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My first 7-day visit to Turkey was filled with unexpected encounters and sweet surprises. While I experienced some unwanted male attention (and not because of how I was dressed, but because I “scream tourist,” as a local put it), I left knowing I’d be back-I always felt a bit more empowered the second time around.
I’ve traveled to Turkey twice, both times in the spring when the weather was unpredictable. There was a cold front, and it even snowed while I enjoyed the magnificent cave hotels in Cappadocia. I packed for temps in the 50s but got weather in the 20s (Fahrenheit). Luckily I had my Merino wool base layers that can be worn under practically anything to add warmth.
At first, I was a bit concerned with how to dress in Turkey as I immediately lumped it in with other Muslim countries with strict dress codes for women, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iran. In these countries, women are always expected to be covered whether they are a tourist or not. You will find local Turkish women wearing all different garments in Turkey, as modest dressing is optional in most areas. However, I felt best in conservative clothing covering shoulders and knees.
While you can wear anything you want as a tourist, you will want to wear appropriate clothing based on where you are visiting in the country, the time of year you are visiting, and what landmarks you will be visiting– and yes, there is a Blue Mosque Dress Code (more on that in a later section).
How to dress depending on the areas you visit
One major thing to consider when dressing in Turkey is following the unwritten rules of where you will travel to. In the major tourist towns and metropolitan cities, tourists and locals often wear shorts and tank tops, especially in the warm summer months; if you venture out to more remote areas, you might see locals in more modest attire even in hot weather. However, it is all personal choice since Turkey does not have any strict rules pertaining to women’s clothing.
In some villages in eastern Turkey, its standard practice for tourists to wear a head covering, a long skirt, and a loose long-sleeve top. Skirts and dresses are preferred over baggy pants, but this is a choice. Although Turks are used to seeing tourists wear more revealing clothing, you may encounter locals letting it be known if your choice of dress is not what they deem appropriate; and you don’t want to be that tourist.
How to dress in public in metropolitan cities
You will see Turkish women dressing in various levels of modesty in public. Tank tops and shorts are widely accepted but some women will wear long skirts and tops that cover their shoulders. Some women wear head coverings like a Hijab, while you may see others fully covered in a Burqa. But as I’ve learned this is not standard or expected. Ultimately, what you wear is up to you and how ever you feel most comfortable.
Metropolitan cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir are used to seeing tourists and locals in shorts and tank tops. However, with the amount of male attention I was getting, I feel better wearing loose-fitting clothing that covers shoulders and knees. I was told the locals will appreciate it and give you more respect, which means you will have a better experience when engaging with the local community.
How to dress when visiting mosques
A mosque-appropriate dress code includes a head covering, a long skirt, and a long-sleeved top. At the Blue Mosque, the greeter at the door will decide if your attire is conservative enough. Sometimes the greeter will not approve an outfit if your ankles, wrists, or chest areas show too much skin. You will be asked to wear a head scarf as well. The Blue mosque does offer robes and head coverings to borrow, but it is always better to use your own garments, so come prepared with a scarf that can be used to cover your head, shoulders, and chest if needed. The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul did not have as strict of a dress code as other mosques, but as I’ve said, covering arms, legs, and head is expected at many religious sites, even in a modern cosmopolitan city like Istanbul.
You will also be asked to remove your shoes when visiting a mosque. Bring a pair of socks in your day bag if you wear sandals and do not want to walk around barefoot. Socks are not required but might make you feel more comfortable.
How to Dress in rural areas
Turkey is a conservative Muslim country, with some parts of Turkey being more religious than others. Eastern Turkey tends to be a bit more conservative, but tourists tend to stick to the major cities such as Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ankara, and Izmir, where dressing is more liberal. If you want to visit the more rural areas of Turkey, stick to a “mosque etiquette” style of dressing, with long sleeves paired with a full-length skirt and a headscarf (even in hot weather). Your modest dressing will be appreciated by the residents in the smaller eastern villages who tend to be more religious.
How to dress for the weather in Turkey
It is also essential to consider the time of year when deciding how to dress in Turkey. Turkey is a true 4 season country known for its unpredictable weather. Most areas of the country experience extreme temperatures in summer and winter, making spring (April and May) and fall (September and October) ideal times to visit.
If you are visiting during cold weather, pants, long sleeve sweaters, and long coats won’t be a difficult task, but if you are visiting in the hot summer months, you will want to choose loose, lightweight clothing to stay comfortable while sightseeing in hot weather.
The perfect outfit to wear during the summer season allows for air flow and sun protection. Long skirts and tops in light colors that cover your shoulders with comfortable shoes are a good idea. Although they are entirely acceptable, you won’t see many Turks wearing open-toed shoes. You will easily walk a mile a day or more, even if you plan on using public transportation, so comfortable clothes and shoes are a must.
Consider a long skirt, baggy trousers, or a long dress to cover your legs. A long-sleeved cotton shirt or linen blend is the most breathable and will help to keep you cool while protecting your skin from the sun. If you are in more secular areas of Turkey rest assured tank tops and shorts are common but if you are sight seeing make sure to wear the appropriate attire so you wont be turned away in some religious landmarks.
Avoid wearing sleeveless tops, short skirts, tight shorts, and short shorts. Even during warm weather, you should still cover your shoulders and knees. Turkey has so many religious places; it is much easier to dress in modest clothing and not worry about being denied entry to a religious site. You never know what you will stumble upon while exploring Turkey’s famous landmarks, so it is best to be prepared.
How to Dress at a beach resort
The coastal resorts bring a lot more freedom when it comes to dressing in Turkey. Foreign women wear various beach styles, as beach resorts have no strict dress code. Bathing suits in every cut are acceptable, and you may even see some tourists sunbathing topless. However, a coverup while indoors or walking through a lobby is a great idea. It is acceptable for women to wear bathing suits at public hot springs, but a one-piece is the better choice in more rural areas.
Additional Items to Pack for a Trip to Turkey
- Toilet paper or bio-degradable wipes– many public toilets require a small fee, you would think that includes toilet paper, but it doesn’t always; it’s better to be prepared! Remember not to flush them even if they say flushable on their packaging.
- Secure bag–It gets crowded in large cities, especially on public transportation and in the famous bazaars. You will want to do your best to protect your belongings with a bag that has anti-theft properties such as a secure zipper, slash-proof material, and RFID-blocking technology.
- Local currency– Many credit card machines don’t work, especially in Taxis. If you pay with US dollars, they will almost always cheat you out of proper change and give it to you in local currency.
Some Islamic countries have strict dress codes, but Turkey is not one of them. It is common to see Muslim women in smart casuals and Turkish people being more accepting of Western dressing styles in tourist areas. However, tourists should always respect the local culture and dress modestly in public spaces. Aside from a few long dresses and long-sleeved shirts, modest clothing should not be intimidating.
As a solo female traveler, dressing conservatively in a Muslim country is not only respectful and appreciated by locals, but it is a helpful way to avoid unwanted attention, especially from Turkish men!
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