with a tour group in Morocco and we were told what and what not to wear each day. No shorts ever, no jewelry, a secure money belt and bum pack for other objects. Moroccan men were very bold about touching and/or pinching foreign women. They followed us with their eyes wherever we went and so we had to appear modest and unassuming in public. It pays to be very careful and aware in Morocco. Children clung to us and held our hands as soon as they saw us -- maybe they were just friendly, but maybe not.
Betty, Vancouver, Canada

During my month in Morocco, I wore long skirts and long-sleeved button-up shirts and was free from harassment (and sunburn!). Wearing more conservative clothing made me feel more respectful and less like a target. If you journey to the dunes, bring along a scarf or piece of fabric to tie around your face to keep out the blowing sands. Enjoy!
Lindsay, Colorado Springs, USA

My husband is a Moroccan and I have travelled there once with him. This is what I learned about culturally correct clothing. It's true that Moroccan women do often wear Euro fashion. However, please understand that if you wear tight or short clothing there is a chance for harassment. When I went there I wore pants and knee high skirts and men did make remarks even though I was with my husband. From experience I can say, my best advice is to dress modestly. If you are still attracting attention you can buy an inexpensive djelleba while you are there. They are comfortable and nice.
Janah, San Diego, USA

When in Morocco, some Western women have the idea that it's a strong political statement to wear western clothes, the likes of which you might see in a park or on a beach in Toronto or Vancouver. Although I readily call myself a feminist, I think the unisex Djellaba (long, loose coat worn over clothes) is a wise idea. Here's why:
1) You can easily string your money/passport pouch under the dress and while you can easily access the cash and ID via the slits in the side of your djellaba, a thief will have to work much harder for it.
2) If you get a thick or dark colored djellaba, you don't really have to wear much under it. Very freeing (also true of the chador and abaya)
3) If you put on your djellaba the first day, it looks like you've been there longer than you have and you're less likely to be hassled by hustlers.
4) For the same reason as above, you'll get better prices in the souk (unless the djellaba is blindingly new).
5) You'll never get to speak to any women, if you appear to disregard their culture.
6) It cuts out the "what am I going to wear today" stress that's a real annoyance when traveling.
And, besides, they're quite cool in the heat and beautiful as well, in the wide array of colours and variations on the basic design. Happy souking, ladies!
Buffy, Toronto, Canada

"Western" women are not expected to dress like traditional native Moroccan women, and indeed many sophisticated or foreign-educated Moroccan women have adopted European fashion styles. However, no matter how tight the pants or short the skirt, they always keep that collar bone covered up. Your vee-neck sweaters, even blouses, no matter how chaste you think they are, may be interpreted as risque, disrespectful, or inappropriate in Morocco.
Pamela, Minneapolis, USA

Advice: Wear loose clothing such as baggy pants or long skirts and a loose-fitting blouse or t-shirt. Not only will it keep you cool and protected from the sun, but it will lessen unwanted attention received by local men. Tight or revealing clothing always invites attention (the local women get harassed too); short pants are not worn by Moroccan women. Note: you will see all dress styles in the large cities in Morocco from total veiling to revealing. As a foreign woman you will be an attraction to the local men; wearing loose clothing will reduce the harassment. Remember that Moroccans are friendly, curious people who like to find out about you. Don't be afraid to chat with them, especially the hanout (small store) owners. Many people speak some English and will be delighted to hear you say a word or two in Arabic. Final tip: wear a wedding band and invent a husband if you don't have one.
Sheri, Rabat, Morocco

In Morocco, foreign women should try to buy a djelleba (traditional dress with hood, that so many of the Moroccan women wear). If you do this, you'll be very comfy and will not stand out as a foreigner.Covering your head isn't necessary as many women don't, but you can if you want to. If you dress to blend in, you will not be a target for the beggers and con-artists. Please note that Moroccans in Marrakech, Fez and small villages are more traditional then Moroccans in Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier..etc..
Bailey Varos, Erie, USA

Take along a large, long, lightweight, rectangular scarf is my best recommendation. I used it to cover my head or cover my shoulders in the souk, as a cover-up at the pool, it prevented sunburn and protected my hair.
Gillian, Castletown, Isle of Man

N countries

I lived in Northern Nigeria for one year. Shorts, tight pants, sleeveless tops, clinging shirts, low-necklines and capris are all BIG no-nos. Nylons or socks are not necessary, though. Most women there seem to favor sandals. My typical outfit was a long, loose skirt, and a comfortable 3/4 sleeve cotton blouse or tunic which covered my derriere. Nigerians are big on ironing. The "grungy" look will win you zero points. No self-respecting Nigerian woman would leave the house without taking a bath first. In crowded and more conservative areas, like Kano's old city, you might consider draping a sheer scarf over your head. You still won't pass for a local. You will, however, get more respect and less harassment, since they will assume you are a fellow Muslim. These scarves are plentiful in the markets. You can also buy beautiful fabric by the yard and have a tailor make whatever outfit you can think of, all very affordable. Things are bit more relaxed in the South. You might see tank top but women still cover their legs with long skirts.
Julie, Albany, USA

R countries

I travelled in Rwanda. The Rwandese like to dress well and you should be no exception. If you have meetings with people, a knee length skirt and a short sleeved blouse/shirt is perfect. Dressier tops and tanks with skirts or casual pants go well for moving around town or going out to restaurants in the evening. For hiking in the national parks, a long sleeved tee and long pants are important against the stinging nettles. A light sweater is also useful for cooler nights in the north.
Rena, Vancouver, Canada

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