Can I Dress “Omani-Modestly” . . . and Still Have Fun?


Less than three weeks until we leave for the Middle East.  Today, I must focus on clothes . . . the hardest part of preparing for our trip.

Since moving to Arizona, I have worn decreasingly less and less, with summer comfort taking precedence over all else. It was revealing to realize I owned almost nothing that met Oman’s modesty standards, unless stable clothes and hiking shirts count.

Oman is a conservative country and its modestly guidelines are restrictive:  skirts down at least past the knee, trousers preferred, shoulders covered, arms covered at least to the elbow, and all clothing loose in order to mask “the female form.” For westerners, head coverings are required only in the mosque and in very conservative areas.

I wondered, how could females feel pretty when shrouded in so much fabric? and, how did they survive summers in 115+ degree heat?  was heat stroke an epidemic here?

Initially, everything I tried looked dowdy or just plain silly. Photos, FB entries, and blogs of college students and expats spending time in Oman and the UAE provided some clues and examples to build on, however. As I did research, it became clearer how one could look and feel attractive and still be covered to required standards.  Heat stroke still looked likely, no matter what, however.

Thankfully, I needed to buy new clothes anyway. As we travelled this summer, I bought things that I thought might work in Oman. Some things are too tight, but scarves and shawls can mask that, I think.  I had owned no scarves previously, not liking things around my neck, but I have had a lot of fun experimenting with them and now own a pile of varying colors and styles to hide my own personal female form during our stay in Oman.

Now today is my packing trial run:   Can I pack into one 50-lb. suitcase everything I will need for a month in situations varying from Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, to hiking and camping in the dunes, to swimming and snorkeling?

So now, off I go . . . to pack enough to keep my body well-covered in all occasions, hopefully without suffering heat stroke. Thankfully, the highs this time of year seem to be about 80 degrees . . . that is actually about the temperature at which I start looking for a sweater – this might work after all.

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M.A., Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Wanderer. Author, "When Freedom Called: at the front and home front in the Gulf War", 2011.

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