How to dress to respect other cultures

Dress like a gentleman in cool linen and stand out for the right reasons when you travel abroad

Dress like a gentleman and stand out for the right reasons
Image source: Samuel Windsor

Were Borat to strut the Dubai beach promenade in his mankini, he’d soon find himself in the hottest of hot water. But even if you think you’re dressing to show respect, how do you know for sure that you’re not falling foul of local clothing custom?

Here at Samuel Windsor, our philosophy is that a gentleman should dress like a gentleman wherever he is, and that by doing so, he’ll only ever stand out for the right reasons. Here’s how to keep on the right side of the dress code, wherever you go.

Keep it covered

Linen clothes and leather sandals from Samuel Windsor keep you cool and show respect on holiday

Linen clothes and leather sandals keep you cool and show respect on holiday
Image source: Samuel Windsor

Travelling abroad for business or pleasure? You need to dress appropriately or, depending on where you are, you could face anything from stern frowns to fines, jail time and even deportation.

By ensuring you’re correctly dressed, not only will you avoid the potential for unpleasantness, you’ll gain more from your overseas experience. Local people are naturally more friendly and helpful to those who show due deference to local dress customs.

It actually makes little difference whether you’re visiting Bhuddist Myanmar or Muslim Iran – the more religiously and culturally conservative the country, the more modest your dress should be – and that goes for men as well as women. Whether you’re visiting China, Cuba, the French Riviera, or anywhere else – people respect those who show respect.

Shoulders, knees and toes

It’s polite to keep your shoulders, knees and toes covered when away from the beach

It’s polite to keep your shoulders, knees and toes covered when away from the beach
Image source: Samuel Windsor

If you’re enjoying a beach holiday in the UAE, your bare chest and swim shorts are only OK while you’re in the sea or lounging on the blistering hot sands. As soon as you step outside your resort, you need to be in conservative dress or potentially face serious consequences.

Conservative dress in any country means keeping your shoulders and upper arms, knees and lower legs and feet covered up. In some countries, you’ll be able to get away with shorts and flip flops, but really? Is that the image you want to portray?

Keep your head covered from the scorching sun with a tasteful Panama hat, cover your shoulders and torso with a lightweight summer shirt, and keep your knees under wraps with long trousers. And who would want to wear flip flops, when you can do so much better? How about closed toe leather sandals? So much smarter, so much more in keeping, so much more comfortable and hygienic.

Shirts for conservative countries

Roll long sleeves up and leave shirts untucked for a smart but casual vibe

Roll long sleeves up and leave shirts untucked for a smart but casual vibe
Image source: Samuel Windsor

In some countries, the locals wear t-shirts, and if they do, it’s fine for you to follow suit. But in many places – like Iran, Morocco, Algeria, India – and plenty of others too, regional differences mean that what’s OK in the more tourist-friendly parts of the country is a no-no in others.

Surely it’s simpler not to wear t-shirts, and opt for a crisp shirt instead? You can leave it untucked or tuck it in, roll your sleeves up or leave them down. You’ll know which way to wear your shirt as soon as you spot a local, something you may be able to do by looking out of your hotel window.

If you’re heading for a very hot country, cotton isn’t as cooling as light and airy linen, which is miles more moisture absorbent than cotton. It’ll take a lot longer for sweat patches to form, and because linen fabric is a much looser weave than cotton, it offers vastly superior breathability.

Don’t like linen? Try seersucker which, owing to its dimpled texture aids air circulation by holding the fabric away from your skin. A favourite with gents from the Southern USA, it travels particularly well and hardly creases at all.

Trousers not shorts

Summer weight chinos from Samuel Windsor are an elegant alternative to shorts

Summer weight chinos are an elegant alternative to shorts
Image source: Summer weight chinos from Samuel Windsor

If you happen to be visiting Bermuda, you’ll find a pair of smart Bermudan or chino shorts and a Hawaiian shirt de rigueur – even a Bermudan business suit features shorts rather than trousers!

But elsewhere you’ll get short shrift should you stray from the beach with your hairy calves and knobbly knees exposed for all the world to see. So stay comfortable, appropriate and protected from the sun by wearing trousers.

Trekking to the highlands of Thailand? Pack cargo pants. Floating about the bars and cafes of Nice and Antibes? Sport a quality pair of linen trousers in natural, navy or grey, with a seersucker or print shirt on your top half. A pair of classic sunglasses and a Panama hat complete the look.

Toe the line

Deck shoes from Samuel Windsor are a great alternative to sandals

Deck shoes are a great alternative to sandals
Image source: Deck shoes from Samuel Windsor

Never show the soles of your feet to a Thai, or you’ll cause terrible offence. For this reason, if you’re visiting Thailand or any other culturally conservative country, a pair of closed toe sandals is the way to go. Visiting a Burmese temple? Here, you’ll need to take off your footwear, so it might be best to go for slip-on sandals – just steer clear of flip flops which look naff and, being made from man-made materials, smell bad in your luggage.

Maybe you’re not into sandals at all. In which case, you’ll find that a pair of moccasins or slip-on deck shoes goes very well with lightweight summer chinos or linen trousers.

This guide, plus a small display of tact and common sense, should keep you on the right side of appropriate at all times, no matter where you go. But if you’re in any doubt at all about what to wear on a foreign trip, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for travellers, is a good place to begin.

Do you have any tips for holidays or business trips abroad? Pop over to our Facebook page now if you’ve got something to share. 

Posted in How To - Style.

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