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What to Wear in Africa...

 

S countries

I travelled in Senegal. This is my advice. Cover your legs! The quickest way to attract lots of undesirable attention is to wear short skirts or shorts, since legs are considered more erotic than breasts. Slip-on shoes are essential-- it's culturally appropriate to take off your shoes when stepping on any carpeted surface or mat. Pretty much anything else is acceptable. In Dakar, the capital, people tend to dress up more than in the US; older (30+) women in traditional clothes, younger women like they're going clubbing. I didn't choose either of these options; I just wore what was comfortable since I knew I would be easily identifiable as American no matter how I dressed. But no shorts or short skirts!
Allison, Salt Lake City, Utah

I travelled in Sudan. Sudanese society is a very conservative one but at the same time a very hospitable one. Revealing clothes in public places would invite severe critism. Dress very conservatively whilst in public - longer skirts to at least mid shin or loose trousers and tops with sleeves at the very minimum up to the elbows. Should you have the pleasure of being invited to a family home, do check whether is it a more 'traditional' or more 'modern' family you will be visiting. In either case, I would suggest dressing on the conservative side for your first visit. Sudan is very hot and dusty in the northern provinces, and light-weight, light coloured clothing would be more comfortable. A hat is not a bad idea too. Hope you have an enjoyable visit.
Elsudaniya, DRCongo, Africa

In South Africa the dress code is generally casual (denims, t-shirts, skirts etc.) when you are not working as the weather is mostly hot. When at work the dress code is more formal eg. knee length skirt, blouse and on cool days a matching jacket. Except for the upperclass restaurants, your casual wear will be just fine in most restaurants. If you intend on going to a club, you should dress hip as the youth are pretty fashion concious. Men are required to wear a shirt (can be casual) with a collar to clubs and for some silly reason many clubs don't allow 'takkies' (running shoes). When on the beach, most women wear one or two piece bathing suits. You can ditch the top if you don't mind the initial mexican wave by the men. Dressing too revealing in any situation though is generally frowned upon as the majority of South Africans are pretty conservative. A last thought - many people believe SA to be a dangerous place to visit, this is only true if you try and 'do your own thing'. As with any country/city it has it's hot spots that you can stumble into if you don't know the area. Always travel with a recognised tour guide, they know where to take you and where not to.
Nolan (an interested male), Johannesburg, South Africa

Do not over dress in South Africa. Avoid wearing jewelry, expensive watches etc. Be very wary where you go. Most women who live in South Africa do not wear expensive clothing in public, but the majority wear skirts. I seldom saw a woman of any race wearing pants or jeans. I never saw a woman 'of color' wearing pants. Wearing skirts are part of a cultural tradition for Black women. I will return to South Africa, but everyone must be very careful when travelling in that part of the world.
Ellen, Fort Worth, USA

South Africa is a little like countries in Europe - very fashionable. When I visit, I wear Jeans, but always with fashionable boots/shoes or sandals and tailored shirts, or whatever blouses are currently in fashion. Most of the young girls wear jeans, and depending on the season, the older ladies (40s & 50s) wear capris or jeans, but generally, never sneakers. Summer and spring, mostly sandals are worn. Also, for safety, know where you are going. I was born in South Africa, so that is not much of an issue for me. It's a beautiful country, especially the beaches, and the hotels, food and shopping are excellent! And the exchange rate (US dollars) makes it really worth visiting right now.
Debi, Sitka, Alaska, USA

Contrary to expectations many parts of South Africa get very cold and sometimes reach freezing point during the winter months, from the end of May to the end of July. Those who attended the 2010 World Cup may have had a rude awakening. We don't have a particularly strict dress code, jeans are perfectly acceptable casual wear and the most comfortable clothing item to bring with you. Shorts are very appropriate for the summer months between the end of October and mid March.

Generally speaking we have more or less the same shops as everywhere else, as well as some of our own, so anything goes really. For the office keep it formal, a jacket is advisable as we tend to overdo the airconditioning, especially when it is quite hot outside. Unlike in Europe the office buildings tend to be kept at quite a chilly temperature throughout winter as well, so your scarf and all layers of clothing will generally stay on throughout the day.

That said, it's a lovely, easy going, country to visit, lots of fresh air and outdoor activities. DO NOT wear safari clothing, no self- respecting South African does, so we spot you quite easily if you walk around in khaki coloured and cliched safari clothing. We wear jeans and shorts with sneakers and other comfortable walking shoes when we go to the game reserves. Keep your cameras in your bag and your belongings within sight, we unfortunately have a lot of poor local and foreign people that might be tempted to convert them into a family meal for the next 2 weeks by selling them, should you leave them lying around carelessly (as in many cities around the world).
Thuli, Gauteng, South Africa

T countries

I travelled to Tanzania. I went on safari at the Ngorongoro Crater. I recommend wearing leisure clothing and good walking shoes. You also must remember to bring a hat, sunglasses and bandana as it is quite dusty on safari. I was there in the winter months but it was still quite hot on the crater floor. I recommend a fleece or a vest for at night, since it tends to get quite cool due to the high altitude. As far as Zanzibar (part of Republic of Tanzania) goes, I would dress modestly. It is quite hot in Zanzibar, much hotter than mainland Tanzania so I naturally recommend dressing in light clothing. While I was there I wore knee-length skirts and short sleeve shirts. If you are walking around Stone Town, I would recommend wearing closed toe shoes.
Lauren, Bethesda, USA

I travelled in Tanzania. Shorts and t-shirts are fine when you are with other tourists on safari in a national park, but away from this environ, modesty prevails. Most Tanzanian women wear a "kanga," a large piece of rectangular cloth printed with beautiful designs and Swahili sayings printed along the edges of the fabric. The kanga is wrapped around the waist with one corner tucked in at the waist. You can also use it as a shawl/head covering for when you are in a town or village where covering the head is appropriate. You can buy a kanga anywhere in Tanzania. They are very inexpensive -- about $2 - $4 each -- and make excellent trip momentos, as well as great gifts for your family and friends back home.
Janice, Washington, DC, USA

I travelled in Kenya and Tanzania on a safari trip. It was really hot and very dusty and in some parts pretty humid. Don't do what I did and wear white! White gets very dirty very quickly and never looks that white again. Stick to natural fabrics (cotton) and neutral colours to hide the grime. T-shirts and shorts are good. If you take extra t-shirts - particularly with good designs on them, you may be able to barter them for some fantastic carvings or rugs.
Mandy, Australia

I've just returned from Tanzania and would like to pass along some packing tips to other travellers. In tourist areas, such as the game parks, just about any tasteful leisure clothing that you feel comfortable in is appropriate. Be absolutely sure to bring a hat on safari and promise to wear it. I suggest a wide brimmed style that covers the back of your neck and chest as well. You'll find that you spend a lot of time standing up outside of the truck/van and get quite a bit of sun exposure. A fellow traveller suffered a sunstroke and we were there during the winter months. Zanzibar is a predominately Muslim area, as is most of the coast of Tanzania, so we took special care to dress conservatively. I found that wearing a knee-length skirt or pants with a button down shirt (I generally wore a loose fitting shirt untucked with a man's undershirt underneath) and my hair covered in a scarf kept people from paying any extra attention to me. I travelled with a male companion -- we wore fake wedding bands for propriety's sake. P.S. I didn't see any tourists dressed in kangas (sarongs), so you may stick out if you chose to wear one in Tanzania. I did buy many to bring back as gifts though.
Erin, Colorado Springs, USA

I travelled to Tanzania. I went on safari at the Ngorongoro Crater. I recommend wearing leisure clothing and good walking shoes. You also must remember to bring a hat, sunglasses and bandana as it is quite dusty on safari. I was there in the winter months but it was still quite hot on the crater floor. I recommend a fleece or a vest for at night, since it tends to get quite cool due to the high altitude. As far as Zanzibar (part of Republic of Tanzania) goes, I would dress modestly. It is quite hot in Zanzibar, much hotter than mainland Tanzania so I naturally recommend dressing in light clothing. While I was there I wore knee-length skirts and short sleeve shirts. If you are walking around Stone Town, I would recommend wearing closed toe shoes.
Lauren, Bethesda, USA

U countries

I lived and volunteered in rural Uganda (East Africa) for 3 months. In Kampala and most of the big cities including Entebbe, Jinja and Lira, western clothes including jeans and t-shirts are completely acceptable. Tank tops are acceptable, but try to stay away from shorts. Most Ugandans don't wear them. Whenever possible, especially in the smaller cities, wear long skirts. Most of the women in Uganda wear skirts. Also try to stay modest as much as possible. Most places in Uganda are pretty laid back and most types of clothing are acceptable. I would stay away from jeans in the smaller cities though. You will get alot of stares. When traveling in the north, dress very conservatively. It is a highly Muslim area and can be quite dangerous.
Allison, Salt Lake City, Utah

W countries

I travelled in West Africa and I'm glad I brought a good pair of hiking boots to keep my feet happy in the rugged West African terrain. This footwear saved me from lots of sprains and pains during my stay there. In this part of the world, remember two things about your boots, please--making them water-resistant is a plus during the rainy season, and to avoid any nasty surprises, remember to shake them out before putting them on! There are lots of interesting creepy-crawlies ready to take refuge in your boots.
Sharon, Montreal, Canada

Learned my lesson! I brought lots of white with me to dusty West Africa and found that it got too dirty too fast!
Michelle, San Francisco, USA

Z countries

I travelled in Zambia. Pants and modest shorts are acceptable for foreigners in tourist areas like Victoria Falls and game reserves. However, anywhere else I would advise you to wear a long skirt, as this is the custom of the local women. Short sleeves are okay, but keep it modest.
Linzi, New Orleans, USA

While travelling in Zanzibar to avoid insulting the local Muslim women's sensibilities, try and keep you arms and legs covered at all times. Walking down the street with your knees and shoulders uncovered is akin in Westerners terms to walking down the street naked. I would also recommend light colours and natural fabrics.
Aoife, London, England

In Zimbabwe most women wear skirts or dresses. In the capital, Harare, pants and jeans are fine, but not shorts. If you are going to villages in the country you will be more accepted if you wear loose mid-calf skirts and simple tops with sleeves. In tourist areas such as Victoria Falls dress is very casual and anything is fine.
Marg, Cambridge, Canada

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