Undressed in Egypt | The View From My Soapbox


First things first – this post is about what to wear in Egypt, and is mostly for (cue: Beyonce) all the Western ladies. (reprise: All the Western ladies)

The two weeks I spent exploring Egypt were practically perfect in every way, but I can confirm that this is one destination where there’s an obvious difference in treatment of men vs. women.

If I were a boy (Beyonce, get out of my head today, gees!), my experience would’ve been different. I probably wouldn’t have gotten groped in a gas station bathroom at 4 a.m. (More about that story later.) For now, bear with me, fellas.

what to wear in egypt

In a post-Arab Spring world, I was pretty concerned about traveling to Egypt and the Middle East in general.

During my trip, the protests had seriously just calmed down and a very precarious peace was in place. I was extra careful in my planning. As a result, I took two big steps based on my pre-trip research.

Step 1

Y’all know I mostly travel solo, and that’s worked for me so far. For Egypt, I went a different route, traveling with On the Go Tours in a large group. It’s one of the best decisions I made all year. Regardless of what we were wearing, the touts, taxi drivers and beggars shouted at us from the moment we left the hotel until the moment we got on the bus.

Going off for lunch with a group of five girls was quite funny at times – you won’t believe some of the things that locals said to us. However, had I attempted to grab lunch by myself, I’d have been intimidated by the attention and the men following me down the street singing songs about my glorious behind (their words, not mine!), and would probably have spent much of my holiday hiding out in my hotel room.

Step 2

Egypt is predominantly Muslim, so conservative dress is the standard. I wanted to blend in… as much as a short, curvy, green-eyed American girl can blend in, so I did some research on what to wear in Egypt before I arrived. I packed a very specific wardrobe consisting of dark sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, long skirts, gauzy tops and linen pants.

Being modestly dressed didn’t stop the all hassling, not by a long shot, but it did keep some of the attention off of me.

There were plenty of girls parading around in outfits that shouldn’t be seen outside Atlantic City that helped as well.

Did she read about what to wear in Egypt before arrival? Probably not.

Listen – I get it. It feels like the surface of the sun when you’re tutting around Giza, and no one wants to wear head-to-toe garb while camel-riding through the sweltering desert. I also get that Western women are powerful and equal, we do whatever we want, we don’t need a husband and no one’s the boss of us. That’s pretty much my current life motto. But here’s what’s up… we’re not in Kansas anymore.

It’s Egypt, and the same rules we’re used to just don’t apply.

In many Middle Eastern countries, to varying degrees, an uncovered woman signals to men that she is open to attention and flirtation, if not full-on open for business, if you get my drift. Consider for a moment what a flash of careless side boob does to a man who mostly comes into contact with women who don’t even show their faces? It’s like porn came to life and is walking around their historic sites. WALKING PORNOGRAPHY.

You can’t be that mad at them for chasing you down, passionately hollering, “Oh, baby, it hurts me so bad when you walk away! How many camels?! I love you! SHAKIRA, come back to me!”

Here’s some more context. A lot of these guys have experience with three Western women – Britney Spears, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. So if we’re rocking up to the Valley of the Kings with lacy hot pink underpants peeking out of booty shorts, just like a certain princess of pop we all know, that’s part of the reason they expect us to drop it like it’s hot and pole dance at the first ever-so-charming comment they hurl our way.

Thanks, MTV. 

You’ll pass through a long line of touts on the way to any major attraction. These dudes are waiting for me to start singing “Hips Don’t Lie”

If you don’t follow the established cultural clothing cues, you’re going to be hassled like never before. I’m not saying their culture is wrong and ours is right. There once was a time in the Western world when women could bend over in a dress and not treat the whole room to a trip to London and France, now I can’t go to church in the US without seeing bras and cleavage all over the place. Regardless, when deciding what to wear in Egypt, just remember this phrase, “This ain’t a KFC.” (So leave your breasts & thighs at home.)

I heard several girls say, “Well, I don’t care if it offends them, I’m wearing what I want.”

If you insist on dressing your way, either Western-style where no imagination is required or Egypt-style with your uber-sexy forearms and suggestive clavicles out and proud, just be prepared. You can play the feminist card and not play by those rules, and that’s your own choice, but at least know what you’re getting into.

And don’t be offended when you get cat-called. It’s their country and their rules.

In my opinion, someone (dear Egyptian Tourism – it’s ME!) needs to conduct a seminar for all the men in Egypt on how to interact with Western tourists. I guarantee I would’ve spent many more Egyptian pounds at souvenir stands if I hadn’t been so intimidated by the catcalls and the too-close-for-comfort touts. As a result of the harassment, I bought one, yes, ONE, souvenir in Egypt, and that was a necklace I got for about $5 from a 10-year-old boy on a boat.

What NOT to Wear in Egypt

Now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way, here’s what you’ll actually want to wear in Egypt and some tips on what to pack!


You might not look like a lady of the night if you’re barely showing ankle in some sexy capri pants, but even that’s a stretch. Shorts should probably be left at home – especially if your butt peeks out the back end of your favorite pair. Exception: if you’re planning on a few days sailing the Nile on a felucca, or heading to Dahab to dive or for seaside adventures in Sharm el Sheikh, then modest shorts should be fine.

Visible Undergarments

I mean thongs and bra straps, people! If your under-junk pops out when you bend over to retrieve your suitcase from the carousel, you are dressed poorly for the environment you’re about to enter.

Low-Cut Tops

Leave some room for the imagination, and keep the twins sequestered. You can usually get away with short-sleeved shirts and even modest tank tops in the most tourist-heavy spots, but bring a scarf or shawl to cover up in markets, restaurants and on public streets.

Note the giant scarf in my hand! I took it off for this photo because it was pretty deserted. Otherwise I had it wrapped around my shoulders and covering my top half.

What to Wear in Egypt

Long flowing skirts & maxi dresses

These will help with how hot it gets in Egypt since you can’t really wear shorts or above-the-knee skirts. My favorites are from Target, but there are plenty of brands who carry them now. Remember to get breathable fabrics like cotton or linen.

Long sleeve or 3/4 length shirts in gauzy fabrics

Again, breathable fabrics and flowy cuts.

Tops that cover the collar bones and arms

It’s safest to just keep your shoulders, collarbones, and chest covered. The easiest way is to just bring higher-neck tops and dresses.

Loose pants

Another way to stay cool is to wear loose, breathable pants. It doesn’t seem like they keep you cool, but I promise they do! Here are some flowy pant outfits to help you find a look that matches your style.

Bring a shawl or scarf to cover up

And, of course, if most of your closet consists of spaghetti straps or lower cut tops, and you don’t want to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe, then get a shawl or scarf to keep things covered. Like I mentioned above, that dress on its own is obviously not appropriate. That’s why I wore a big scarf wrapped around my top besides this photo.

It’s important to note a few things.

1. Not ALL Egyptian men are going to harass you.

I made some ADORABLE, polite male friends while I was there. I also didn’t have any discomfort as a Western woman in their company.

2. Just because you’re dressed appropriately doesn’t mean you’re not going to get hassled.

Keep your head down and avoid making eye contact with touts, as that can be seen as encouragement. Don’t get sucked into the trap of chatting or accepting a gift someone tries to place in your hand. That happened to me and I had to be smuggled out of Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb secret-service style. (By two handsome Australian guys… so it wasn’t all bad!)

And as I mentioned, I did have an unfortunate groping incident at a gas station in the middle of the night somewhere on the Sinai Peninsula. We were in the midst of an 18 hour bus ride, just stopping for a potty break. It took me a second to really wake up, so I was not with the rest of the group when I entered the restroom. Despite being appropriately dressed, I guess the bathroom attendant just thought I need a good middle of the night groping, so he obliged. Lucky for him, I was still too groggy to beat the sense back into him, and an international incident was narrowly averted.

3. Western women just passing through Egypt only get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in a culture where women are oppressed.

Check out these articles for some insight on what’s been going on since the revolution.

Egypt, over all, was a great experience. But, yes, it’s still a conservative country, and to be respectful, dress appropriately! I hope this what to wear in Egypt guide will help you with your packing!

For More Egypt Travel:

Pin for later!

About The Author

57 thoughts on “Undressed in Egypt | The View From My Soapbox”

  1. That hot pink outfit is CRAZY…I wonder if she dressed like that for the rest of the trip!! I remember so much of this from when I travelled in Morocco alone. I dressed in clothes that made me look like an asexual paper sack which helped cut down on the attention, but didn’t kill it entirely. I think that, when entering a largely homogeneous society that mostly interacts with foreigners through media, there’s only so much foreign women can do to deflect attention, because they’ll always get attention simply for being foreign. Some of it will be negative, some will be positive, some will be neutral. Though, I remember walking through the old market in Fes behind a young Moroccan woman that was wearing something I’d be surprised to see in the West – a skin-tight catsuit covered by a couple of loose threads (or rather, a very loose-knit dress). She was a complete knock-out, with every curve visible and long, wavy brown hair down to her back – and yet I was the one getting hollared at!! I couldn’t tell if the situation was hilarious or absurdly frustrating, haha!

    1. It’s so true – you can’t completely nix the comments direct at you, because you’re Western regardless of what you’re wearing, but at least with some modest clothing you can cut down on it. Funny about the catsuit – I can only imagine!

    1. Egypt is a good excuse for me to wear maxi-dresses… I’m so short that usually they are too long and they just swallow me up! Anyhow, I got this one from Target a few years ago, but it definitely travels well.

  2. As a single guy in Egypt I used to get “I can provide any service” accompanied by a nudge, nudge, wink, wink…

    I’ll leave it to your imagination what that means, but the dudes weren’t lookin’ to provide me with hookers.

  3. Very, very helpful article that I will be Stumbling and Tweeting. I love the “Sex and the City” series and movies but was really bothered by the most recent one where they seemed to have no consideration of the local culture and how to dress. Very disrespectful. I hope travelers will take your advice!

  4. Great, great story! It always surprises me when people go to a foreign country, clearly have not done any research on the local customs, and clearly expect that every place they visit should be exactly like what they’re used to back home. I just think to myself, “Why the hell do you even bother traveling?” That girl in the hot pink outfit looks like a “People of Wal-Mart” post waiting to happen. You, on the other hand, look lovely. Glad to hear you got out with only minor groping…

    1. Hey! Yes, it’s amazing how few people actually care about the culture they’re visiting. I actually may do a People of WalMart post since I’m at home in Jacksonville… my local WalMart has some of the best candidates =)

  5. This reminds me of when I went to Morocco. I took the ferry with a friend from Spain and we were covered head to toe but there was a group of girls in skimpy tank tops and short shorts. I’m not sure how they made out but I was hassled enough looking the way I was. It makes you wonder what goes through people’s heads sometimes haha

    1. Seriously. There’s no explanation for people showing up in skimpy clothes in these countries. It’s bad enough we have to see it at Disney World and the mall and Walmart, haha.

  6. When I was in Turkey, I really wished I had a maxi dress. My below-the-knee skirt didn’t feel long enough. I’m definitely not a girl who would flippantly say, “I don’t care if they’re offended!”

  7. Ok, that first outfit is an example of what not to wear ANYWHERE, not just in Egypt haha! I remember seeing lots of girls in Cairo dressed very inappropriately at the sights. Of course I tried to dress modestly and still got hit on but I would have never felt comfortable being so blatantly disrespectful of the culture. Your maxi dress looks super cute!

  8. Brilliant, love it!

    In Luxor, it’s not so bad and you can get away with walking around in reasonable length shorts and vest tops in the daytime.

    But there are some places you just don’t do that!

    A forum I visit has holidaymakers who go to Sharm el Sheikh and there’s always controversy over whether topless sunbathing should be allowed or not.

    I’ll let you comment on that one another time…

  9. Great to heard about your experience there. While traveling in Central America, I had the dilemma of choosing to either cover myself up and risk dying from the heat or wear normal summery clothes and risk potential harassment from idiots. I went with the latter, especially once I realized they yelled at all the foreign women walking alone regardless of their clothing choices.

  10. Sigh. This is something I rant about often here in Thailand. People seem to think that because “anything goes” on the beaches (by the way, it doesn’t: Thai people are usually offended by people’s clueless topless sunbathing) they can walk shirtless through the streets of Bangkok or waltz into a temple in booty shorts. No no no!

    I frequently find myself wishing I had dressed more conservatively; never have I found myself wishing I had worn less.

  11. I’m a little confused on this post. You talk about covering up, but your photo shows you in spaghetti straps which is exactly inappropriate. A shawl doesn’t do the trick to cover up that dress.
    I don’t think spaghetti straps are appropriate for walking around tourist sites as you show in your photograph. Are you saying is fine to wear this at the site as long as you put a shawl on over after you leave the tourist area? If so, I think that is why you were getting harassed. Just because your at a tourist site doesn’t make it right.
    A wide brim hat, big sunglasses and maxi dresses scream “look at me” not “I am trying to blend in”
    I don’t normally judge people on how they dress, but I think that you are sending mixed messages here.
    As a blond and someone who has travelled extensively in Egypt and cycled through the country on a bicycle, it is very easy to not call attention to yourself and to not be harassed. I don’t think that you made a fair claim to how men interact with Western tourists. Sure touts are agressive, but I think that if that is the way you were dressing at tourist sites, you have to accept more responsibility as to why you were harassed.

    1. It’s funny, because that was the only tourist site where there were no touts and no harassment at all. We were there very late and the site was empty, which was the only reason the shawl came off for a photo. And by shawl, I mean long, solid pashmina akin to a small blanket. That covers pretty well in my book?

      I can’t think of anything more appropriate than a floor length, loose, solid colored cotton maxi dress… that’s basically what women wear in the Middle East. And I don’t know what other kind of hat one would wear in the desert besides a wide-brimmed, sun-deflecting one. If that’s asking for attention, I guess tourists are just out of luck when it comes to blending in.

      If there are other hats and dresses that are less attention getting, I’m not aware of them. I did say not every man in Egypt participates in the harassment, but a great way to try and avoid it is to cover up. Which I think is your point, too.

      Obviously this post and future Egypt posts are about MY experience, which was amazing even considering the harassment that was prevalent and obnoxious (to me and all those with me) almost everywhere I went. It’s great that you didn’t get harassed, but I’m not planning to whitewash my experience here. It happened and it wasn’t a result of my clothing.

  12. It’s a shame many (often young) travelers disregard local customs and norms when traveling. We’ve seen it so many times, most glaringly in some of the more conservative Islamic countries we’ve traveled to — Egypt as you discuss here and Pakistan. I don’t understand what would inspire someone to wear SHORT shorts and a halter top in a country like Pakistan where even the men are covered from head to toe, not to mention the fact that women are rarely even seen outside of the house. What confuses me even more is the fact that they don’t seem to respond to or learn from the negative treatment and contempt they receive.
    From our experience, it’s their loss. When one does abide by local customs it is usually appreciated and commented on by locals. For example, for the 2 months I was in Pakistan I wore a shalwar kemise (local men’s attire) and grew my beard while Karen didn’t wear the head to toe covering typically seen she also wore a woman’s shaliwar. Daily we had people approach us, talk to us, and of course, invite us for tea or food stating that they thought it was wonderful that we wore local dress.

    1. It boggles the mind that there are folks who travel with no regard to local customs and dress. I actually like to wear the local attire – it makes for such fun, authentic photos and you’re right, folks really appreciate the effort.

  13. I think it is great that you posted this- it is true that not a lot of people do as much research before traveling to different countries where the cultural norms are completely different and it is best simply to respect them! I love to play the independent western woman role but when it comes down to it- I will cover up to respect norms and avoid harassment! There are some cultures where men simply do not understand that women have a lot more freedom elsewhere.

  14. Well, we’re all booked up for our next trip to Egypt! We arrive in Luxor late summer and will be taking a 7 day cruise down the Nile.

    We’re off with 2 friends who have been to Luxor before with us in 2010 and 2 more friends who have never been to Egypt at all.

    Can you tell I’m all excited about it? http://wp.me/p1uja5-1iJ

          1. HOT! Haha! But coming from NZ, everywhere is warm for us. 😛 It’s still a bit cool in the morning and evening, but around noon is scorching – I’m sunburnt. Still, better than going during summer.

  15. This was a really great, interesting and hilariously funny blog — thanks for sharing. I am off to Egypt on Friday, it’s my first time, so this was really informative as I was packing loads of shorts…I will be rethinking my wardrobe! I will definitely sequester the ‘girls’ and pack my shawl 🙂

  16. Hi I was thinking of heading to Egypt soon and your advice has been great,but did you find that in your hotel it was “safe” to wear the normal western summer clothes?and that just when traveling around outside of that is when to make sure to be conservative in your attire?

    1. While it’s certainly more acceptable to wear Western attire at the resort, it’s still staffed by local folks who are accustomed to a different style of clothing for women. I tried to stay as covered up as possible no matter where I was – except in Dahab, where it’s much more liberal.

    1. I mostly wore sandals – flips flips and gladiators, to be specific. Once in a while I wore Toms. But I think sandals should be a.o.k. as long as they’re comfy to walk in.

  17. I am leaving for Egypt in a few weeks…Im getting married there and am now shopping for clothing to wear…My soon to be husband told me what I should get but what if these guys do this to me when Im with him? I worry about this…I will do my best to dress accordingly and I will try not to speak haha…Im excited to go but a bit nervous being that I dont speak Arabic…My soon to be husband does I dont want to see a fight break out in front of me…I know him and Im sure he would go crazy on them haha …Thank you for the information I am buying new clothes now for this trip..I will be there for over a month…Hope its a good one O.o

  18. Hi Angie,

    Thanks a lot for sharing an idea about Egyptian culture and it’s really important to know for all specially those who wanna go there. It’s true that not so many people are very much aware about this but it’s essential to know other cultures when anyone wanna go ans stay with their culture. So I hope that by reading your article everybody will be able to grab that what we should do there.


  19. An interesting, intelligently written article.

    I think a lot of the attention and the ‘Shakira’ based comments has nothing to do with what you are wearing, and everything to do with an attempt to flatter you into buying some of their tat. It’s their job and livelihood at state, so anything they can do to garner a sale is fair game. For every person who is offended by this approach, another one will giggle, be a bit flattered and end up buying a scarab beetle said to be made from granite but actually from plaster of paris. 🙂

    I have an apartment in Luxor and so regularly travel, and as was stated, you don’t really get any trouble in Luxor at all. But if you go to Cairo, it’s full on sell, sell, sell and all of the attention will be acute. You’re going to get hassled whether you are wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes or a Burka because you’ll look like a tourist, and tourists have money to buy Scarab Beetles.

    But dressing respectfully is exactly that, respectful. And that has to be a good thing. If you don’t respect their culture, don’t expect to be respected in return.

  20. My husband and I, along with my mom and dad, will be spending 8 days in Egypt in September. We will be with a guide the entire time, and 4 days on the nile.

    I’m worried its going to be blisteringly hot! Would it be appropriate to wear short sleeves? Not tank tops, just short sleeves. That with a maxi skirt? Or a maxi dress with a kimono?

    I’m pretty small-chested, so should I also wear a scarf?

    And on the cruise, can I wear a swimsuit out to the pool, like a one-piece?

    1. It will definitely be hot! I was there in October and it was toasty. Short sleeves are totally fine, maxi dresses are great, too. I’d bring a super light pashmina just to use when it feels appropriate. On the cruise, definitely bring a swimsuit and check with your guide about when it’s appropriate to wear. I was in a bathing suit the whole time I was in Dahab, so there’s definitely a place for it!

      Have fun – it’s going to be amazing!

  21. Hi! I’m concerned about being respectful in Egypt as I’m American, very pale and red/blonde headed, and plus size, especially in the *ahem* chest area. Should I plan to cover my forearms? Is jewelry OK? Is it OK for me to wear earrings with a headwrap? I just don’t care to be disrespectful, but neither do I care to show up to a foreign country looking like I’m there to do the yardwork or paint the house.

  22. Sorry, my email address was incorrect in my post – it is gmail.com, not gail.com.

    Also I forgot to say how awesome I found your pictures, and I hope I get to see Luxor at night, too.

  23. Lauren San Miguel

    This was a brilliant post! Very useful and well explained, also very intricate about the respect and what do to and what not to do.

  24. I love your patterned tights! I’ve been so afraid to try them myself, but I always love how they look on other people. Thanks so much for sharing your tips for when I do get the courage to give them a try.

Leave a Comment

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


Get exclusive updates with all the latest news and posts delivered directly to your inbox
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Scroll to Top