It seems pretty simple. Plan a trip, pack your bags, and off on vacation you go. Each time one visits a new location, there is an essential piece of planning that often gets overlooked. Sure, we think about the climate of the destination we are visiting; should it be hot, we bring shorts and tank tops, should it be cold, pants and jackets. We may go one step further and also think about what activities we will engage in while on our trip. For adventure, we pack our hiking shoes and for a city trip, heels and a sexy dress. Despite the well thought out planning, travelers often forget the stark cultural differences for clothing and fashion across the continents and countries of the globe. As a seasoned traveler, I can tell you that what works in one location, will not work in another.
True for many situations in life, first impressions mean everything. In travel, it’s no different. As a new visitor to a country, it’s important to not be pegged as a tourist. Toting cameras, backpacks, wallets full of money and credit cards, or worse – a fanny pack (please don’t wear a fanny pack, there are so many better options out there that don’t sacrifice your self-respect or fashion sense), tourists often stick out like a sore thumb. The better you can adapt to the culture of the area you are visiting, and more closely you can dress like the locals, the safer and more comfortable you will be. True on the road as it is at home, the less vulnerable and out of place you look, the less you will be noticed.
Follow these tips below, and you can be assured that you will be dressed appropriately for each destination.
Travel Fashion in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East:
Err on the side of being conservative, and cover yourself appropriately. America is known for its casual fashion. We come from a country where clothing, or lack thereof, is not an issue. When visiting these countries, the opposite is true. Most of these countries consider shorts, tank tops, and flip flops to be “beach wear”, and only appropriate to wear if you are actually AT the beach. No matter what the temperature is, should you not want to look like a tourist, receive questionable looks, or bring unwanted attention to yourself, dress conservatively. Exposing skin is not the norm in these countries, and often looked to be inappropriate.
Some cultural sites have strict dress rules and customs. It is important to do your research ahead of time or talk with a friendly local that is willing to provide insight and assistance in proper dress protocols when visiting unique cultural sites. This includes religious buildings; temples, mosques, cathedrals etc. Cover your arms and your legs, and in some instances you may need to cover your head. A great suggestion is to bring a scarf that can be used to cover yourself if needed. Be careful when attempting to dress like the locals, as there are subtle differences in the ways of local attire that you may not notice. Samantha Brown of the Travel Channel, one of the best travelistas out there, once told a story about her visit to a Bali temple. She wore a traditional sarong to the temple, and then helped with her male cameraman’s only to find out that she tied his in the way “women” tie them, and there is a completely different method for men. Although a great laugh, in some situations you want to be careful not to offend anyone or embarrass yourself!
Travel Fashion in Europe:
Dress to impress, avoid being overly casual. On the other side of the spectrum, Europe is known for their high-end designer fashion, where what you wear is directly correlated to your status. Does this mean you can only wear couture? Absolutely not. What makes an American stand out is their brightly colored clothes, ugly sneakers, and sloppy dress. European men and women alike spend an enormous amount of time on their fashion and appearance, and pride themselves on their knowledge of the industry. Many European countries are known for their high-end designs of extremely detailed and custom tailoring, something they should be proud of. Some easy ways to look less like a tourist – leave your sneakers and tennis shoes behind, find a more simple color palette, and have fun with the latest trends.
Remember – you can enjoy the haute couture of the European countries, but don’t go overboard. With some of the best shopping in the world, it’s hard to not want to pick up a new piece of clothing that reminds you of your European vacation. I recommend finding something that you love, but that can also be worn at home. Ditch the man-purse for the guy in your life, don’t use all your spending money just so you can have an item from Valentino, and forget the hat that may be obscenely chic but completely useless upon returning home.
Travel Fashion in Latin America:
Understated outfits are the way to go. Casual comfort is perfectly acceptable in these locations. Jeans and a simple top will be appropriate just about everywhere. Unlike Europe, the Latin American countries don’t expect everyone to wear high-end designer fashion. There is no need to bring attention to your clothing, your jewelry, or anything else for that matter. Although in many Latin countries skin-bearing clothing is acceptable (think Brazil for that matter), it is still a good idea to do some research ahead of time. Find out what others your age wear for everyday clothing, what is appropriate for cultural sites, and what is the norm for going out at night.
Leave your valuable jewelry at home. Watches and diamonds bring the type of attention you want to avoid. As much as you may love your diamond ring (yes, even your wedding ring) or your favorite watch, it’s the last thing you want visible for the world to see. My rule of thumb is to leave behind any valuable piece of jewelry while traveling and bring some cheap fashion jewelry instead! Also make sure to be prepared for the heat. These countries get hot and sticky, so bring clothes that dry fast and don’t hold on to moisture.
For those new to traveling, or new to international travel, these tips may sound overwhelming, but it is important to not let this deter you from your jet-setting ways. If I were to give you the most important bits of information from the above tips, it would be the following:
- Research – find some local experts of your planned destination that can assist you with your planning. Most are really friendly and very happy to help.
- Leave valuables at home - it is never worth losing your most prized possessions. Use this as an excuse to get some great cocktail jewelry items!
- Visit cultural centers but be prepared in your dress. Some places won’t allow you in if you are not dressed appropriately, but can be the most beautiful, culturally rich, unforgettable moments of your trip. It is worth taking the time to cover yourself if needed.
- This is a guide, but not a rule book. It may be true that Europe loves its haute couture, and Latin America may be more care-free and casual, or Asia and the Middle East to be conservative, but if you are not comfortable in what you wear, there are ways to adapt. Generalizations about dress and culture are not true in every instance, but if you do the research, you will be sure to find something that both works for you, and your destination!
If you need any help or assistance with your travel fashion planning, feel free to email me! I can help you find the right sources on the web to gather information for your research, get you in contact with a local expert for your travel destination, or help plan your travel packing. Part of the adventure in travel is the preparation and planning, and we can never forget to plan for fashion!