How to dress in Egypt: noteworthy advice for tourists

This is the English version of my blog GDAMAS (Portuguese language, online since 2010). I'm still working on it. English is not my native language.

How to dress in Egypt is a natural concern when people plan a trip to Egypt. Especially, clothes for women in Egypt. This kind of question is one of the most frequent I receive from my readers.

This is understandable. Egypt is still a distant reality to most of tourists. Regarding to how native Egyptians behave publicly, all that those people know is a distorted notion seen on TV or photos on the internet. Unsatisfying. So how should tourists dress in the country? Women especially?

Exactly, Damas. Women are my main concern. I read things. I hear things. I don’t know what is correct.

Egyptian people on the streets
Egyptians on Cairo streets. All foreigner women should dress like the ones we see here?

You should really be concerned about that. In contact with a different culture, we may accidentally make something offensive. We must be prepared as much as we can to avoid a fiasco. (For instance, I made a huge mistake in Morocco… but don’t tell anyone!)

Ready for your answers? Come with me and start organizing your clothes. Who knows, maybe you will live a day as Indiana Jones or Lara Croft in those pharaonic lands?

Indiana Jones and Lara Croft

How to dress in Egypt: MEN

The situation is much less stressing for men. I do not think here in warnings or rules they should follow to the letter.

Shoes, sneakers, sandals, or slippers. Pants or shorts. Shirts with long sleeves or short sleeves… or a tank top, with armpits exposed and even part of the chest. Men — let’s face it — enjoy freedom during the trip. Just do not be abusive to the point of appearing shirtless.

Men tourists walking on a temple in Egypt
Temple of Edfu. At right, two men (tourists, of course) appear quite at ease with the clothes they use.

How to dress in Egypt: WOMEN

Here comes the greatest doubt when tourists think about how to dress in Egypt.

Yes, women should follow some etiquette. But do not overreact. There is not a big drama here, as many tourists think. The woman is a tourist in the country, not a native inhabitant.

First, do not think that the woman needs to cover her head when in public places. She will do that if she wants to absorb the local daily routine in a more intense way, learning with that rich culture.

In general, this is how we can summarize the concept for women visiting Egypt: be discreet. Simply this. With common sense, we have the proper decision. Common sense is always the key term.

There is an efficient general rule for women: be discreet.

Thus, the woman avoids exposed legs, belly, chest, shoulders. It is not necessary to cover the arms, but a short sleeve, at least, is appreciated.

Damas, I see many photos of Egypt, and I often spot women dressed in… uh… at ease.

I see them too.

Exactly, Damas! So… what happens to them?

What happens to them? Do you think the Egyptians are barbarians?

Let us make one thing clear: the Egyptian people are good, friendly, peaceful. I have wonderful experiences with them. In fact, they LOVE tourists — after all, the country’s economy depends a lot on tourists.

They do not physically assault a tourist who is not dressed appropriately. I never saw that. Nothing should happen other than some… condemning gazes. In fact, the woman tourist may notice those gazes and feel annoyed, forgetting that she is doing wrong with her clothes.

In general, the Egyptian people are good, peaceful, captivating, friendly

Anyway, the situation should not be more than that — a “discomfort.” The Egyptian tour guide, always at our side during the tours, imposes the necessary respect (one of the reasons why it is essential to choose top guides in Egypt).

Tourists walking in a temple in Egypt
Look at this woman that wears shorts and a white tank top. Should she be dressed in a… “more appropriate” way?
More tourists in a temple
The same for this woman here in the foreground? How about that one in the background, using a dress?
Two women in a Egyptian temple
Are these tourists dressed according to what we expect for women in Egypt?
Tourists entering a mosque in Egypt
Good examples here, for men and women. Notice the woman in the center, wearing trousers, a gray blouse, a purse, and sunglasses. Perfectly dressed for the visit. Sober. By the way, that is my sister. 😉

Rules for all

Some rules and manners reach everybody — men and women. For example, when entering a mosque.

In some cases, a veil may be required for women. Not for men, you know, but, just as like women, they must to cover their shoes with a disposable protection.

Entering a mosque is an act that calls for enormous respect

Look at the next two photos, taken by me when visiting the fascinating Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha, or Alabaster Mosque, in Cairo. Pay attention to my sneakers. They are covered with that disposable protection, offered by the staff.

My sneakers on a tapestry in the Alabaster Mosque
This is a sign of respect.
The Alabaster Mosque (interior)
Observe the feet of the tourists.

Buying typical clothes during your trip

Just for fun, or to live in a more intense way the essence of this trip, tourists love to buy typical clothes during a trip to Egypt.

You should too. My sister and I still use those pieces, at home, and this is always a terrific way to revive unforgettable days.

There are plenty of opportunities for these purchases. You will see pieces for sale in many shops, including the ones in your cruise ship, and even on street stalls. Usually, the products are not expensive, and there is still the advantage of the exchange rate with the Egyptian pound.

Typical Egyptian clothes for sale on the shop of a cruise ship in the Nile
Clothes in a shop inside my cruise ship on the Nile River. I bought one to join a party after a dinner.
Street stalls in Egypt
Stalls near the Great Temples of Abu Simbel.
Street stalls in Egypt
Street stalls appear countless times during a trip to Egypt.

So… did you like it?

Oh, I appreciate your explanation, Damas. But one thing still bothers me… Shouldn’t they respect the natural behavior of the foreigner tourists?

I have a special thought about this.

You are a visitor

Imagine yourself visiting a friend’s house. You want to be — I hope — a polite visitor. You do not break the rules of that home. You do not impose your way on your friend’s home.

An international tourist is someone from outside the country. A visitor. As such, he or she is expected to respect rules and manners. Egyptian society has certain concerns and traditions, and you are the visitor who comes to respect all that. A rule that is absurd to you may be truly clear and logical to them. Therefore, have respect above all.

What kind of visitor are you? Be an example

Respect and… intelligence. Because a cultured tourist really likes to observe such differences. That is a cultural enrichment. So, even if not agreeing with something, you will know a little more about human behavior. And, who knows, this will be an opportunity to agree with a concept previously seen as absurd.

Open mind is the path to evolution.

NOTE — Mentioning Lara Croft’s costumes at the beginning of the article was just a joke. Now you know that the character’s typical clothes are not suitable for tourism in Egypt. 😉

I live in the Algarve (South of Portugal). My first fiction book, for young adults, was published in 2001 in Portuguese language — a time travel adventure that won thousands of readers. I also wrote some travel and tech books and manuals.
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