Unsure of what you should plan to wear in Egypt? We’ve got you covered (pun unintended, I swear).
I’ve noticed that a lot of women seem unsure of what to pack/wear when traveling to Egypt, and the Middle East as a whole. This is extremely valid, because the culture is a tad different and what might seem like a normal summer outfit to you might elicit a few stares on the street in some Middle Eastern countries.
While Egyptian society is not as open as Dubai or Beirut when it comes to wardrobe, we don’t have any specific laws or rules about head or body covering like in Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Anywho, firstly, a few FAQs:
Do people stare everywhere?
No. Your only issue will be when you’re on the streets in Egypt’s big cities. In hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs, nobody will look twice at you. And locals are very used to beachwear in coastal towns and cities like El Gouna, Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh and the North Coast.
Do I have to cover my hair?
Nope, not at all, unless you’re visiting a mosque (PS: here's our list of Egypt's ten most beautiful mosques). That’s the only time you might be asked to loosely cover with a scarf, out of respect. Other that that, there’s absolutely no reason to cover your hair, nor does anyone expect you to.
Is there a certain Islamic code of dressing I have to abide by?
Nope. You’ll find yourself more comfortable in general if you don’t wear anything too short or too cleavagey, because people will look less. But that’s a cultural thing. For example, the UAE is an Islamic country but women walk around in shorts no problem. Egyptian society tends to be slightly more conservative, so wearing anything too showy might garner you some looks and catcalls in Cairo or Alexandria.
Note: beach destinations aren’t included in the above. If you’re in Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Dahab, El Gouna, etc., just plan to wear normal beach resort stuff.
Is there anything I should avoid showing?
Like I mentioned above, any wardrobe edits are for your own comfort, not because you *have* to. That being said, to avoid any unwanted looks or catcalls, try to avoid the following on the streets of Cairo or Alexandria:
Skirts or shorts much higher than knee-length
Crop tops or anything midriff-baring
Lots of cleavage
Things that are skin-tight around the butt area -- for example, if you’re going to wear leggings or yoga pants, try to pair them with a loose top or tunic that covers your butt
Backless tops or dresses
Does this apply to hotels, restaurants, clubs and other night spots as well?
Nope. When in the hotels, clubs and lounges, Egyptian women and expats are just as decked out as they would be in NYC, but they make sure that they have long jackets, shawls and cover-ups for when they’re out on the street in Cairo or Alex.
So now that you have a clearer idea of what to avoid, let’s talk about what you absolutely SHOULD pack:
If I could name just one item you *must* bring with you, it would be this. A shawl is not only extremely useful in Egypt, but it’s also super versatile.
You can use it to cover your chest or shoulders in the street, you can use it to cover your hair if you plan on visiting a mosque, you can use it as sun protection, or something to sit on, or a way of staying warm if the night cools down and you don’t have a sweater on you. You can also wrap it around your nose and mouth if you’re in the desert and the wind picks up and things start getting sandy.
Basically, a million uses.
Lightweight, breathable shoes that aren’t sandals
A lot of visitors to Egypt tend to bring just sandals or flip-flops with them due to the hot weather, but any local will tell you that’s a mistake -- you need a pair of ‘closed’ shoes for sure.
Most Egyptian streets have some element of debris on them that could accidentally cut you, and other streets have unavoidable mud puddles. That’s besides the fact that you’ll be trekking through a lot of sand should you head out to the Pyramids, and that sand gets *hot*.
Loose linen or cotton pants
If you’re traipsing around Egypt, jeans might seem like the obvious choice for pants -- but I wouldn’t be so sure.
In summer, jeans just feel so hot. They feel heavy and kind of like there’s a sweat swamp in unfortunate spots. And on the flip side, in winter they get ridiculously cold -- that aforementioned swamp turns into a frozen tundra real fast.
So what do?
Well, if it’s the summer, then loose linen or cotton pants will be your best friend. They’re lightweight, they’re breezy and they won’t feel like 20 pounds of regret that you’re forced to carry around while you’re climbing inside a sweltering pyramid.
Nice night outfit
If you’re planning on going to a club or a lounge, then pack at least one nice night outfit, whether it’s a dress or jeans/pants and a particular top you love.
Egyptians like to go out and have fun and love any excuse to wear their trendiest clothes, so rest assured you won’t be overdressed. Some venues also require a ‘smart casual’ dress code, so it’s always good to be prepared.
If you’re going to a beach destination in Egypt or planning to spend time by the pool, then don’t overthink anything and just bring the same swim stuff you would normally pack.
Crossbody purse that’s secure and durable
As every female traveller knows, the bag/purse you carry around with you daily needs to be multi-functional: it needs to be light and comfortable to carry, it needs to be big enough to hold what you need to carry without it being a monstrosity, it needs to be secure, it needs to be durable and it needs to be cute, damnit.
Crossbody bags to me are essential. Backpacks can get uncomfortable after a while and shoulder bags are just a nuisance to society.
Other things which are always handy to pack:
A pack of hair ties because God knows we never have one when we need them
Sunglasses & sunscreen
A hat of some sort -- this really is a judgment call, I as a local and most other local women don’t wear hats on a regular basis, so it’s definitely not *needed*, but if you’re not used to a lot of sunlight, you might want to pack a cap or something just in case.