When planning a trip to the Middle East, western travellers are often confronted by uncertainty as to what kinds of clothing they should include in their packing list. On one hand the weather forecast predicts scalding heat, on the other hand images of modestly covered women as seen in the media might make you hesitate about bringing that skimpy summer skirt. Would it be appropriate to wear a short sleeved maxi dress? How are customary clothing styles different in Turkey and Cyprus, Jordan, Egypt, Dubai and Israel? What can you expect to see in urban and rural areas? The following article will cover all the basics you need to know about fashion and clothing in the Middle East: How do the locals dress, and what best to wear as a western tourist.
Traditions, customs and religions
The Middle East is a highly diverse region, with various cultures, languages and religions that have developed over thousands of years. Traditionally Middle Eastern men and women have been protecting themselves from the sun with different styles of comfortable, flowy gowns. As the predominant religion in this region is Islam, modesty plays an important role in men’s and women’s fashion. Traditional items for men include long robes called thobe or jellabiya. In the United Arab Emirates for example, many men leading a modern life style still enjoy wearing their typically white thobes. The jellabiya which has a wider cut and varies in colour is commonly worn by Egyptian men as well as Bedouins. Another distinct piece of clothing worn mostly in arid areas, is a head dress called kufiyah. It is often held in place by a black circlet or rope and comes either in white or adorned with the typical red and white or black and white checked pattern.
Middle Eastern women’s clothing has been deeply influenced by religious norms and customs. Muslim women in the Middle east adhere to the standard of modesty in a variety of ways. With very few exceptions like Iran and Saudi Arabia, most countries in the Middle East don’t have legally enforced clothing regulations, so the degree of veiling can vary greatly. One of the most commonly worn head scarves, the hijab, covers the hair, neck and shoulders while leaving the face exposed. Other types of veils range from colourful head wraps to black niqabs that leave only the eyes uncovered and are worn almost exclusively on the Arabian Peninsula.
Not only Islam has shaped the clothing traditions in the Middle East. Jewish and Christian cultures have developed a wide variety of styles, which you can observe when travelling the region. Other ethnic groups like the Druze, Kurds and Armenians have their own unique traditional clothing.
In recent years, many Middle Eastern countries have been influenced by Western, international clothing styles. Especially in bigger cities you can find a diverse mix of traditional attire and fashionable, urban styles. Among men, casual western clothes have become very popular, and many women, particularly from younger generations, are skilfully following current trends while maintaining a certain standard of modesty. An outfit consisting, for instance, of elegant ankle boots, jeans, a flattering blouse and a colourful hijab can be spotted in Istanbul, Cairo, Amman and various other locations. Meanwhile Israel and Cyprus which aren’t inhabited by a majority of Muslims, are more comparable to Western countries when it comes to fashion. Tel Aviv is known as a trend hub, where the street style reflects the casual-chic vibe of the city, while Jerusalem is home to a more religious population that values more modest clothing standards. When it comes to fashion, one of the most eccentric locations in the Middle East is Dubai, where luxury and grandeur meet traditional modesty standards. In general, Middle Eastern women are known to hold their appearance to a very high standard. Beauty salons make big profits on numerous treatments, fashion designers enjoy a respectable reputation and online style bloggers are on the uprise. Travelling to the Middle East can give you a unique and authentic insight into this multi-facetted, mysterious world of fashion.
Clothing tips for tourists
When travelling to the Middle East, the best advice to go by is to keep it light, long and simple. The dress codes and standards vary throughout the region, you will soon discover the comfort that comes with covering, airy clothes that protect you from the sun and allow you to blend in with the locals. There is no need to go out of your way in order to find suitable items for your trip. Women; think of these fashionable maxi skirts, flowy long pants and airy summer blouses, which allow you to compose an effortlessly suitable outfit. Keeping a light scarf in your purse at all times will provide you with further cover up options as needed, for example when visiting religious sites. Men are also best advised to wear long pants, or shorts that go at least beyond the knee.
In countries like Israel, Cyprus and most of Turkey, you can definitely wear more lenient clothing. Here locals and tourists like to show off their tanned bodies on the beach and dress in fashionable, sometimes revealing clothes. So the new mini skirt you’ve just bought can definitely join the trip!
Keeping these basic guidelines, you will be able to relax and enjoy your trip to the fullest, and look good at the same time.