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How to dress in the Middle East: Photo essay

How to dress in Egypt

Hello ladies and gentlemen! Through a photo essay, I will show you how to dress in the Middle East (or any conservative country) and (almost) pass as a local.

Overview

Let me be clear: How to dress in the Middle East doesn’t really matter–if you don’t care about the attention. Except for a handful of countries (i.e.  Saudi Arabia), it is not like police will stop you if you happen to be wearing a skirt and a tank top in a Middle Eastern country. However, you will get a lot of attention from the men. Then tourists complain about how “vicious” the cat calls are etc etc. See, dressing a certain way doesn’t mean the tourist deserves that treatment, but being sensitive to the culture is simple respect from you, the tourist. Plus, if this respect for the culture translates into a smoother, more pleasant stay, why not do it? Thus this guide on How to dress in the Middle East by yours truly. I lived there. And because of my looks, I could even pass as an Arab in 99.9% of situations. While my looks and Arabic studies certainly helped, I have to say that my dress boosted my “success rate” significantly. And so, I’m trying to help you out! Hope you find this photo essay helpful and feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions or concerns!

Men

Simply follow this one rule of thumb:  Wearing a t-shirt (or long-sleeve) that isn’t too tight and pants will always be a safe bet. Just cover your shoulders and knees. Follow this simple “guideline” and you won’t have any problems whatsoever (or any risk of offending anyone at all). Now the ladies

how to dress in the Middle East

Ladies

Photo 1 verdict: WRONG! This is not how to dress in the Middle East and I will explain why. My friend on the left was dressing European. While in the beach towns of Sharm El Sheikh and perhaps Dahab this outfit would be ok, you would attract much more attention elsewhere in Egypt or the Middle East. So, if your stay is outside these beach towns, do not dress like lady on the left. What about lady on the right? While the white long-sleeve under the green tank top is not only conservative, but an actual fashion statement, especially in Egypt, the shorts ruin this outfit. You should always thrive to cover at least your knees. You could wear skirts, but wear leggings underneath in order to cover your knees. Same with shorts. To be even safer? Cotton pants. An example?

how to dress in the Middle East

Perfect! (Photo: Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine)

In this picture, I am perfectly portraying how to dress in the Middle East: Wearing a long-sleeve shirt underneath a sleeveless sweater and jeans, covering all bases. Also, I’m even wearing my hair in a low ponytail with a hat. This is even better, as hair down (especially us gals with long locks) also attract much attention from men, who think it is very sexy (and not showed enough in public by Middle Eastern women).

how to dress in the Middle East

Best look: My hair up in a bun, covered mostly by a hat. Very Egyptian! (at Maadi, Cairo)

how to dress in the Middle East

Wearing a tank top? You could also cover up with a scarf (Photo: Aswan, Egypt)

Tank tops and scarves

On the photo above, I am perfectly portraying how to dress in the Middle East as well. While I am wearing a tank top, I’m still covering my shoulders with a scarf. This is particularly useful if you are staying in a very Western resort and want to wear a tank top, but then cover up when going to take a quick walk around town. It is also great for the hot Middle Eastern summers. On a different note, while my pants are very bright, I actually bought them in an Egyptian store. Bright colors might bring a bit of attention, but if you are covered up and your clothes aren’t tight, you should be fine.

how to dress in the Middle East

A piece of cloth could double as head covering and scarf (at Valley of the Kings, Luxor)

To beat the heat, sometimes I would wear a scarf over my head if the top I was wearing covered my shoulders. Black probably was not a good idea (hehe) as it attracts heat, but it is better than uncovered head. Also, if the shirt I happened to want to wear didn’t have sleeves, I would choose a longer piece of cloth so it could double as head covering/scarf. Especially women with dark hair like mine, cover your heads if you are out in the heat on a long day in the desert! I didn’t follow this advice my first day out at the Pyramids of Giza in August and I almost had to be taken to the hospital due to heat stroke (also, drinking water frequently is essential in days like these).

how to dress in the Middle East

Me wearing an Egyptian galabeya during Eid at El Jadida, Morocco

how to dress in Middle East

Wearing full-length galabeyas in Morocco

Local garments

Ready for an advanced course on how to dress in the Middle East? Ready to look even more like a true Arab? Then buy a galabeya! Doesn’t have to be full-length, although you could try that too! In one of the pictures from above, I am wearing a galabeya top and jeans that while not full length, still cover my knees. I had two galabeyas: One orange, one pink (both pictured). The long-length Moroccan one was borrowed *wink* Usually, I would wear them on special occasions (or when going to the hamam in Morocco), such as during an Eid or when invited to an Egyptian (or Moroccan) family’s home. Also, remember that during Eid, Muslims tend to wear bright colors in celebration, so what is more fitting than wearing a bright-colored galabeya if you travel the Middle East during Eid or Ramadan?

how to dress in the Middle East

Me at Hussein Square, Khan el Khalili during Ramadan

Other style options

Want more examples and look ideas to better understand and know how to dress in the Middle East? Here are a few! And remember: All these looks are appropriate for travel to any Muslim or conservative country! Model: Yours truly

how to dress in Middle East

Still want to wear that summer dress? Just wear a pair of leggings! Picture: Agadir, Morocco)

how to dress in Middle East

Simple and "western" - but still appropriate (at Marrakech, Morocco)

how to dress in Middle East

Hat, scarf, long-sleeve *and* skirt - the best! (Photo: Fez, Morocco)

how to dress in Middle East

Wore it at the Vatican, wore it in Egypt & Morocco too!

how to dress in Middle East

Might be a little too tight, but OK in classroom setting (Bethlehem, Palestine)

Hope you found these tips on how to dress in the Middle East helpful!

Got more tips on how to dress in the Middle East? Comment below!

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11 Responses to “How to dress in the Middle East: Photo essay”

  1. Amanda Says:

    I’ve read plenty of “how-tos” on how to dress appropriately in the Middle East. But I love this post because of the photo examples and explanations! Thanks!

    Reply

  2. Nancie Says:

    Great post. I’m always surprised at how many people just don’t stop to consider how they’re dressed. I once traveled with a friend who ofter wore tight t-shirts, and she could not understand why she was constantly stared at@

    Reply

  3. Nomadic Samuel Says:

    Great examples with these photos :) A very useful guide.

    Reply

  4. jim Says:

    I’ll leave it up to the women to comment on this…but plenty ot t-shirts in my wardrobe if you borrow if you want them.

    Reply

  5. Amber Says:

    Such a well put post….maybe you should consider posting it on expat websites. It would be so good if more people stopped to consider what they were wearing, when visiting the Middle East. Well done! BTW you look lovely!

    Reply

    • Maria Laborde Says:

      Shukran and thank you! :) glad to hear you find this helpful. I never thought of pitching this to expat sites btw – will do now!

      Reply

  6. thetravelgal Says:

    Great post! I tend to go with the long skirt and baggy top with a scarf look, but you gave me several other ideas that I’ll try out on my upcoming trip to Turkey! Thanks.
    Cindy

    Reply

  7. Jeanette Says:

    Thanks for the great information! I’m headed to Egypt with my daughter and was wondering what would be appropriate in Egypt. Safe Travels!

    Reply

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