Finding the Appropriate Clothes to Wear as a Female Backpacker
Don't worry, this isn't the part where we tell you that brown is the new black, or pants are the new pixie boots. However, a knowledge of the standards of appropriate female dress in the countries you visit can make all the difference to the way locals treat you.
In my humble opinion, dressing appropriately is really important. You'll attract less of the wrong sort of attention, and gain the respect and friendship of locals much more easily. In India I was surprised at the number of Westerners I saw wearing skimpy or scruffy clothes. I stuck to plain, long skirts or trousers or local gear, and as a result was often told I was a 'noble girl' - a pretty cool compliment if you ask me. More importantly, though, wearing suitable clothes is a way of showing respect for local people.
Be considerate with your dress sense
Apologies if your fashion icon is Britney, but modesty is kinda key here ladies. In most non-Western countries you should cover your legs, shoulders and upper arms at all times, and avoid tight-fitting items.
In some places, you should be even more careful. In traditional Muslim countries, for instance, you'll find most women cover almost all visible flesh and wear a scarf over their hair. Perhaps it's not strictly necessary to follow suit, but you may as well.
Be particularly respectful in religious buildings. This doesn't only apply to non-western countries. In Italy, holy bouncer dudes will bar your entry to some of the most beautiful buildings in the world if you turn up with bare shoulders, arms or knees.
Make sure you have the essentials
To get down to specifics, cotton trousers or combats are great, as are plain T-shirts and shirts. Take a large, cotton scarf to cover your head, shoulders or any other cheeky bits should the necessity arise.
A long skirt is essential: it's modest, suitable for smart occasions, keeps you cool and is handy for loo-breaks. Let me explain: in a lot of countries, sit-down toilets are not the norm. If you have to squat over a hole in the ground, it's much easier to stop a skirt from touching the less-than-lemony-fresh floor than it is to protect your trousers.
Of course, there's a dead simple solution to these fashion dilemmas. When you reach your destination, go to your nearest market, buy some fabric, take it to a tailor's stall and get a local-style outfit made for you. In a matter of hours, you'll have a unique, bespoke little number all of your own, and you'll know it meets local standards.
It's all about how you wear it, sweetie. Loads of western women wander the streets of India in long skirts which are actually under-sari petticoats, and the equivalent of going out in your underwear. If you want to get it right, ask a local woman.