We've got another question for our Ask the Expat series, this time about appropriate women's attire in Turkey:
Hello Barbara, I found out that I'll be moving to Samsun, Turkey in September, and your blog has been fantastic for real-world info on what I might expect. Thanks for writing, and keep up the great work! As I'm preparing for my move, I'm updating my wardrobe and have heard mixed comments on exactly what is and isn't acceptable in terms of clothing for women. I've heard everything from vague ("dress modestly") to specific (for example, that shoulders and knees always need to be covered, that I shouldn't even bother buying pants for my work wardrobe and that I need to stick to long skirts and dresses (I'll be teaching at a University), etc.). I'd really love to hear your opinion on what's appropriate for women's clothing, not only for work, but in other scenarios too (bikini on the beach too risque? What about spandex running pants, or should I only pack loose workout clothes?). Thanks for any advice you might be able to throw out there! Best, Kara
Well, I should say upfront that I haven't been to Samsun in over a decade, so my knowledge of typical women's attire and opinion of what's appropriate for women to wear is limited to Istanbul, the Aegean region and south-eastern Anatolia. I do think, though, that women's attire is similar across Turkey (with the exception of the far south-east), so what goes in Istanbul most likely is okay in Samsun too.
Because of the weather in Izmir, normal attire here is very different from the rest of Turkey, even Istanbul. It is so damn hot here that women walk around in miniskirts with skimpy tops and no bra underneath and none of that garners so much as a second glance. I don't see too many women in Istanbul wearing so little clothing.
That said, most women in Izmir don't go to work looking like that. Most of the businesswomen that I see dress very, very well. Pencil skirts are in vogue, as are button-down blouses and heels. Wearing tailored pants to work is completely acceptable for women, especially in a university setting.
The phrase "dress modestly" can mean many different things to many different people, but in Turkey, especially at work, I think "dress modestly" includes clothing such as tailored skirts at knee level or mid-calf, nice pants, professional-looking blouses, sweaters and long-sleeved t-shirts. Cleavage seems to be a no-no in pretty much every profession except street walking and television reporting. Skirts can be quite short here, much shorter than we would allow in the US, and that kind of dress seems to not only be accepted but encouraged in some cases (such as for receptionists and secretaries).
As for the beach, anything goes, really, including bikinis and topless sunbathing (although before you take off your top, gauge the local scene by checking out what other women are wearing.) For advice on exercise and running attire, check out this Ask the Expat question I addressed in March.
I think that if you don't pack anything that's too short, see through or exceedingly tight, you'll be all right. When you get here, you'll be able to take notice of what other women in your workplace wear and shop accordingly.
Ladies, what do you think is appropriate women's attire for work in Turkey? Where do you work and what do the women wear? Men, what's your take on the issue?