The Worst Clothing Mistakes American Tourists Make
Committing these fashion faux pas could put you at risk when you travel abroad
If you’re traveling abroad, blending in with the locals has safety advantages — if you don't look like a tourist, you may not be a target for pickpockets. Dressing like locals also means you're respecting their culture. The more you respect local traditions and standards of dress, the more likely it is you'll be treated with respect in return.
Mistake #1: Baring too much skin
Shorts and tank tops may be appropriate vacation clothing at home, but they're frowned upon in many countries. Throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, it's disrespectful not to cover your knees and shoulders, and you're likely to be denied admission to sites such as temples and mosques if you don't comply. Even in Mexico and other Latin American countries, as well as in parts of Europe, shorts are generally not worn beyond the beach. In most of Southeast Asia, shorts and tanks are generally fine, but don't make them too skimpy.
Throughout the world, rural areas tend to be more conservative than urban ones. Don't assume that what is acceptable in major cities will also be acceptable in villages. If you're unsure what to expect, ask locals for advice.
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Wearing loose, lightweight, long-sleeved clothing in natural fibers will actually keep you more comfortable in hot weather by protecting you from sunburn and allowing air to circulate. Light colors reflect the sun and will keep you cooler than dark colors, which absorb heat.
Long skirts are appropriate for women even in the most conservative cultures, but can be stylish no matter where you're traveling. They're also practical for trips into remote areas, where toilet breaks may involve squatting and the extra coverage is appreciated.
Dressing appropriately often requires striking a fine balance. If you're out in nature, hiking clothes and boots are both practical and suitable, but in cities or social settings, they can appear out of place. Likewise, save athletic clothing for actual workouts or lounging in your hotel room.
Mistake #2: Wearing the wrong footwear
Comfortable yet nice-looking walking shoes are your best bet when traveling. Avoid shoes with high heels since it's easy to twist an ankle when walking on uneven surfaces like cobblestones. Nothing screams tourist like running shoes, especially when worn with white socks, though casual sneakers like Converse are popular with locals in many European countries.
It's a good idea to wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off if you'll be entering temples or mosques. Taking off shoes is also the norm in homes in many countries, including Japan, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Make sure you're not wearing socks with holes.
Avoid open-toed shoes in places where they might leave you vulnerable to cuts, scrapes, and infections. Some activities, such as brewery tours, do not allow open-toed shoes for health and safety reasons.
Mistake #3: For women, not packing a scarf
A long scarf or light-weight shawl is essential in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia if you'll be visiting any religious sites where you may need to cover your head, shoulders or arms. Even in Europe, some Catholic and Orthodox churches request that women cover their heads.
A scarf can also be useful as a beach cover-up, for additional warmth in chilly locations and windy conditions or to protect your lungs from dust on unpaved roads.
Mistake #4: Sporting flags or foreign words
There's no surer way to be an ugly foreigner than by wearing clothing emblazoned with flags or other patriotic elements. Also, don't wear clothing with words in a language you can't translate, lest you inadvertently cause offense.
Mistake #5: Bringing your ripped jeans
Ripped jeans may be in style back home (or is that trend finally ending?), but it can be seen as disrespectful in places where people make an effort to dress in neat clothes, and the only people with holes in their clothes are those who can’t afford new ones.
Mistake #6: Flashing your bling — and not wearing a wedding ring
Nothing attracts pickpockets like overt displays of wealth, so leave eye-catching jewelry and watches at home or in the hotel safe, especially in poorer countries, unless you're attending an event where dressing up is expected.
On the flip side, single women may want to wear a fake wedding ring to deter unwanted amorous approaches.
Mistake #7: Flaunting your tattoos
If you have tattoos, it's a good idea to cover them when visiting Japan, as these are a mark of yakuza (gangs). While you're unlikely to be mistaken for a gang member, you may have some problems getting admitted to shrines, temples and public baths. Some older Japanese are still wary around anyone with tattoos. In other countries where tattoos are uncommon or carry cultural associations, you may find yours attracting attention, though whether this stems from disapproval or mere curiosity will vary.
To dress like a local, shop like a local
In some countries, an inexpensive way to dress appropriately is to buy fabric and have it made into clothing by a local tailor. It's also fun to buy and wear ready-made local clothing, but keep in mind that different styles, colors and patterns may have cultural associations. In Latin American indigenous cultures, for example, a particular weave and color of a shawl may indicate a woman's marital status. And that embroidered African tunic may look like a great women's garment to you, but to locals, it may be something only men would wear.
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