Going on holiday and travelling the world is an exciting opportunity to experience other cultures. But it’s important to respect the country you’re visiting. In a lot of countries in the Middle East and Asia, culture and day-to-day life revolves around religion, so there are certain rules and etiquette that you should take note of, including what to wear.
A lot of countries have particular dress codes and laws, so brushing up on this information can stop you from accidentally causing offence. It’s often thought that the dress code only applies to women, but this isn’t always the case. While there are certainly more rules for women, men should also be aware of what they can and can’t wear in certain countries. Find out what to wear – and what to avoid – with our handy guide.
Women visiting the Middle East: what to wear
First up, let’s talk about women visiting the Middle East. If you’re staying in a resort or visiting a beach club, you can wear what you like. But if you decide to go exploring, there are a few rules to be aware of. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to err on the side of caution – you can’t be dressed to conservatively. Midi-skirts are a safe bet, while short skirts or tight trousers should be avoided. To avoid any problems, it’s a good idea to pack loose clothing, like linen trousers or maxi dresses. In terms of tops, your shoulders should be covered and plunging necklines are a no-no.
Each country is different, but if you’re visiting a Muslim country, it’s a good idea to carry a scarf in your bag. It can come in handy, especially if you want to visit a holy site, where you’ll be expected to cover your head. A lot of popular destinations – like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Turkey – are very used to tourists, and wouldn’t expect you to be covered up all the time. But if you’re travelling somewhere where headscarves are required by law – such as Iran or Saudi Arabia – you must where one when you’re out and about. If in doubt, see what local women wear and adjust your outfit accordingly.
Women visiting Asia: what to wear
When it comes to travelling Asia, there’s no official dress code for Westerners, but some countries are more conservative than others. It tends to come down to the sheer volume of tourists – if a country is used to millions of western visitors, it’s usually a more relaxed environment.
Countries that are well-trodden by tourists – like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia – tend to be pretty relaxed, especially in the cities and by the beach. Of course, if you choose to visit a religious site, your shoulders, midriff and knees should be covered. You may also wish to cover up on public transport, to avoid attracting unwanted attention. But, that aside, you can pretty much wear your usual holiday wardrobe.
That said, in more rural areas – or more conservative countries, like India and Cambodia – you’ll find that skimpy clothing simply isn’t appropriate. The last thing you want to do is offend anyone, so it’s always a good idea to pack a few long skirts, blouses and t-shirts, so you have back-up options. And bikinis should be definitely confined to the beach. When you’re done sunbathing, simply pull on a maxi dress, or a long skirt and loose top, before you leave the beach.
Men visiting Asia and the Middle East: what to wear
Although many people believe these rules apply mainly to women, men also need to take care with how they dress. As with anything, each country is different, so it’s best to do your research before you travel.
When it comes to visiting holy sites, you’ll need to dress respectfully – just as you would in Europe. Shorts and sleeveless tops should not be worn in temples or mosques, so make sure you cover up. In some countries, this extends beyond holy sites – you might find that wearing t-shirts without sleeves is frowned upon outside of resorts. So it’s best to pack a few lightweight shirts or a jersey, just in case.
You should also be aware that, in some countries, men wearing shorts is not widely accepted. In Iran, for instance, wearing shorts is an absolute no-no, and they’re also discouraged in Oman – so it’s a good idea to pack some long-ish shorts and trousers to avoid offending anyone. Buy some trousers made from light cotton to avoid overheating. Sandals are perfectly fine for men to wear.