I stand, eyes filling with tears, surrounded by every item of travel clothing I own. I have nothing to wear.
Seriously. We are weeks away from a trip to Morocco and I don’t know what I’m going to wear.
One of the first things I did after booking this trip was to google “travel clothing for Muslim countries.” My friend Marianne had alluded to the issue while describing her own trip . “Just wear a hat and don’t make eye contact,” she advised. The websites suggested by google were equally blithe. “Dress conservatively,” they counselled.
Actually you can wear whatever you want, if you don’t mind men following you, clicking their tongues and hissing at you, and grabbing at your bits. I definitely don’t want that. And I don’t want to offend my hosts when I visit their country. So I got to work. These days I’m no longer sure what “conservative” dress is, so I dug deeper until I hit more specific advice: don’t reveal your shoulders, your chest including your collarbone, or your knees. And nothing form-fitting. That gave me something to work with.
So I took out all my travel clothes. Most of them are lightweight and quick dry; some were quite expensive. I tried on each piece. Every item violated at least one of the criteria.
Mmm. No wonder Muslims are so shocked by the way we dress.
I took myself down to H&M for the end of season sale. After an hour in the store, I had identified three shirts, two with sleeves that come below the elbow and one with long sleeves, but made in a light material. After all, it’s predicted to be more than 30 degrees during our trip. I wouldn’t have bought any of them under normal circumstances, but they were cheap – this being H&M – and they were disposable. I’ll wear them in Morocco then discard them when I get home.
That took care of the top. But I don’t own a single skirt that ends below my knees. As my friends know, I’m on the short side, and I’ve long since discovered that anything that falls below my knees makes me look like I’m wearing a grown-up’s clothes. The only exception in my wardrobe is a pretty Hawaiian print dress that ends mid-calf. And which is sleeveless.
I thought I’d buy a pair of flowy Indonesian-style pants. Every woman seems to be wearing them this summer, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I almost stopped women on the street and asked where they’d bought their pants. But I decided that, in an urban environment, this was probably not a good idea. In desperation, I went to Winners where I found lots to choose from, all hideous.
Then I remembered the new age store in our village. It sells an assortment of incense, crystals, chimes, Buddha statues and – yes, flowy pants. They even had a black pair on the rack, which will go with everything, unlike the typical pair printed with purple elephants. I tried them on and – another miracle – they fit! And they are the right length, so I don’t have to hem them. Perfect.
Quite pleased with myself, I took them home to try them out with the tops I’d bought. The outfits looked pretty dorky, to be honest. I’m accustomed to dressing nicely, so I turned to the internet once again to see if there was something like a fashion site for Muslim women. What I found was an aspirational website with a gorgeous tall young blonde modeling exquisite flowy dresses and tunic tops. Tunic tops and I get along about as well as maxi skirts and me. And I’d have to spend a small fortune on dresses that I will never wear again.
In frustration, I went a few pages further into the google search results than I normally do. I hit a travel website for Europeans that suggested pants. But there’s a catch. Your top has to cover your bum. What? In horror, I put on the H&M tops. Not one of the three is long enough.
That’s where the tears came in.
When I’d finished snivelling, it was back to the internet.
Finally, I hit the most sensible advice I’ve read, which was written by a young woman who travels extensively. The solution is called a djellaba. You buy it in the market. It’s a loose flowy kaftan-like gown that falls to your feet. It costs a few euros. You put it on over your bathing suit and Ahmed’s your uncle.