It was February, and I was sitting on a train travelling from Birmingham to Bath, excited about my opportunity to see Stonehenge. I had been working in a pub in a small town outside of Birmingham for four months and only had one month left. The idea of seeing Stonehenge had my imagination running wild, and sitting next to my co-worker, I suddenly blurted out, ‘I think we should go to Morocco!’ Though my co-worker couldn’t fit it into her schedule to go with me, my partner Tom agreed it was a great way to end our time in England, so we booked the flights within the week! We would stop in Morocco before our next destination, Canada.
Having never been to an African country before, I did a lot of research. Every website was telling me different things about appropriate clothing to wear. As a woman should I be covering my shoulders and my knees? Should I be wearing a headscarf? Should I be always with my partner Tom in public? It took until I arrived in Casablanca, and spoke to a local man at our hotel to get definite answers. I packed a few t-shirts, scarfs, two long pants that weren’t tight to my skin, and a long flowing skirt. This proved to be the right choice.
Do I have to wear a headscarf?
It wasn’t hard to spot a tourist in Morocco. They either dressed overly cautious, or like they were about to go to the beach. As a woman with blonde hair, I read online that I would get a lot of attention if I didn’t wear a head scarf. Considering many women residents in Morocco don’t wear a head scarf themselves, I figured this wasn’t necessary, and therefore I only wore one occasionally. Even when wearing one, my skin was so pale that people knew I wasn’t a local, so that didn’t stop the curious stares.
Can I wear jeans?
I also read mixed information about whether or not a woman should wear jeans. I brought a pair with me that were loosely fitted, hoping that they would be acceptable. The first thing I noticed in the airport in Casablanca was many local women were dressed very modern, in tighter jeans than I owned at home! I was relieved that I hadn’t used up space in my bag for an item of clothing I wouldn’t be able to wear. It started to feel like this country was made out to be far more conservative than it actually was.
Should I cover my tattoos?
Since Morocco has quite the mixture of modern and conservative locals, I don’t think it is necessary to cover up your tattoos unless they are offensive in some way. Big cities like Marrakesh get many tourists, so they’ve seen it all before. I have a tattoo of a bear on my arm that was partly visible when I was wearing a t-shirt and I didn’t feel like it received a second glance.
Should my shoulders be covered?
Now don’t get me wrong, there is still a level of respect a tourist should have while dressing. I did learn that your shoulders should always be covered. This meant for men and women. Seeing other tourists show their shoulders was like seeing a woman with excessive cleavage back home. You can do it, but you should also expect a lot of negative attention. Most of the negative attention I noticed on myself was coming from conservatively dressed Moroccan women, even when I was covered up as much as possible. Even with this, I never had any issue that was more than a judgemental glare.
Should my knees be covered?
It is respectful for men and women to have their knees covered, though it isn’t as frowned upon if you wear shorts as some websites make it out to be. Just make sure they reach at least half way down your thigh. The exception for this is if you are visiting a temple, then everyone needs to cover up. It was disappointing for me to see huge tour groups of European families letting their young daughters run around in cropped tank tops showing their belly, and wearing the shortest of shorts. It felt like their flight to Australia had accidentally landed in an Arabic country without them realizing. Groups like this must have either been totally ignorant to the countries customs, or could care less.
I am all about freedom of expression, but every experienced backpacker knows that when travelling, we have to have a respect and understanding that not every country is the same. We must educate ourselves to be prepared for the different cultures we explore abroad. For me, embracing the way a particular country dresses, is all part of the adventure!