Reader inquiry: What to wear when traveling overseas?

Reader Brian wrote:

I am 72. My wife and I are going to Spain, Portugal and then Morocco. She is concerned about what to wear in places like Fez, Casablanca, etc. She is deathly afraid of people “hissing” at her, as she has been told will happen.

Dear Brian,

I’m sorry to hear that your wife is afraid of being hissed at during her overseas travels. Although I have not traveled to the places you mention, my general rule of thumb when traveling overseas is to dress as modestly as the people do in the places you plan to visit. My suggestion is to pick up a travel guide book for the area and see what they have to say about the culture as well as how the people tend to dress. If the books mention things like “women should not show their bare shoulders with a tank top” or “women should avoid wearing shorts,” then those are good clues as to what you might expect.

If I had to make very broad generalizations, when traveling overseas outside of the U.S., I would avoid:

  • T-shirts bearing political or religious statements – you are bound to run into some people who disagree with whatever the shirt says, and choose to communicate this in some way.
  • Clothing bearing very large clothing manufacturer logos – that may be a sign of economic status in some countries
  • Clothing bearing cartoon characters – not so much an issue for children, but some people may consider this either disrespectful or childish when worn by adults
  • Bearing too much skin – for women, halter tops, spaghetti-strap camisoles, midriff-revealing low-cut pants, mini-skirts, and so on (in general things young people tend to wear)
  • Flashy jewelry, very large rings – these can imply that you are showing off your wealth; not only could they be considered garish and uncouth; you might also become a more attractive target for pickpockets
  • Very brightly colored or colorful clothing – these tend to appear garish and touristy. Instead, go with neutral colors like black, brown, tan, or navy so you don’t stand out. If your wife likes a bit of style, she can accessorize with a small brooch, a scarf, or some other small items.
  • Very brightly colored running shoes – stick with neutral tones, or go with comfortable walking shoes in neutral colors from companies like Hush Puppies, Ecco, or Rockport.

One common theme among the items I list here is that they all stand out in some way. Although you don’t mention your wife’s age, assuming that you are close in age, I’d say none of the above items are in her regular wardrobe. If she wears regular, modest clothing (longer skirts, regular blouses, scarves, lower-heeled shoes and so on), I have a feeling she will be absolutely fine.

There are some occasions, such as at places of worship, where the custom will require things like wearing a head scarf or removing your shoes. If you plan to visit such places, make sure you are wearing socks or stockings, and that your wife has a scarf to cover her hair.

In my experience, politeness and a smile go a long way. Please tell your wife that she shouldn’t let her concerns about the reactions of local people sour her travel plans. If she is an inexperienced traveler or she is traveling to some places for the first time, it may just be her way of telling you that she is feeling a little insecure. Sit down and read some of the travel guides with her, or visit Web sites with travel information about the area. The more she knows about places, and the more photos she sees of the places and people she will see, the more at ease she will become. Learn some basic phrases in the local language. Simple greetings and phrases such as “thank you” will garner smiles and good feelings all around. Consider practicing saying some of these phrases out loud with her for fun.

Have a wonderful trip!


  1. Hi I found your site by sheer luck, I was flipping through for Designer Fashion when I found your webpage, I must say your webpage is very cool I truely think the layout, its amazing!. I’m in a bit of a rush right now to fully absorb your webpage but I have favorited it and also subscribed for your RSS feeds. I will be back when I free up some time. Thanks for a great site.

  2. Agree with advice given. I’ve been in the tourism industry for over 30 years (see profile) and have not heard of people having any problems in Portugal or Spain. Morocco did not have a good reputation ten years ago but today it also has a welcoming feel to it. Like any visits do not wander off the beaten track unless accompanied by a local.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *