how to dress when visiting Turkey

A woman’s ultimate guide on how to dress when visiting Turkey

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How to dress when visiting Turkey is an incredibly common question asked by females everywhere.

As a female, solo travel can be so incredibly exciting but sometimes it can also be a bit daunting and intimidating, especially when traveling to the Eastern part of the world.

While Turkey is not like the middle east, there are still somethings it is good to be aware of, especially when traveling alone.

In this post, I hope to share a few things that I have come to understand. Obviously you get to make your own decision but I hope my experiences and the experiences of those who have lived here longer will be beneficial for you.

Without further ado, let’s take a few things that will be helpful especially in how you dress when you visit Turkey.

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1. how to dress when Going to a Mosque or traditional area

While Turkey in general doesn’t have a mandatory dress code, they are often more strict on entrance into mosques. Men can’t wear shorts or tank tops and in some places long-sleeve is preferred.

Women must have their shoulders, upper arms and hair covered by a scarf and should wear loose fitting pants (leggings are not allowed if they are worn with a short shirt) or a long skirt (past knees so as not to show any thigh).

Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia. Learn how to dress for your visit to Turkey’s most visited UNESCO site!

Ladies, the day you visit mosques or traditional settings is the perfect day for a longer sun dress with a large light scarf that you can wrap around your head and shoulders. Some places like the Blue Mosque provides something you can use. I don’t know about you but I’d rather bring my own or hit up a close by shop and buy one.

If your clothes are inappropriate they might not let you enter or may ask you to cover up with a provided robe.

You also can not wear your shoes into the mosque so make sure you have some nice socks on or in your bag. You will take off your shoes outside the mosque and put them in cubicles and retrieve them when you leave.

If it is a busy season (i.e. summer) or you have expensive shoes, it may be worth bringing a bag you can throw your shoes in and take them with you as opposed to leaving them in the cubicles. And slip on/off shoes are much easier for this day.

Small side note: mosques are not available for visits during prayer times so make sure you check when they will be that day with a simple check on google.

How you dress when visiting Turkey, especially for more traditional parts of a city like Uskudar or Fatih, you are likely to attract much unwanted attention and stares if you are showing too much skin. In the traditional areas, it would be better for you to cover more than you would in other parts of Istanbul or a big city.

2. how to dress in Big Cities/Touristy areas

When you visit places like Istanbul and Izmir and Antalya, you will notice that people are much more free in how they dress. They are much more modern cities.

In Izmir and Antalya you can typically wear your normal clothes as long as you aren’t wearing something too short or low cut.

Antalya Sunset
Sunsets in Antalya.

While the large cities’ rules are similar, there are a couple of considerations for Istanbul. Some of the more traditional areas we talked about in the previous section are in Istanbul. Here it would serve you well to dress a little more conservatively than if you were wandering anywhere else.

A helpful tip is to always carry a light scarf with you so you can cover up if you ever need to. Paying attention to the locals around you will take you far.

If you are going to Taksim or Kadıköy, however, you will see just about anything and everything there. Something to note with regard to this is that just because the locals are wearing it doesn’t mean you will be received in the same way.

What I mean by that my Turkish friends can wear things that I could never wear. When they wear them other Turks think it is a bad choice. When I wear them, often they will think I am a bad person. While I am not saying you should care what people think, there is a level of respect I believe we should show when visiting another country.

4. how to dress when Heading out East/Southeast

When you go out East or Southeast, you should especially take concern over what you wear and how you interact. This is the least modern and most conservative areas in Turkey.

This means that men, while usually get away with anything, will catch stares for wearing shorts or tank tops. It is recommended to wear pants and sleeved shirts for sure. For women, make sure your pants/skirts come below your knees and all your shirts have sleeves on them and coming to or past the elbow is best.

In the summer I know it is hot but trust me it will make your life better. A lovely linen dress is your best friend!

Patara Beach
Patara Beach in Southwestern Turkey.

5. how to dress at the Beach!

I find Turkey so interesting because at the beach (and weddings) it is as if anything goes.

You will see women dressed head to toe as well as women in bikinis and everything in between. Women don’t care what anyone else thinks when they wear their suits and it makes me so happy.

When you’re walking around a resort or from your hotel to beach and vice versa, I definitely recommend wearing a coverup. That being said, the less of a suit you’re wearing, the more attention you may get.

Just be aware and you’ll be fine. While this Muslim country has a secular government, it is still quite conservative as a whole.

If you’re looking for a great beach to visit, make sure you check out Fethiye!

6. How to dress: Seasonal Considerations

Summer

Generally sleeveless tops and shorts are more acceptable because it is so hot. Just make sure they aren’t too revealing. Places like Antalya can reach 40°C and is quite humid.

Make sure you have appropriate clothes for where you’re headed. Thankfully not all of Turkey is that hot during the summer.

Fall

Think layers. There are cooler evenings and warmer days. I find it so fascinating that in the fall you can be in the sun during the day and it feels so much warmer than it actually is and then the evening comes and it cools down even more.

Fall is also more rainy than the spring so make sure you have a good raincoat.

Winter

Most places throughout Turkey winter is the wettest season of all. Make sure you pack both warm clothes as well as a good raincoat. The further inland you go, the colder it will be so if you are along the coast you will find a bit warmer weather than farther inland.

Snowy Istanbul
Winter in Istanbul.

Spring

Again, think layers. Spring is just lovely. I think spring in Istanbul is my favorite. If it could only stay that way year round! The days are typically warm and cooler nights. Sometimes there is rain but not like the fall or winter.

Again, it is a little different with the various regions throughout Turkey but it is the most mild weather.

7. How to dress: Understanding modesty in a Muslim culture

Sometimes it is quite obvious to note the foreigners who are here visiting. They are either covered neck to ankle or they aren’t covered at all. But honestly, neither is really helpful. Snap decisions are being made and you get to have a part in how Turks receive you.

Dolmabache Palace Gates
Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul on the European side.

Turks care about both modesty and style. So if you come thinking that you can’t show your arms or your legs but you look frumpy and not like you would dress at home, you’ll stand out just as you will stand out if you’re showing all the skin.

As we have talked about you can, of course, wear whatever you want. BUT if you want to be well received by locals, if you want to be taken seriously, if you want to get to know some people, take a bit of care to be relatable.

So to sum it all up I will quote a friend who has lived here for 30 years. She says “Dress a little more conservatively that the middle ground that you see.”

8. How to dress: A few miscellaneous notes

Watch your eyes

While this isn’t so much about how you dress, it is very important to your time here in Turkey.

Eye contact especially with smiling (as a woman to a man) is considered an invitation. If you don’t believe me, make eye contact with a few vendors as you stroll through the Grand Bazaar and see how long they follow you trying to get you to buy something.

The same goes on the streets. While perhaps not spoken, it is often believed that women should/would want any Turkish man. So if you have prolonged eye contact with them it is sending a message that you may not want to send.

Obviously with other women it is fine. I love smiling at women as I go, mostly because I have to stifle it so much of the time. But also, a smile goes a long way! Engaging with a shop owner is also different that making eye contact on the street.

Like I said, this isn’t a “you should never” thing so much as a thing you should be careful of. The more attention you draw to yourself, the more possibility for uncomfortable interactions you can have.

Generally Turks are incredibly helpful and kind but like anywhere, there are people you have to be careful with. By paying attention to your surroundings and how you interact with those surroundings, you will ensure that you have a smooth and uneventful trip.

Maltepe View Princess Islands
Evening nights in Maltepe.

A few extra things to pack

  • Especially in summer, sunscreen and a hat are a great idea. Sunscreen can be expensive here and the sun is intense. I don’t know how many times I have burned my forehead just not thinking before leaving the house.
  • I love my cross-body fanny pack style bag. It is minimal and perfect for traveling especially in touristy areas where pickpockets are much more common. But I also use it on a daily basis. I hate carrying things with my hands or having a bag that is so heavy my back hurts later. This limits me but allows me to carry all the essentials!
  • While many people will say to bring an umbrella, I find that it is often so windy here you’re much better served with a really good raincoat. Just make sure you get a little longer one like this one. Of course you can always wear a poncho but that’s up to you.
  • My favorite water bottle for wandering around the city is this bottle and filter by Epic Water Filters. Especially made for tap water. It catches the harsh chemicals as well as the heavy metals in the tap water here. Leaving just the refreshing taste of pure H2O behind!

Ready to go? Make sure you check out the Ultimate Guide to Packing to make sure you don’t miss a thing! You can also learn a few Turkish Phrases to prepare!

I hope this was helpful. Learning how to dress when visiting Turkey really can make a huge difference. Depending on what you thought previously or what you have heard before about Turkey, maybe some of it came as a bit of shock to you. Either way, I hope it helps you feel a bit more comfortable on your trip to this beautiful country.

What do you think? Are you surprised or still have questions about how to dress when visiting Turkey?

See you soon!

– Kimberly

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