How to dress in Egypt or any conservative country

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

Overview

Let me be clear: How to dress in Egypt doesn’t really matter–if you don’t care about the attention. Egypt is no Saudi Arabia, so it is not like police will stop you if you happen to be wearing a skirt and a tank top. 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 Egypt by yours truly. I lived there. And because of my looks, I could even pass as an Egyptian 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 Egypt

How to dress in Egypt?

Photo 1 verdict: WRONG! 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. 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 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 Egypt

Perfect!

In this picture, I am wearing the long-sleeve top underneath a sleeveless top and jeans, covering all bases. Additionally, I’m even wearing my hair in a low ponytail with a hat. This is even better, as hair down (sp us gals with long locks) also attract much attention from men, who think it is very sexy (and not showed enough in public by Egyptian women). While this picture was taken during my trip to Israel, I used to dress like this all the time while living in Egypt.

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Hair up in a bun, covered mostly by a hat. Just like local girls do!

how to dress in Egypt

Wearing a tank top? You could also cover up with a scarf

On the photo above, while I am wearing a tank top, I still cover my shoulders with a scarf. This is particularly useful if you are staying in a very Western resort and want to have a tank top, but then cover up for a quick walk in town. It is also great for the hot Egyptian 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, it should not be too bothersome.

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Use a piece of cloth that doubles as head covering and scarf

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. Sp women with dark hair like mine, cover your heads if you are out in the heat on a long day of touring 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 (obviously, drinking water every couple of minutes is also essential in days like these).

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Me wearing an Egyptian galabeya during Eid

how to dress in Egypt

Ami, Laura and me wearing full-length galabeyas in Morocco

Ready to look even more like an Egyptian? 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 in special occasions (or when going to the hamam in Morocc0), such as during an Eid or when invited to an Egyptian (or even Moroccan: Used them in Morocco too!) family’s home.

how to dress in Egypt

Me at Hussein Square, Khan el Khalili during Ramadan

During Eid, Muslims tend to wear bright colors in celebration, so what more fitting than wearing a bright-colored galabeya if you travel the Middle East during times such as Ramadan?

Want more examples and look ideas? Here are a few! And remember: All these looks are appropriate for travel to any Muslim or conservative country! Model: Yours truly *wink*

how to dress in Egypt

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

how to dress in Egypt

Simple and “western” – but still appropriate (me in Marrakech, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

Hat, scarf, long-sleeve *and* skirt – the best look! (me in Fez, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

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

how to dress in Egypt

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

Hope you find my tips on how to dress in Egypt (or any conservative country) helpful!

Got additional tips on how to dress in Egypt or conservative countries?

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34 thoughts on “How to dress in Egypt or any conservative country

  1. Good post. Egypt is tough. Was traveling with a friend and she’s almost 6 foot with platinum blond hair. She always dressed well-covered in public and still attracted lots of unwelcome attention. It made it tough traveling at times. But, we got through it. I was given a galabeya and came to love it. I got lots of smiles and thumbs up as I walked through the streets.

  2. I agree Jeff. My American and German friends had a much tougher time, as their fair skin and platinum locks still attracted much attention from men. They find it exotic, so there’s hardly a way around it unless they wear a hijab I would assume. I have to admit, I had it easy over there as I easily passed as an Egyptian everywhere I went, so didn’t attract much attention if dressed properly. Good for you and the galabeya! They def. love it when foreign men dress like them, I remember some of my American friends even got invited to political meetings, reunions, parties, ahwas, etc. just for dressing like them; Egyptians love it!! =)

  3. Nice post! Very useful to any woman traveling to any conservative country. I only recently returned from Morocco and it was rather embarrassing to see what some of the tourists were walking around in. I have been known to wear the local clothes. Especially in Pakistan it was useful, and I always have a beard which also helps. Usually though I just wear long trousers and smart (and hopefully clean) shirt. Nice post. Will post it to my fb page! :)

    • Oh wow Sam, Pakistan! May you share with us how you ended up visiting? Not many Westerners do and would be interesting to know what drove you there

  4. Awesome, great tips! When I was in Egypt, I bought a Jellabiya and wore it as much as possible. It was one of the most comfortable pieces of clothing I’ve ever owned and now that I live in Thailand, I still wear it occasionally!

  5. Love this post. A lot of people here in Turkey complain about the attention they get. They are normally complaining while showing most of their cleavage or legs!

  6. I loved this!! I had an idea about the cleavage, and the shoulders; but no idea that knees wear a no-no also!! THANKS so MUCH!! Will have to go shopping for some “looong shorts” :) or some capris to make sure I don’t draw attention on me… Wearing your hair lose is a good thing or a bad thing, or it doesn’t matter? My favorite picture of you is the one with the pink long shirt and the capri jeans (that’s lovely!! I even love your sandals!!) You are wearing your hair down in that pic…but in other you mention its a good idea to put it up in a bun and cover it…
    I have dark hair like you (and I probably could pass for Egyptian also; since I have olive skin due to my hispanic heritage…however I have blond highlights in my hair… Is that a not common thing over there? Should I wear a hijab?… Thank You kindly for your terrific piece, it’s been quite informative and helpful!! :)

  7. Hello again Willow! The picture you see of me with the pink galabeya and my hair down was taken in Morocco, which is actually a little bit more relaxed I feel like and wouldn’t bring too much attention from the men. Plus by then, I had already been living in the Arab world for more than a year, so I was kind of immune to any attention I drew ;) although, I must note, that picture was taken while I visited a Moroccan friend’s family, so we were not really out in the public. I always recommend girls going to the Arab world for the first time to put their hair up as to get the least attention from the men, so they feel more comfortable, but you can “let your hair hang if you wish.” Just remember: You *will* get attention from the men, so if that’s something you are trying to avoid at all costs, you know what to do! ;)
    Have a great tip and I’m glad you find this photo essay on how to dress in Egypt helpful! =)

  8. Great tips! And still looking fashionable :) As one of the previous commenters said, it is much harder to stay under the radar with lighter hair, but dressing appropriatly certainly helps. I used your scarf tips in Italy and Egypt a lot. Great for covering shoulders, hair, a little cleavage, … And so easy to keep in your purse with you if you don’t need it. I think the dress code is obvioulsy much more relaxed in all touristy beach towns in Egypt (like Hurghada and Safaga for example), but in the older parts of town, following your tips would still be a great idea!

  9. Very good ideas. I remember before studying abroad in Italy, our professor explained how we should dress there, especially when going to churches. Leggings & long sleeves were very useful.

  10. Such a good post! I’m headed to Marrakesh on Wednesday and I’ve been so worried about what to wear. Looks as though conservative tops, semi-loose jeans, and full length skirts will be a-okay! Thank you so much!

    Speaking of Marrakesh, I noticed you visited! Did you find yourself heckled while you were taking pictures there?

    • Glad you found the post useful Gwyneth! I did visit Marrakesh, about 3 different times. I found that simply ignoring whoever hassles you is even better than saying “go away” or anything along those lines ;) just act like you’re too busy to notice. Bon voyage!

  11. Hey! Saw you RT’d this and have a few questions… I’m going to Morocco in May and it will be my first time in a predominately Muslim country!

    What about jeans? I know they get to be really hot, but besides the heat factor, are they culturally ok? What about skinny jeans, would they be considered too tight?

    What about shoes? Are sandals OK or should feet be covered as well?

    Do you recommend wearing hijab/covering your head?

    Thanks for the advice! :)

    • Depends which part of Morocco you are visiting.

      Pants – I would not really recommend skin-tight jeans during the summer months, you will die :P long skirts are airy, conservative, and enterprisingly comfortable. Also very feminine ;) maybe light canvas or linen pants (not the see-through kind) will be a viable alternative, as jeans are def. hot.

      Sandals – many Moroccans wear them so they shouldn’t be a problem at all.

      Hijab – not necessary at all. Some Moroccans don’t even cover their heads. In most of North Africa (including Egypt) and Near East (i.e. Jordan), wearing a hijab as a foreigner is not necessary nor expected. Just follow the tips I outlined on this photo essay (and this comment), and you’ll be alright :)

  12. Firstly let me Thank you for your Amazing Article and your polite way to explain the Egyptian people natural . all the above mentioned cautions and attentions I can’t consider it as stain of us, This’s our Culture, attitude and behaviour . and that’s why we travel around all over the world to exchange it. Welcome in Egypt @ any time for any one we strongly respect our guests but you also should take into consideration where you put your feet . Thanks a lot

  13. I absolutely love the photos!

    This reminds of when I went to Pakistan to visit family for the first time in 10 years. If you went out in jeans and a t-shirt men would stare at you like you were some sort of strange creature! It was ridiculous. It really opened my eyes to how uniquely different the western and eastern views are. I learned to wear the local clothes to blend in more, especially when I went to the markets and public areas.

    • glad you like them! Tourists don’t realize that trying to blend in when visiting a conservative country can save them plenty of headaches. It drives me crazy when tourists complain about the locals attitude toward them, when it is their fault for disrespecting the local culture!

    • You’re welcome Angela! Happy to see my advice was helpful. Enjoy Egypt–and don’t forget to visit Dahab if youc an! It is my favorite place on Earth :)

  14. I wish I had this when I went to Dubai! Although Dubai is used to tourist and is filled with resorts that cater to western ideals, I visited during the week of Ramadan, and thus conservatism and modesty was to be practiced particularly well. I did my best in remaining respectful, but I am imperfect, and it was around 110 degrees at the time (whew!) Thankfully they have personnel purveying the malls and I was given a notecard that had “suggestions” on how to dress properly as a female. True, we all probably broke the rules out there if we were not from Dubai, but the main thing of importance is visiting a conservative country with every intention of doing your best and respecting their culture and beliefs

  15. Great post! I was approached a lot when I was in Turkey, and tried to be as conservative as possible… I’m just thankful I have dark hair, as soon as my tall blonde friend came to meet me all the attention was taken away from me and out onto her (thank god!) Great advice, I’ll be sure to refer back to this post before traveling to a Muslim country again!

    • thanks Andrea! From my experience, wearing dark sunglasses and ignoring any catcalls helps. They eventually leave you alone. Just have to pretend they are not there, just like the local girls do ;)

  16. Wonderful advice and the photos help a lot too! I definitely learned these lessons when I was in Guatemala last summer. Learning how to dress was a huge adjustment, especially since we came from the US. Wish I’d read your article sooner!

  17. Thank you so much! I’m leaving to study abroad in Egypt for the fall 2013 and even though my Egyptian friends were giving me pointers, a picture is worth a thousand words. Thanks so much!

  18. I appreciate your advice about wearing your hair pulled back in a low ponytail. I planned on bringing a scarf for my hair as well as my hair is dark too! I am going to Egypt in August for 2 weeks. First week in Cairo and second in Alexandria. Are leggings not too hot under a dress that time of the year? I have some skirts that are real long but have others that cover my knees by a couple of inches, are they still ok? Thank you.

    • so long leggings are made of an organic fabric, such as cotton, you should be fine and not to hot. August is REALLY hot though, no matter what you wear, you will be sweating, so remember that! ;-)

      I recommend the long skirts over the ones that barely cover the knees. Showing the legs will simply bring much male attention you might not want.

      Have fun! Jealous you’re going back to Egypt, I can’t wait to go back myself.

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