Dressing Modestly in Turkey | How do you dress in Turkey?

If you where asked to dress modestly while living in Turkey would you do it?

That’s what some women in Gulf countries of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are asking of expatriates to do according to an article in Hurriyet Daily News today.

It is an interesting debate.  Should you do go by the adage When in rome…….. or should you remain true to yourself and dress and act as you would at home?

Certainly it is different for those who are just holidaying here in Turkey in the resorts and resort towns most tend to stay in a certain area and are not walking around suburban Turkey dressed in short skirts or with no top on and their belly hanging out (not nice anywhere men come on!).

But what about us expatriates living here in Suburban Turkey should we stick to our guns and say this who we are and this is what we wear or do we try to dress moderately in Turkey and try to integrate, after all we are living in Turkey and shouldn’t we be respecting their culture and their ways??

Campaign against dressing of expatriates starts in Qatar. The campaign aims to educate exptariates about wearing appropriate dress. copyright HDN

For me integration is key not only for experiencing life here in Turkey but basic survival. Adapazari is a very strong religious area and apart from the students most people here dress modestly.

It doesn’t mean they are covered up and wearing old Granma’s type clothing. Most dress fashionable but they don’t have flesh hanging out all over the place, they don’t feel the need to have their knickers showing or their breast falling out. Men dress smart be it casual or dressy and I haven’t seen any men’s bellies hanging out not even on the construction sites!

For me to integrate and fit in here wasn’t to hard I wasn’t a low cut, short skirt, make up clad type of girl, but I still adjusted my wardrobe to fit in. A few long skirts, t-shirts and tops that cover more up top but still I have kept a feeling of who I am and my own identity. But I know it’s appreciated have been told a couple of times that I don’t dress how they would expect!

However as it is covered in the article, making dress code a law and forcing people to comply, for me that would be against your human rights to take away the right to dress as you wish. Just as much as we have the right to free speech, we have the right to dress how we like as it is another way of expressing ourselves and showing our individuality.

I know for a lot of people dress is a form of expression and to lose that part of your identity is not an easy one, but I don’t think that is what it’s about it’s about keeping your sense of style while adjusting it to fit with the culture.

Perhaps I am too soft or timid maybe I am not one to stand out from the crowd. But by doing as the romans do I’ve managed to fit in with my community and enjoy life here more than if I stood out like a sore thumb.

So the question is do you do as the romans do??? Do you dress appropriately for your community? Or do you wear what you please and think it is wrong to change no matter where you live?

© 2012 – 2015, Kerry Arslan. All rights reserved.

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9 Responses to “Dressing Modestly in Turkey | How do you dress in Turkey?”

  1. 19th June 2012

    jools Reply

    As Foreign teachers in some of those Arab states, they have no choice. I have friends who teach there, and they have to wear the full black outfit. They are restricted in everything, which is why I choose to stay in Turkey. We have more freedom here, but still there are areas where you know it is inappropriate to wear the usual summer clothes.
    In areas of Istanbul, I would always wear long skirts or loose trousers and Tshirts. In Antalya, I dressed in stringy summer dresses, now in Adana, I again dress more modestly. Why? Because it’s expected..No. The local girls here dress much as any tourist does. Shorts and string vests, but I choose to dress more modestly because I am a foreigner, and for reasons which are true but unfortunate, foreigners are seen as easy prey. Therefore dress slightly openly and they see you as a loose woman.
    So it’s not so much about a different dress code, more about, how we are perceived.

    • 20th June 2012

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Thats so true Jools about the security reasons and a good point I should have included in my article. Where we live I pass easily as a Turk as long as I don’t open my mouth to speak. By dressing more in style for my area it allows me to blend in better and I am not noticed. I also don’t really feel like I dress any different to what I do in the UK I am jeans and t-shirt girl anyway. It is nice to get the coast though especially in the hot weather and be able to wear summer holiday type clothes though much cooler.

    • 24th July 2012

      Kelly Reply

      I associate with Jool’s reply.
      The Turks specialise in pigeon holing people…. unless they are well educated and open-minded (sometimes hard to find such people in a tourist resorts such as I live in!). Over the years I have learned to adopt a new persona on the outside yet still be myself to those who know me.

      When I am on holiday in a touristic area, I am relaxed, ‘open’ and dress as I like. When I am in my home town (also a tourist resort) where people know me (I am a teacher) I dress according to the aforementioned adopted persona. The adopted persona is well dressed; conservative, classic fashions (you have to present a serious image); somewhat cold personality; never looks a man in the eye unless known to me; smiles infrequently; frowns upon ignorance; is somewhat stuck-up and speaks formal polite Turkish to all strangers until she know them otherwise. The real me is very different!! I am a major smiler but that has caused me trouble in this country so I have had to adapt.

      I think the dress code is the least of the changes; I am one of the lucky ones where I live but I dread the thought of being dictated to and personally a headscarf is asking a bit too much for me ( God be willing, that day will not come to this civilised country).

      The dress code of some of the tourists leaves nothing to the imagination…to me a lot of them look cheap and nasty but if they are Turks its a different set of rules for them. We all know that not all things are equal and to be respected here in Turkey, both the behaviour code and the dress code is biased against the foreigner.

      So long as one moves to Turkey knowing that the behaviours and dress codes change according to where you are in Turkey and in according to whose company that you keep (and there are many variations of acceptable in this country) and one can adapt to them then you’ll be fine.

  2. 19th June 2012

    Deri Reply

    I use beachwear at the beach or pool, not the bank. In town its a T and skirt or knee-length shorts, sandals not flipflops. Nobody asks me to modify what I do, it’s just a matter of respect and maybe of “fitting-in”. Some things are not acceptable in Western countries, so why should they be accepted here? Barely-there bikinis, gut-barging vests and footy shorts worn under the fold are not amusing there or here. Turkish men are not admiring those revealing outfits because they come from Debenhams, they’re just ogling what is revealed. While we are abusing Turkish hospitality, while we insist that they accept our slovenly ways because we have money, while we act as ambassadors in our flag-motif shorts; they harbour scorn,amusement, resentment. Let’s not forget the tide is turning, probably soon, probably big.

    • 20th June 2012

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Hi Deri, I am the same never been asked but you feel more comfortable I think being as the surroundings dictate. Mind you I do prefer to cover up after the beach not just for modesty but I hate the feeling of people staring at you walking around in a bikini. You certainly don’t earn anyone’s respect here but letting it all hang out 🙂 x

  3. 20th June 2012

    Joy (My Turkish Joys) Reply

    I guess living in Istanbul, it seems like anything goes here. I’ve seen many, many Turkish women wearing outfits, short and or skimpy that I would NOT wear! And don’t get me started about the footwear. My husband says many of his young female colleagues wear outfits to work that would never fly at the office back in the US. So why the contradictions here?

    I wear casual clothing, but never nothing too short or revealing…but mainly bc I’m in my 30s and don’t want to dress like a 20-year-old. Not surprised to hear about the dress code thing in other countries, but also wouldn’t be surprised if things start changing here in Turkey too.

    • 20th June 2012

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Thanks for your comment Joy, tt’s a total contrast living here in Adapazari, we are about 3 hours out of Istanbul. It shows in a way how cosmopolitan Istanbul is if that is the right way to describe it and how much more freedom there is. Here in Adapazari we have 5 mosques in within 5 min walk from our home. People are more reserved and careful with how they dress, you do a double take here if you see someone wearing something a little tight or shows a bit more than the norm. A few of the girls I know also live in other areas around Turkey with the same attitudes.

      I think your right about things changing I wouldn’t be surprised to find the same ideas creeping in here.

  4. 21st June 2012

    Ranee Reply

    I think most people dress to suit the event, occasion, situation everday without realising it. When you turn up for work, you are not dressed for a picnic, if you have a wedding to go to, there is a dress code for that, meetings, interviews, a visit to your nanna’s house, church (whether you are religious or not). It is a sign of respect for the person/s who you are dressing for. We dress in suits and professional clothing in offices to gain respect and acknowledgement of our professionalism. YOu wouldnt get the job rocking up in flip flops to an interview.
    Whilst it is our ‘right’ to dress however we see fit, and to our own style, we cannot deny that we are judged by what we choose, or choose not to wear.
    In Turkey, I am very aware of what I am wearing and where. In the village I am more conservative but in our town, which is a holiday destination, I dress more ‘summery’. I am still aware, and have always been aware, of the perception people have of me and others by ‘getting my gear out’ so I am not one for super short skirts/shorts or low tops. I personally am offended by anyone who walks around in a bikini top no where near the water or beach or swimming pool. Would you go to church in a bikini??
    I firmly believe that if you dont agree with, or cannot respect a culture, then you shouldnt be amongst it. Why is it ‘ok’ to offend people from other cultures, but we are quick to judge and complain about people who do not respect our own supposed ‘cultures’? I am not saying we should only wear what the locals wear, but if there is some compromise, I think it is respected and goes along way in cultural relationships.
    Just be aware that you will be judged on your dress code no matter where you are. We all do it. In every situation, whether we know it, or not.

  5. 8th October 2012

    Sharyn Minehan Reply

    I like this article Kerry.my daughter and I had no problen whilst in Turkey..in actual fact, we were disgusted at some of the tourists, with short shorts on and every thing hanging out., and tongue kissing in front of us waitng to get into a tourist attraction..I felt like telling them to go and find a room some where…they have no respect 4 themselves , let alone any body else.. will read some more of your info soon as I can.also love the photo of your little babyxx.

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