How To Dress Feminine When Traveling To Conservative Nations

Traveling to conservative nations or regions with different cultural norms around women can be an enriching travel experience. However, it's important to dress respectfully and appropriately to avoid any unwanted attention or misunderstandings.

By Alyssa Rinelli3 min read

When traveling to conservative nations or regions, it's crucial to research and understand the local cultural norms and expectations regarding attire. In general, it's best to match or exceed the level of conservativeness in your clothing choices. This usually means avoiding revealing clothing or adhering to specific dress codes, especially in places with a national religion, an honor culture, or where sharia law is practiced.

In my extensive travels, including to several Muslim-majority countries, I've often seen women tourists dressing in ways that attract unwanted attention. In these types of places, it's uncommon to see women out in public without a man accompanying her. When you go out with your girlfriends or in a group without a male companion and are dressed in a way that's considered immodest in that country, you may encounter unwanted attention, including being swarmed by groups of men, having your photo taken without consent, being followed, or other unpleasant or dangerous experiences.

These countries can be wonderful places to visit, filled with warm and welcoming people. Your goal should be to experience the culture and meet the wonderful people who live there, not to let your appearance or pride get in the way.

However, dressing modestly doesn't mean you can't still exude beautiful feminine energy. It's simply a matter of presenting it in a different, culturally appropriate way than you might in the U.S. Here are my packing tips for dressing conservatively while traveling. 

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1. Avoid Revealing Clothing

In conservative countries, it's wise to avoid any revealing clothing, which means covering your cleavage, shoulders, and thighs, as well as avoiding clothes that are too form-fitting. Wearing clothing seen as too revealing in these nations could be seen as provocative, potentially leading to blame being placed on you if an incident occurs. Dressing provocatively can also result in fines. At the very least, you will likely experience uncomfortable stares.

Opt for high-neck or scoop-neck tops and loose-fitting dresses to maintain modesty while still looking stylish. This way, you can respect local customs and avoid unwanted attention.

Hill House Home The Dominique Dress, $228

Everlane The Linen Workwear Midi Dress, $148 

2. Pack a Versatile Scarf

Carry a light scarf that can be used as a head covering or shawl when needed. This will help you adhere to local customs and stay comfortable in different situations. In general, you won’t be forced to wear a headscarf; however, it is customary to wear one at different religious sites if you plan on visiting any. Choose a scarf with a beautiful print or color to add a feminine touch to your outfit. Opt for lightweight fabrics that are easy to throw into a bag and won’t wrinkle. 

I find, actually, that a bathing suit sarong works quite well as a makeshift headscarf or shawl if I need one and is usually what I carry in my purse when traveling to conservative nations. 

Zando Black and White Beach Sarongs, $15

Quice Featherweight Cashmere Silk Frayed Edge Scarf, $60 

3. Choose the Right Footwear

Choose shoes that are easy to slip on and off, as you may be asked to remove them in certain buildings, shops, or homes. Wearing lace-up tennis shoes can be inconvenient and time-consuming when you need to remove them frequently. Additionally, if you've been walking all day and are then asked to take off your shoes, it can be unhygienic. 

A sturdy pair of sandals that can be easily removed and are comfortable for walking is a great choice. Look for styles with a slight heel or wedge to add a touch of femininity to your outfit while not being uncomfortable walking around. 

Ecco Flowt Wedge Cork Sandal, $150 

Ecco Women's Soft 7 Woven Slip-On 2.0, $140 

4. Opt for Breathable Fabrics

Choose lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton or viscose that will keep you cool and comfortable in hot weather where you have to be almost fully covered. Natural fibers like cotton, hemp, and linen allow air to circulate and wick away moisture from your skin. These fabrics are perfect for creating stylish outfits that won't weigh you down in the heat. Avoid light-colored linen, as it wrinkles easily in your suitcase. Look for flowy dresses, skirts, and tops in these fabrics to maintain a feminine silhouette while staying cool.

Everlane The Linen A-Line Midi Dress, $158 

Everlane The Washable Clean Silk Short-Sleeve Square Shirt, $140 

5. Layer Up with Cooling Technology

It may seem counterintuitive to wear more layers, but wearing cooling technology fabrics like those made from Outlast or Coolmax helps regulate your body temperature and keeps you cooler in the heat. These fabrics are designed to wick away moisture and provide breathability, making them perfect for hot climates where you must be covered. It also helps to keep any sweat off your outermost layer and from showing when you do get hot. 

COOLMAX Chambray Shirt, $70

COOLMAX EcoMade Lightweight Hiking Crew Socks, $18 

6. Accessorize for Femininity

Accessories can make or break an outfit, and in the summer, they can also help keep you cool. Opt for wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and lightweight scarves to protect yourself from the sun and express your personal style while still respecting local customs. 

Mosanana Oval Retro Trendy Sunglasses, $15

Jenny Bird U-Link Earrings, $118

Closing Thoughts

A lot of the advice I shared from my experiences runs counter to what we as women are used to in the United States in terms of what women are allowed to do or wear and what is considered conservative here. 

You may read this advice and feel reluctant to follow it, perhaps because you're visiting a tourist-heavy area or you believe your outfits are appropriate because they are considered conservative for the United States. However, it's crucial to remember the real reason for your travels before you decide to wear something that may not adhere to where you are going: to experience new cultures, see historical and cultural landmarks, and create lasting memories.

Focus on these rich experiences, not on attracting unwanted attention. Dressing in a way that could result in fines, arrest, or even danger is not worth the risk. Save your fashion statements and going-out outfits for a time and place where they won't compromise your safety or the authenticity of your travel experience. This is a beautiful opportunity to experience a new place and culture while expanding your wardrobe in a way that promotes your femininity and beauty while adhering to more conservative standards. 

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