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What Should I Wear?


I'm a JourneyWoman from California where the sun shines. Just returned from a two week winter journey to China. Yes - it was cold, but clothing did make a difference. We wore thermal socks under hiking boots, thermal underwear, and, on top - a cotton shell, polar fleece jacket, and windbreaker - three layers make for absolute comfort. A wool hat to cover ears as a must as is a hood on the jacket. Re gloves - two layers worked best for me - the thinner under-layer was a blessing as I kept pulling off the heavy outer glove to take photos.
Ms.Golkin, California, USA

Velvet and sequins are everyday dress in China. The Chinese love sparkly and anything festive. No one will tell you, but jeans are looked down on. So is slouchy clothing. The Chinese will be thrilled if you dress up.
Carolyn, an American in China
Ed. note: When I was in Beijing I didn't see a soul in velvet at Starbucks.

Yes, there can be lots of rain when you're in China but that's not why I'm suggesting you pack an umbrella. My reason is so much better. If you're going to the outskirts of any Chinese cities, you absolutely must bring along a collapsible umbrella. You see, not all toilet doors close properly -- some don't even close at all. So open that umbrella and shield your body -- it can save you a lot of embarrassment.
Julie, Singapore

If you are in Beijing in the summer or fall when heat and humidity are high, pack a pretty handkerchief in your purse. I used one to cover my mouth and nose because the air pollution can be intense at times, especially when traveling by taxi. When in the countryside, wear plain styles in darker colors. Believe me, you will attract plenty of attention just by being you.
Brandi, Bowling Green, USA

I would highly recommend skirts over pants in much of undeveloped Asia, not because of femininity or cultural mores, but because of cleanliness. The bathrooms in this part of the world are pretty tough by Western standards and the floors are usually quite wet and nasty. Since many of these cultures use water to clean themselves instead of toilet paper, the water tends to get all over the floor. It is much easier to squat and hold your skirt over your waist then it is to squat and hold up the bottom of your pants from touching the floor.
Durfee, Boston, USA

Clothes are very cheap in China, but the women are a lot smaller/tinier there than in Europe... I couldn't buy hardly anything in the local/cheap stores that fit me. And I'm just the average height and weight for European women.
Caroline, Rotterdam, Holland

You would expect that trousers would be the ideal choice for China, but you will find that it is much easier and more modest to wear a skirt if you have to use the local toilet "facilities".
Marjorie, Ottawa, Canada

I traveled in China: Don't pack anything fancy --knits are best, pants and tops and one coat. Flat shoes for walking on THE WALL. Clothes are cheap there and it is best to only take what only will fit in your carry on, and buy anything else you need, including a collapsible suitcase.
Joanne, Mill Bay, USA
Ed. note: Wow! You really travel light!

For women in China, a simple dress or slacks and a jacket are adequate for anything short of an official state banquet in the Great Hall of the People.
Kevin Sinclair, Iris Wong Po-yee, Culture Shock, China (Graphic Arts Centre Publishing Company)

If you're in Beijing during the summer, expect lots of heat and humidity. To keep as cool as possible, you'll want to pack cotton short sleeve shirts, T-shirts, shorts and skirts. But, understand that Chinese women consider shorts very casual. So, if you plan to wear them, make sure that they are "the walking type" that reach at least to your knee. Ditto for the length of skirts.

If you are going sightseeing, by all means be comfortable, but going braless, wearing tank tops or anything low cut will be frowned upon.

When it comes to formal wear, lightweight pantsuits, blazers and skirts are the norm. If you're invited to dinner and aren't sure about what is appropriate to wear, ask your host. She will consider it a pleasure to offer advice.

Be sure to pack a pair of all purpose walking shoes. As for other footwear, sandals are the easiest to pack and perfectly acceptable in Beijing, especially since it's going to be so warm. But, be sure to wear sandals with a heel strap. Those without are classified shower sandals or bedroom slippers and the Chinese will consider them rude.
Jan Wong, Toronto, Canada
Ed. note: Jan Wong is the author of Red China Blues, a book that JW heartily recommends. Not only is it an excellent read in terms of Jan's personal experiences as a student and, later, a foreign correspondent in Beijing but readers will also painlessly learn enormous amounts about the complicated history and culture of China.

Shanghai is *extremely* humid and hot in summer, with temperatures often in the 90's (F) or 30's (C) and humidity averaging 70%. June and July are also the rainiest months, so thunderstorms are pretty common (and often welcome, since they clean the air and cool things off a little). Shanghai is a fashionable city, and the women tend to dress very nicely.

To find a good balance of style and comfort, I would recommend packing lightweight skirts, dresses, or cropped pants (cooler than long pants, and not many people wear shorts) and short-sleeved tops. Though many local women wear high heels for walking around, I don't know how they do it! The sidewalks are often cobblestones, are sometimes wet and a little grimy, and you have to do a lot of walking. For foot protection and comfort, some sturdy, stylish flats are a must. Finally, bring sunscreen and buy an umbrella when you get there -- they sell great SPF 30 umbrellas that are made of a more reflective material than rain umbrellas. Lots of local people -- both men and women -- carry them, and I found that an umbrella made all the difference in the hot sun.

Finally, some local young women wear really sexy outfits -- hot pants and platform heels, miniskirts and stilettos -- seemingly without turning heads or causing any commotion. It doesn't seem advisable for foreign visitors to do the same, though -- you will attract enough attention as it is.
Erica, U.S.


When traveling to Colombia you should take special consideration in the way you dress. In Bogota as in the rest of the country you want to look fashionable without drawing attention to yourself as a "rich tourist." Women of all ages wear jeans (the tighter the better) although more mature ladies (40 and up) wear mostly slacks and blouses. In Bogota you should avoid revealing too much skin unless you want to be honked at by all the male taxi drivers. The city is quite chilly year round anyway so avoid miniskirts and cleavage bearing tops and never use flipflops (the streets are very dirty and it rains unexpectedly). The men here are not ashamed of being caught staring at women in sexy clothes so if that is your style be prepared for a lot of ogling. The same advice goes for Medellin. In the warmer areas it's a lot more laid back. Cali, Cartagena, San Andres, etc. think Miami style. If you're planning on doing a lot of walking in the cities I would avoid wearing expensive earrings and jewelry as some daring pickpockets could rip them from your neck/ears and take off running.
Ashley, Chicago, USA
EDITOR'S NOTE: Be careful in Colombia. Dress very conservatively. Wear expensive earrings and you can be sure someone will take them.


In the Congo take a hat to protect you from the sun. And for hot summer days a light-colored umbrella to use as a parasol is nice and not unusual. You can give it away when you leave. Many travelers give all their clothes away when they leavedue to the poverty in this part of the world.
Delita, Chapel Hill, USA

Costa Rica

Take the lightest cotton "sun veil" fabrics to wear on or near the beaches. Sarongs over matching bathing suits can double as evening dinner wear. Denim is much too hot near beach areas. A light cashmere shawl is great to wear evenings in San Jose.
Arline, Burlington, Canada

The best thing I brought to Costa Rica was a pair of quick dry pants (from Mountain Equipment Co-op in Canada) that had zip-off pant legs. When I wanted to be warmer, protect myself from the mud in cloud forests, or avoid mosquitoes, I could zip on the pant legs. When not wearing the leg part of the pants, they fit very compact in a small daypack.
Jen, Calgary, Canada

When you are traveling in Costa Rica avoid revealing clothes. Try to dress tastefully and elegantly. Pack light clothing made of cotton which is perfect. You can wear jeans or shots too, but not too short. But the best way is to dress simply and elegantly. While going shopping or walking around (in San Jose, that is), avoid wearing any jewelry, there are thieves. If traveling in the mountains, bring a warm jacket, the higher the altitude the colder it is. Last, but not least, you do get attention from men, just ignore and do not look their way, or they will think you are interested.
Angelina, Tampa, USA

I traveled to Costa Rica in May. Take very casual summer separates--shorts, tops. If you intend on being in Cloud Forests or volcano areas, take rubber shoes--cheap ones that you can throw away at the end of the trip (they will be very smelly). It is very wet and these work great. Take a slicker or rain gear even during dry months. They have very soft gentle rains. Go with neat, simple items--a few skirts and long sleeve tops for night. People do clean up in the evening but not fancy.
Jana, Cincinnati, USA

In San Jose during the rainy season (May-November), people usually carry umbrellas--brightly colored "sombrillas" for women and black "paraguas" for men. In the mountains, a lightweight rain poncho is usually more convenient.
Beatrice Blake, Anne Becher, The New Key to Costa Rica (Ulysses Press)

In 2003 I spent five months travelling in Central America -- Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras-- a single woman travelling alone! I read a lot of travel information on the area and they all said that women should cover up, i.e. skirts or pants -- no shorts, to avoid being harrassed by the local men. I found this to be absolutely true. Some women I met complained about being followed, called names, etc my local men, but they were wearing shorts! I never had any run ins like that thanks to being properly attired while on the street or travelling by bus.
Christine, Campbelton, New Brunswick, Canada


Do not wear a hat in Catholic churches in Croatia. Growing up Catholic, I remember it was mandatory for ladies to cover their heads when in church. But times have changed, and it is (apparently) an insult to do so now, at least in Croatia.
Jackie, San Francisco, USA

I traveled in Croatia in October. In the coastal resort areas, casual wear was the norm for visitors and locals alike, even at the tail end of the season -- but churches and other public buildings usually forbid shorts, swimsuits, and skimpy tops, so save your beach wear for the beach. In rural areas less visited by tourists, you'll be less conspicuous if you dress in dark colors and simple styles: I wore black and maroon, and was constantly being mistaken for a local. Medium-weight clothes (cotton/polyester stretch pants, 3/4 or long-sleeved knit tops, a cotton knit jacket) were fine most of the time. But when the bura (a nasty cold northeast wind) blows, as it often does in the fall, you'll need something windproof -- not necessarily heavy (I wore a nylon rain jacket over a fleece vest, and that was adequate). If you're over 30, don't wear white running shoes; invest in a good pair of leather walking shoes instead. In general, especially in the cities, Croatians set great store on looking neat and "put together," so bring well-made, color-coordinated clothes in good condition, and a scarf or two to pull your outfit together (October 2007).
Paula, Santa Fe, NM, USA


I suggest not wearing tight or revealing clothing. I wore modest shorts, long pants, and long cotton dresses. I tried to keep a shirt on over the dresses and avoided tank tops on their own and always carried a shirt or cardigan. Being an American female, and walking alone or even in small groups supplies more than enough attention. I also suggest wearing closed toe shoes or sandals. One day there was city wide fumigation and the streets were flooded with dead and dying cockroaches. Not to mention if you step into a puddle. I know it is hard to walk in heat with your feet fully covered, but pack light sneakers in addition to sandals just to be safe.
Mary, Quincy, USA

Careful! Don't wear anything too expensive looking as the locals will pester you for money. You need a visor or straw hat for the sun as it gets very hot. Pack low heeled or preferably flat shoes as the sidewalks are very uneven or not there at all.
Carol, Milton Keynes, UK

I've been to 4 places in Cuba: Guardalavaca, Mananillo, Cayo Coco, and Santa Lucia. There's no way to avoid looking like a tourist there. Cubans are very poor by North American standards and dress accordingly. The tourist breakdown in Cuba is about 1/3 Germans, 1/3 Canadians, and 1/3 other countries (mostly European nations). You can go topless on the beaches without a problem, most Europeans, and some Canadians go topless. I'd say about 50% of the women on beaches are topless. Dinner is casual, although most women at the resorts 'dress up' for dinner, even if its an all inclusive buffet dinner. Some (Europeans) dress a bit provacatively, as short skirts and cleavage are commonplace. Most don't wear bras and that's fine at the resorts. A black sundress, and heeled sandals would fit right in. If venturing off the resorts, I would suggest dressing very casually (jean shorts, runners, tee shirt) and do not dress in a revealling way. (No show of cleavage, no minis, and definitely wear a bra)
Samara, Calgary, Canada

I traveled in Cuba. Whether its meetings, touring or going out for dinner, you'll notice that women in Cuba wear makeup, nailpolish, and at least earrings. Without them its like going out with you hair in curlers and a bathrobe on.
Kate, Regina, Canada

Czech Republic

Try to avoid really fancy-looking running shoes when you're in the Czech Republic; they make it easier to identify you as a foreigner. Do bring some solid shoes - hiking boots, Doc Martens or Rockports - many sidewalks in the Czech Republic are not paved; they still use cobblestones, which can shift and heave over time and can be unsafe to walk on.

If you want to keep hands out of your purse, and your purse compartments are double-zippered, use a small mountain climbing carabiner to keep the zippers close together.

Also, if you're visiting Czechs at home, be sure to wear clean socks! Wearing shoes in a flat or house is frowned upon. Your host might offer you a pair of slippers -- if not, you might find yourself going to great lengths not to expose the soles of your socks.
Dawn Severenuk, Prague, Czech Republic




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