Throughout large parts of the Middle East and Western Asia, the Muslim faith is the predominant religion. The effects this can have on you, as you travel through these countries can be very limited, but as a matter of respect, we often advise on certain dress standards. The choice at the end of the day is yours, except in Iran where we do have ground rules for how our overland passengers dress while travelling with their truck. Some people can find conforming to rigid dress codes very frustrating but local people do appreciate the fact that you have tried. For the small matter of covering up, either just wearing long trousers for men, a head-scarf or a full chador as in Iran for women, new doors can be opened and insights can be revealed.
Generally, we have found over the years of experiencing travel in Muslim countries, you will be greeted with courtesy and respect no matter how you dress, within reason.
As western influence grows more and more, many of the younger generations are changing their social and dress customs. You will see short skirts in many capital cities of the Muslim world; today in Iran, women are adapting to new styles of wearing the chador. Many Muslim women though, do still fight for the right to wear appropriate dress in accordance with their beliefs, the chador in Iran is not just a passing fashion trend. Within the dress codes of the Muslim world are numerous religious and social issues that you the traveller do not need to fully understand, but you must be aware that the issue of dress is much more than just a matter of conforming. We still believe therefore, that as a matter of courtesy, to follow the dress code of the local people is the correct course.
All our tour leaders and guides will be able to advise you on appropriate dress. Rules are often more rigid in mosques and holy places. You will not be allowed to enter if you are not dressed appropriately.
Appropriate dress for holy places
Generally, when visiting a mosque, you are required to cover up. The form this takes may differ from mosque to mosque, and from country to country. Generally however, we recommend wearing a head scarf, long trousers (shorts are not acceptable), and not too revealing a top. T-shirts are often seen as OK, particularly for men (except in Iran), while women may well have to wear a long sleeved top to cover their arms. In certain cases this will be the same for men.
If a woman is deemed not to be sufficiently dressed, she may well have to wear an unflattering cover-up provided by the mosque. The same may be the case for men, or they will be simply refused entry. You will usually also have to take off your shoes and leave them at the entrance. There may well be a small charge for their safe-keeping, though this can be taken advantage of by local ‘entrepreneurs’.
Country by country guide
The following is a country by country overview of expected dress codes for some of the countries in which we operate tours.
Turkey’s culture changes greatly as you move from West to East and from the urban to the rural areas. The importance of religion also changes and many towns and villages in Eastern Turkey are far more conservative. We recommend that anyone travelling through Eastern Turkey makes an effort to change their dress appropriately when in these areas. The west of Turkey has been exposed to large numbers of tourists and western influences for many years now and men and women may generally dress as they please, though it is still best to be a little conservative in the rural areas.
In the west of Turkey women can wear their standard western dress. In the rural areas, try not to wear clothing that is too revealing. In the East, you should wear more loose fitting clothing, and possibly think about wearing a headscarf.
Syria & Jordan
Both of these countries, while tourists may no longer be a novelty, have not suffered from large scale tourism. What this means to you the traveller, is that you will receive far more attention from the style of dress you wear than may be the case in Turkey and Egypt. The accepted standard will be not be as tolerant, so take more time to think about what you are going to wear.
Jordanian and Syrian women predominately wear headscarves and loose fitting clothes. This is different from the more conservative Arab Gulf States, Iran, and Pakistan, where all women have to cover up totally. Again, there is a greater change between the town and the rural areas. In the rural areas, headscarves at least are almost certainly worn, and many others wear either a full chador or long coats to hide the human figure.
As Eastern Turkey, we recommend that you wear loose fitting clothing, and possibly think about wearing a headscarf.
With a similar history of western tourists as Turkey, this influx has resulted in a more tolerant dress code. At many tourist sites and towns, T-shirts, tight tops and shorts are widely seen; this however does not mean that people do not take offence. In more rural areas away from the Nile delta and in the desert areas, such items of clothing will attract attention and notice and may be unwelcome. The style of dress sense you adopt will dictate to some degree how you will be treated.
In the main tourist areas people wear their standard western dress for hot conditions. In more rural areas, again, dressing far more conservatively is advisable (loose fitting clothing, with the optional headscarf).
In Iran you will find that all women are totally covered up, nearly always wearing chadors, a full length cape that hangs loosely over the entire body with scarfs that cover the hair and neck. The colour is predominantly black though occasionally you do see brighter colours. Every girl must cover up once they reach the age of nine years old . We generally recommend all our passengers wear the full chador while travelling with one of our overland vehicles, though any dark, loose fitting clothing along with a headscarf can be worn. Among women travelling in Iran this is more often the standard dress code.
When visiting Iran, women must wear the hijab (headscarf and modest dress and with their ankles covered), in public at all times. So, either wear loose fitting clothing, or, do like we advise our passengers and wear the full chador. You will not see any women on the streets that do not adhere to this. Make-up is ok; just do not go for bright colours.
Make your own Chador before you go – read our Chador design guide
In Pakistan, in contrast to most of the Middle East and Iran, outside of the large towns and major cities you will see very few women at all. When you do see local women, they are often completely covered with only a lace grill in front of the eyes. Local dress does change in the far Northern tribal areas but is still very conservative. In major cities like Islamabad and Karachi you will see some women, usually students and the more affluent, who are starting to wear western dress and make up.
We advise that all women travellers should wear a headscarf and loose fitting clothing, especially in more rural areas. You can always buy local clothing in any market place. The Shalwar Kameez is a local dress style that incorporates a long dress style top, often quite brightly covered with baggy trousers underneath, often matching the pattern and colour of the top. You will find this very comfortable and practical clothing to wear here, especially in the heat of the day.
You do not have to over pack, or buy an entirely new wardrobe for any of your journey. Dress conservatively at first and get a feel for the country and culture through which you are travelling. If you do need to buy more clothes, buy them in that country. They will be far cheaper, appropriate and more practical. Secondly you will have more choice of styles and designs available and will be putting your money to good use locally.