What to Wear When Traveling to Egypt
One of the most exciting parts of traveling is to experience lifestyles, traditions, and customs that are different than our own. And what better way to do that than to travel to the epicentre of civilization, Egypt! You’ve booked your tour, and you’re ready to pack, but you want to be conscious of respecting the local culture. Here are a few tips on cultural norms and what to wear in Egypt.
Egyptian society is conservative, in some places more than in others. Exposed arms, legs, and Western beach attire is acceptable at tourist hotels in places such as Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada. However while touring and sightseeing in other parts of the country, the local Egyptian choice of attire is modest, for religious and traditional reasons. Choosing to dress modestly will ultimately make you and your hosts more comfortable and allow for more authentic interactions with Egyptians. Modest dress does not only apply to women; most Egyptian men also cover their arms and do not wear shorts that expose above the knee.
Packing Tips for Egypt
Packing tips include long pants for men, and long skirts or pants combined with a longer, loose and long sleeved shirt for women. Avoid showing cleavage or open-backed blouses. If you are swimming in a conservative place, shorts or leggings and a shirt are best, and you won’t be as uncomfortable in the water in clothes as you would be if you were more exposed.
If you’ll be visiting a mosque on your tour, women should carry a large scarf to cover your hair and shoulders when entering. Some mosques may provide you with an Abaya, a loose, comfortable garment that will cover you from head to foot. A scarf is also useful for other conservative areas that your guide will help you discern, and as a bonus, the scarf protects you from sun and sand dust. Shoes must be removed before entering a mosque. People also go shoeless in many homes and eating places, especially where you will be seated on the floor; watch what others do and take your cue from this.
Choose clothing made of natural fibers – cotton, linen, silk or mix of these. White or light colours reflect the heat, darker colours will make you feel it more. For women especially, if you want to respect local traditions of modest dressing keeping cool is not as difficult as it may initially seem; long, loose layers can be just as comfortable as shorts and a tank top, and you won’t need the extra sunscreen. Especially in the height of summer, an opaque, loose shirt is better than a tank top or singlet under a sheer cotton shirt; you will find the tank top sticks to you, while a looser, solid fabric shirt lets air circulate.
Always take an extra layer of clothing, even though Egypt is somewhere you think of as having a hot climate. Early morning tours in winter anywhere in the country can be a little chilly. Nights in the desert can be very cold, and temperatures in some places can drop 20 degrees from the peak daytime temperature to the nighttime minimum.
When in Doubt, Go For Respectful and Stay Curious
You will see Egyptian women wearing different levels of cover, some dressing not so differently to you, others covered completely except for their eyes. Bedouin women and the women of Siwa cover differently and more than most. You will be delighted to discover the women behind the covers have so much to offer, if you make conversation and look beyond any apprehensions based on appearance. They are curious and maybe even a little bewildered about you and your life, too.