- Nia Alexander Campbell
Modesty in Morocco (Don't Pack the Booty Shorts)
School is out, you're going overseas, and there's a whole coastline of beautiful beaches. Time for short shorts and crop tops, woo!
Except that it's Morocco, not Miami.
Morocco is a Muslim country, which means modest dress is the norm.
Before we get into what to wear, I'm going to share my top two reasons for dressing modestly in a Muslim country:
1) You will receive slightly less attention. I say 'slightly' because, well, things like dark skin, natural hair, and body type are going to garner attention regardless of how you dress, especially if you've got a western air about you (or if you're travelling in a huge tourist group, like I was). The thing is, though, dressing modestly may effect the type of attention you attract. Dressing modesty may limit the chances of you being insulted, receiving dirty looks, or having men put their hands on you.
2) It's respectful. I was a guest in someone else's country; I'm not going to insult them by wearing spaghetti straps if that's not how they do things. Think of it like going into someone else's house. If they take off their shoes before entering, you might want to take off your shoes too. All most Muslim countries ask for from female tourists are covered shoulders and covered knees.
But what exactly is modest?
I have found that when I ask Western people about modest dress in Islam, their buzz words include "burqa", "oppression", and "that headscarf". We won't get into the many issues to be found in statements such as that, but instead, I will say this to you: Muslim women from different backgrounds have given me a dozen definitions on how they interpret modesty.
Like many things, modesty can be subjective and often individualized. Sometimes the influence is cultural, sometimes it's personal, and sometimes it's environmental; there's simply no one definition of 'modesty'. It's why there are so many variations on how Muslim women dress around the world.
What's definitely not allowed, though?
No tank tops, no spaghetti straps, no mini skirts, no crop tops, no bikinis, no transparent clothing, no clubwear. Frankly, you're probably not going want to even show that much skin . . . that dessert sun is no joke. I don't care how much melanin you're packing, a 104 degree day warrants at least one begrudgingly applied coat of cheap, off-brand, SPF-anything. If you're wearing a long sleeved shirt, though, you don't have to worry about whether or not your burnt arm skin is going to peel off in a week.
"But aren't you going to be hot wearing long sleeves?"
How should I put this?
I can't tell you how many times I was asked that question in preparation for travelling to Morocco.
Sure, it's fair to say that less clothing generally means feeling less warm. However, when it's a 100 outside, it doesn't matter if I'm wearing a cotton tank top or a cotton long-sleeved shirt because it's 100 degrees and I'll be sweating regardless. That said, it's less about sleeve & skirt length and more about fabric & cut. I wore cottons, layered sheer fabric, and loose clothing, and I was perfectly fine (even in my black clothing).
So, my advice when packing would be to:
- Pack things that you feel comfortable in
- Use common sense
- Try your best
And if you're still stressed, I say ask other Muslim women their thoughts and look at what people in your host country wear. The kaftan, for example, is what many women in Morocco wore. Though you may not own a kaftan, maybe you have a long sundress, and maybe you will feel more comfortable. Know, though, that western clothing was normal to see in Morocco; a t-shirt and jeans is universal.
I will admit, though, when I packed I kept it on the safe side. I'm a pretty conservative dresser at home in the U.S., but in Morocco I took it up a notch. All of my shirt sleeves were quarter-length length or longer, all of my skirts reached my ankles, and my one pair of jeans was blue and free of fashion-forward rips. I had one pair of leggings, which were later implemented into my "night out" outfit, but if I had worn them in the daytime I definitely would have worn a loose shirt that covered by butt.
It's worth mentioning, though, that most hotels are like neutral zones when it comes to dress. Many hotels cater to Western customers, which means they allow you to wear Western clothing, no matter how revealing.
Keep expressing yourself
Compared to how I usually dress, I think Morocco-Nia dressed like a dork. When I looked in the mirror, I reminded myself of a kid in play clothes or a 12 year-old wearing the latest in tween fashion. Just because it wasn't my usual style, though, didn't mean I hated the way I looked! I still took it as an opportunity to express myself through clothing in a way that made me feel good.
In my case, love jewelry, love my changing up my glasses, and live for color and pattern. So what did I do? I wore jewelry, I brought 2 different styles of glasses, and I kept my colors the way I liked them (and come to find out, Morocco was pretty big on color and pattern too).
Dressing doesn't have to be intimidating or stressful. Naturally, pack for the type of adventure you're embarking on. Sneakers or flats? Jeans or dresses? It all depends on what you plan to be doing. Hats and sunglasses are always a plus, although in my opinion, I felt it made me look a bit more touristy. But, hey, it's hot and it's bright, so do what you have to do!
I will say, though, that the sunglasses I wore made me look like a bug, I never wore that hat again, and sneakers did not go with that outfit. You'll see what I'm talking about . . .