So we’ve been living in Essaouira for about three weeks now. It’s a tourist-friendly town on the coast, and we’ve already noticed a slight up-tick in the tourist numbers since first arriving. I’m glad we’ll be leaving before the full weight of the spring tourists descends on these cramped streets.
As you probably know, Morocco is a Muslim nation. It’s quite a liberal one (the most liberal, I’m told), but you still hear the haunting call to prayer five times a day, and there are mosques–with very unassuming doors–on every major street.
As such, men and women dress conservatively. For women, the dress varies from cover-every-but-the-eyes djellabas to conservative, professional attire that covers everything from the neck to the ankles. Here in Essaouira, the rate of women who wear a head scarf covering at least their hair is probably about 75%. In larger cities, that rate would be lower.
Style Tips for the Smart Tourist
Here’s part of what my Lonely Planet Morocco has to say about how to dress:
Your choice of attire still may be perceived as a sign of respect for yourself, your family and your hosts (or lack thereof)…So if you want to make your family look good, and don’t want to miss out on some excellent company–especially among older Moroccans–do make a point to dress modestly.
For men and women alike, this means not wearing shorts and sleeveless tops. Even in trendy nightclubs, clingy clothing, short skirts and low-cut and midriff tops could be construed as, ahem, the oldest kind of professional attire.
That advice is reflected in online forums I’ve read. You’re always going to be recognizably a tourist (more on this in an old post), but it’s easy to respect the local dress code.
And in Essaouira, 19 out of 20 tourists do. Unfortunately, the twentieth always manages to embarrass themselves horribly. It’s not such a big deal for men, but they should leave the shorts on the beach (frankly, that advice ought to apply to the whole globe) and they should not, at any time, wear one of the local’s full length, hooded djellaba. I saw one North American doing that the other day, and he was getting all sorts of smirks from the locals.
Women are more restricted in what they should wear. As such, their fashion faux pas are more egregious. Shorts, short skirts, midriff-baring and low-cut tops, sleeveless shirts–it’s all pretty shameful.
A Few Brain Cells and Jedi Robes
It doesn’t take too many brain cells to:
- Read a guidebook or travel forum and follow some basic sartorial advice.
- Look around. See how much skin the locals aren’t showing, and dress accordingly.
Once every couple of days I see a ridiculously-dressed tourist that I just want to smack.
On a related note, the djellaba was almost certainly the inspiration for Jedi robes (and, come to think of it, the Jawa costumes). In fact, I suspect the costumer on the earliest Star Wars movie just bought one off a Berber’s back in Tunisia and threw it on Alec Guinness.