What to Wear Traveling the World: Dress Codes

While “No shirt, no shoes, no problem!” may be the unofficial motto of many beach towns across the world, there are some places where that attire is simply unacceptable. As a world traveler, you will come across situations that require you to dress in certain ways, and they will make sure you know it, one way or another.

San Jose, Costa Rica: Capital city of a country bustling with tourism and boasting some incredibly beautiful beaches. Daisy dukes and bikinis are more than enough clothing for some of its beach towns, but ladies, if you wear anything above the knee in downtown San Jose, you are asking for attention that you may not want. It is not socially acceptable for women to wear skirts and shorts in the city, and if you do, you will definitely find out why if you pay attention at all. You won’t see local women dressed like that. What you will see are the eyes of every guy looking you up and down from all angles and offering you cat calls. Even on the hottest days, the ladies still wear jeans. As a general rule, I will not wear short skirts or shorts in a city until I’m certain that everyone else is doing it and it’s socially acceptable, like it is in Bangkok.

What to Wear Traveling in Thailand
T-shirts, shorts, tanks, A-OK in Thailand
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Take Rome, Italy, for example. In Rome it’s totally okay to wear short shorts or skirts and tank tops, that is until you go into the Vatican. You must be wearing a skirt or pants that go past the knees and your shoulders must be covered to be allowed entry into St. Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel (basically, the entire Vatican). Guys, you are fine to wear shorts, but remove your hats. Ladies, if it’s hot out and you want to wear a tank top, bring a scarf that you can wrap around your shoulders last minute, or plan to wear a t-shirt or longer sleeves.

What to Wear in the Vatican
Scarf over my tank top and skirt longer than the knees at the Vatican
Monasteries and mosques: I once visited the monasteries in Meteora, Greece, and they actually gave out wraps at the door to any woman without a long skirt (yes, even if we had long pants), and to men wearing shorts. Ladies, if you go to Meteora, wear your maxi skirt that day.
Related: Meteora vs Delphi, Greece
What to Wear in a Monastery
Putting on the obligatory wrap at a monastery in Meteora, Greece

Similarly, be prepared with a scarf if you plan to go into a mosque, as many of them will make you cover up. Some may ask you to remove your shoes or even wash your feet before entering. It is a part of their culture, and that is something that we as travelers must respect.

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What to Wear in a Mosque
Shawls, scarves, long pants and skirts in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Washing Feet at a Mosque
Feet washing area at Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Generally speaking, the style in much of the world is similar to the style where you live. Don’t worry about bringing the wrong clothes and not fitting in. You will notice differences in shoes or fashion choices once you arrive, but bring the clothes that make you feel good and are comfortable for traveling. In cities, you can expect more high fashion, and on the beaches or in the countryside you can expect more laid-back clothing such as linens, shorts, and tank tops. Plan ahead for cathedrals, mosques, monasteries and the like, and you should be just fine.