Modern societies expect people to wear some clothes, except at naturism venues or places such as a sauna. In cold weather or under burning sun, we are usually better off with good clothing. Sometimes, certain types of clothing are legally mandated in addition to being culturally expected.
Even if there are no such expectations, wearing clothes that no locals wear (or wearing them out of season, or out of the proper occasion) will mark you as an outsider and may make you a magnet for touts, con men and muggers. Dressing more like the locals usually makes fraternization easier.
Clothing is also a favorite item for travel shopping, especially for souvenir t-shirts, locally crafted clothing or items that are cheaper than where you live.
- See also: Packing list
|“||Being well-dressed hasn't much to do with having good clothes. It's a question of good balance and good common sense.||”|
—Oscar de la Renta
The need for clothing will differ dependent on your time away, expected weather at the destination, and the degree of formality.
Shoes and other footwear usually make up much of the packing weight. Poorly-fitting shoes can be painful. Try out the footwear and wear them in before the journey, to avoid blisters. For a long journey with much outdoor life, this is critical, but walking around an old town for a few hours is already much more than you want to do with new shoes.
While it is easy to change appearance through changing clothes, the footwear is usually a giveaway of a person's wealth, lifestyle and agenda.
Dress shoes in good shape are usually expected as part of dress code in business meetings and some hospitality venues. While running shoes (sneakers) are comfortable and practical, they could look too casual in a city, especially in Europe; they could be a dealbreaker for a restaurant host or a nightclub bouncer. Sandals are usually considered very casual.
Headwear is usually worn as protection against cold weather or sunburn, as part of a uniform, or as ceremonial or religious clothing. While the etiquette for headwear varies between countries, it is usually bad manners to wear protective headwear indoors.
While souvenir hats and novelty headwear can be part of the experience in a resort or a festival, they are usually a giveaway that the bearer is a tourist. To blend in, choose a model that the locals would wear.
In some areas, facemasks are commonly used to ward off disease or pollution, and wearing one can be seen as a sign of personal responsibility. In other areas, facemasks might be associated with criminal activity or look strange. Follow the lead of locals to decide when wearing a mask is an appropriate choice.
- See also: Textiles
Fashion shows, display windows and museum displays of old clothing can be attractions in their own right.
- See also: Shopping
Especially when travelling light or going to a climate very different from at home, it is often advantageous to buy at least some of the clothing at the destination. Also, shopping for clothes to bring home is quite common, either as souvenirs or because of different price structure (use tailors in low-income countries; fur, leather and silk may be cheaper where produced or commonly used).
If you are looking for clothes you need during your stay but have little use of afterwards, you should avoid spending too much.
Beware of different clothing size standards. "Large" in Korea is not the same as "large" in Germany. Some numbering schemes can be confusingly similar, while still significantly different. A shop assistant with a measuring tape can help you overcome this.
If you are visiting poor or sparsely populated areas, it may be wise to visit some bigger town to buy suitable clothing before venturing out to places where shops are few and far between.
Although traditional costumes of various nations and peoples are often sold to tourists at souvenir shops around the world, there have been a few high-profile cases of Americans being angry at other Americans for "cultural appropriation" of other people's traditional clothing. Also, e.g. for the Sámi, the traditional dresses are made with great care for a specific person – dresses sold in tourist shops are most certainly fake, often made with little knowledge of the traditions (they may e.g. have details for a married man although otherwise for a woman), and may be seen as insulting them. Get advice of a local friend, if possible.
Shopping second hand usually makes sense where it isn't too inconvenient. Second hand shops are often found away from touristy areas and most spend little on advertising, so a local contact or knowing the local language can be valuable for finding them. Sometimes second hand products are sold at general open-air markets. Check that there are no stains or other defects that matter for you.
Second-hand shopping might be an opportunity to find crafted clothes, and local period fashion difficult to find elsewhere.
For seasonal clothing, a problem with second hand is that people may want to get rid of it directly after the season, or those selling may wait to before the next such season, when demand is big. When you need it there may be little supply. Sales in ordinary shops are more conveniently timed: as most people are supposed to have bought what they need before or in the beginning of the season, there may be sales when the gear is needed the most. As an example, there are winter clothing sales after Christmas in the north hemisphere.
While the income and tax structure of most high-income countries often makes replacing clothes cheaper than repairing them, in low-income countries, clothes and (especially) shoes can frequently be repaired for a fraction of the price of replacement. If you've got a favorite piece of clothing that doesn't fit well, consider getting low-cost alterations while you're traveling to middle-income and low-income countries.
|“||Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves||”|
—Bible, Book of Genesis 3:7
Dress codes vary hugely across cultures. In many places there are important traditions and taboos around clothing, and any sensible visitor will take account of these. Some advice may be found in the relevant country articles.
In hot climates where revealing clothes are frowned upon, think about how to dress comfortably without upsetting locals. The local way of dressing may satisfy both tradition and comfort. If it doesn't suit you, suitable clothing still does not only protect from cold, but also from sunshine and warmth.
You may need clothes related to your particular reason for travel, including funeral clothing or wedding clothing. To go to houses of worship you may have to wear more modest attire, and a trip to a live performance or a fancy restaurant may require more formal clothing. Opera houses have traditionally been venues for the most formal clothes, and (especially going to a premiere) you should dress up, rather than committing a social faux pas. That being said, there are a few iconoclast performance venues that proclaim to hate social conventions, including formal attire, so inquire in advance what type of place you are going to.
Visiting religious sites
Religion is a factor in dress code, especially at houses of worship and cemeteries. In Christianity, men are usually required to bare their heads when entering a church. A head covering, such as a hat or scarf, may be either optional or mandatory for women inside a church, depending upon the sect and local traditions. Judaism requires a hat (usually a Kippah/yarmulke or just a plain old hat) for males at religious ceremonies, and Orthodox groups may require married women to keep all of their hair covered. Islam requires women to have their hair covered in mosques. Sikhism requires both sexes to have their hair covered in temples. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and several other religions require removal of shoes inside their houses of worship.
Attending a religious ceremony generally requires more formal clothing than checking out the artwork in a historic place of worship. In most cases, men who are not part of the religion are acceptably dressed at a ceremony if they are wearing a pair of long trousers and a plain shirt – the kind that has buttons down the front and usually needs ironing, not a T-shirt. A suit and tie may be preferred, and shows more respect. Women can often wear what they'd wear to a business meeting, but they may be expected to wear a dress or skirt, and it should not be short or low-cut. In the Indian subcontinent, wearing a sari to a Hindu temple is considered more respectful than wearing a shalwar kameez. In some places, women may be required to wear full-coverage dresses (down to the ankles, out to the wrists) and a veil. Other places are much more informal, and may be satisfied with a T-shirt and a pair of shorts from the summertime traveller.
Consider cosmetics as well as clothing: in some religions, it is customary to kiss certain objects, and no house of worship appreciates finding lipstick on their sacred objects.
Formal dress codes
At formal occasions in the Western world, there are some dress codes that are more or less standardized, although they vary by region, time of year, and type of occasion.
- White tie: The highest level of dress code. For men it mandates evening tailcoat, trousers with strips of braid down the side seams, white stiff-fronted shirt, white bow tie, waistcoat, and black patent leather shoes. For women it is a ball gown (if there will be dancing) or evening dress (if there won't). Can in many cases be substituted by a military mess dress, or a traditional folk costume (see below).
- Black tie: Tuxedo (U.S.) / dinner jacket (U.K.) with black bow tie for men and teen-aged boys, and a sophisticated gown for women.
- The women's equivalent of black tie is more complicated than the near-uniform worn by men. The first choice is a full-length, narrow evening gown. The wide ball gowns are much better for waltzing, but their bulk makes them more difficult to manage at the dinner table. For slightly less formal situations, a knee-length cocktail dress may be appropriate. Spandex-based knits or fabrics covered by sequins tend to pack well; if you choose something in a stiff satin or taffeta, then it will need to be ironed after you pull it out of your luggage. If you're trying to make your Little Black Dress do double duty at multiple events, you can raise the formality by adding long gloves, wearing formal jewelry, and placing something sparkly in your hair, or you can swap in a colorful silk scarf or a casual necklace to make it work for a less formal event.
- Black tie for young boys is any dressy suit with a tie. Boys may wear white dinner jackets with black pants during the warmer months. The black-tie equivalent for young girls is the most princess-y dress in her closet, with flat, shiny dress shoes. Babies of either sex are usually dressed entirely in white.
- Morning dress is rarely mandated, but can be seen at formal daytime events, such as the Royal Ascot. It is ideal for a church wedding or other significant ceremony that begins at high noon. Men wear a particular style of jacket, called a morning coat, with grey trousers, a waistcoat (vest) and a necktie. Women wear elegant day dresses or dress suits, usually knee length and often with a tailored suit jacket and a matching hat.
- Semi-formal: three-piece suit (matching suit with vest (U.S.) / waistcoat (U.K.)), tie, and dress shoes for men. For social occasions, women could wear a shorter dress – cocktail style with strappy or glittery heels in the evening, and dressy but without the bling earlier in the day – a dressy pants suit, or a long skirt with a dressy blouse. For business occasions, women wear matching skirt suits, matching pants suits, or an appropriate dress with a blazer, such as a solid-color, knee-length sheath dress with a modest neckline.
- Informal: Despite the name, this is not whatever you feel like wearing. A suit and tie with dress shoes is appropriate for men; this may be a matching two-piece business-style suit or a dark blazer with light-colored pants. Depending upon the situation, women may wear:
- a blouse with a blazer and skirt or trousers – good for business meetings or (in dark or subdued colors) solemn occasions;
- a church suit – a dress or pants suit that is too frilly or dressy for business, but still entirely modest; or
- a tea dress – so called because this mid-calf-length (or a little shorter) stylish dress with short sleeves is what you wear to a fancy afternoon tea party.
- Shoes are generally suited to the ground underfoot: flats or wedges for garden parties, low rather than high heels if you will be on your feet for a long time, etc. However, sneakers or other athletic shoes are not worn to informal dress events.
- Business casual is not very well defined, though for men it typically entails a button-down shirt (sometimes a polo) and long pants (not blue jeans), and for women, it usually entails at least covered shoulders and midriffs, and lower body wear that is not too sexy.
- Smart casual lies between business casual and casual. While long jeans or cargo pants are generally acceptable for men, shorts are not. Women may also choose to wear a dress, skirt, jeans or office pants, though shorts and miniskirts are somewhat inappropriate. For both sexes, covered shoulders and midriffs are generally expected. Covered shoes are also generally expected for men, though women might be able to get away with dressy sandals.
- Casual clothing is designed for function rather than formality: T-shirts, turtlenecks, knit sweaters, sweatshirts, shorts, jeans, miniskirts, leggings, loafers, sneakers, sandals, etc.
- Sports clothing depends upon the athletic endeavor in question. Generally, sports clothing that is obviously different from street wear, such as baseball pants and bikinis, should not be worn while doing other things, e.g., shopping or visiting museums.
- A folk costume is any costume based on the wearer's local tradition. Usually it refers to clothes made for festivities, though the concept also includes traditional everyday clothes. They include the kilt for people of Scottish descent, sari for Indian women, the Japanese kimono, the Norwegian bunad (see Nordic folk culture), etc. In many cases, they can substitute formal dress.
Furs and endangered species
- See also: Animal ethics
Though genuine fur clothes are a classical status symbol, and traditional garments in some countries, they are frowned upon in some high-income countries and among certain parts of society elsewhere.
Possession of products of endangered species is illegal, and might be checked at border crossings.
Travellers carrying any form of sealskin attire would be best advised to avoid travel through the United States; while folks in Newfoundland insist that harp, hood or grey seals were never endangered, the US 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits their importation. Since 2009 there is a EU-wide ban on seal products, exemptions allowing limited seal product trade for Greenland Inuit (indigenous people).
Leather is less controversial, though it can affect local taboos against animals seen as unclean (pigs in Islamic and Jewish countries, etc) or inviolable (cows in Hinduism, etc).
At public beaches and baths, dress code varies from country to country. In some, toplessness might be common among both men and women, while in some wearing at least a T-shirt over the swimsuit is regarded common decency on the beach. Public swimming pools may have rules about acceptable clothing. This could range from the rather libertarian standards of most American pools, which accept anything that's clean and intended for swimming, to the specific French rules that insist upon a form-fitting, skin-baring style of swimsuit. In more modest cultures, everyone is expected to keep covered from at least the shoulders to the mid-thigh, with short-sleeved (not sleeveless) shirts often being the minimum standard. Full-coverage swimsuits, such as a burkini, are required for women in some countries. These are also worn by skin cancer survivors around the world. People with longer hair, and anyone, including bald men, at a public swimming pool in countries such as France, Italy, Spain, or China, may need swim caps to cover the hair. The situation at nude beaches varies: some are clothing-optional, and others either pressure or require all visitors to go nude.
Children usually wear a smaller version of adult swimsuits. Small children are often allowed to be naked on the beach, but not everywhere, and what is regarded "small" varies. In places that are aware of skin cancer, the parents of such children may be the targets of unsolicited but well-meant advice about the lifelong health benefits of children wearing hats, sunscreen, and UV-protective clothing. Babies and young children are usually required to wear a special style of swim diaper whenever they're in a swimming pool, until they are old enough to use a toilet reliably. Swim diapers allow water to pass through, but keep any solid "accidents" contained.
In a gender-separated sauna, as well as in showers of a gym or bath house, guests are usually required to be naked, and to sit on a towel. Menstruating women in a sauna need to avoid leaving stains while not wearing clothing, which can usually be easily accomplished with a tampon or menstrual cup. Thongs or shower sandals may be needed, especially in wet areas. In co-ed facilities, bathing suits may be required. At hot spring resorts in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, bathers are generally required to be nude, and facilities are usually sex-segregated, though exceptions may exist for resorts specifically catering to foreigners. In Turkey and some other Islamic-oriented places, all guests are expected to keep at least partially covered, with a loincloth or disposable underwear being typical approaches in a sauna.
- See also: Cold weather, Hot weather, Sunburn and sun protection