Yes, I know it’s been almost a month since I’ve returned home from Egypt. Nevertheless, I did keep several pictures from my trip, and I also made notes of what happened each day that I’m there. I think part of me wanted to have something to keep the memory alive when I came back here, and that subconsciously fed my procrastination in keeping these entries from being written.
Egypt is a Muslim country, so by western standards dress is pretty conservative. However, there are actually levels of dress that represent how “practicing” someone is when it comes to Islam.
Most women in Egypt wear hijab. Many wear loose, traditional Islamic clothing such as the abaya, and look like this:
There are some women who are even more conservative than that, and wear a full face veil (called a niqab) and usually all in black. This is not the burqa, which is a shroud that covers the entire face including the eyes. A niqab is a light cloth that covers the nose, forehead and mouth loosely, but allows the eyes to be visible. Women who dress in niqab are often identified as “salafi”, a fundementalist branch of Islam. As such, they will often wear gloves to cover their hands and socks on their feet, as they intepret Islamic doctrine as requiring this extent of covering for a woman.
However, most young women in Egypt dress in a very modern style. Many of the more conservative muslims (including myself) don’t find this style to be modest enough, because it usually is in tight clothing or not fully covering the areas of the chest and rear. Here is an example:
These women, some may assume, may follow the larger culture of wearing hijab, but religiously may not be as dedicated to all the daily practices.
Lastly, there are women who don’t wear hijab or modest clothing at all. They dress like any westerner, even in clothes that are very revealing even by western standards. One evening I was in a cafe with my husband, and two women came in wearing short, flashy, tight dresses. Since this is something very uncommon, I asked him what might be the occassion they are dressing for, because they looked like they were going clubbing. However, I was not aware of any clubs like that in Banha at all. He said they were most likely coming from a wedding reception. I told him that in the US, that kind of clothing wouldn’t be appropriate for a wedding at all. It would be considered trashy and tasteless.
Interestingly, many of the shops in Egypt sell clothes that are quite form-fitting or even risque. What was most intriguing to me was the amount of lingerie shops there. They are everywhere! Considering the most lingerie I will see is in Victoria’s Secret at the mall, I was actually shocked that it seemed to be so popular there. One would think that such a conservative society would keep things like lingerie out of view, but it is 10 times more available there than here in the US!
As for the men, the same type of distinctions follow. Some men dress in a traditional Islamic manner, and the more modern, younger ones favor trendy clothing. What tickles me is that the ‘trendy’ men’s clothing mostly consists of skinny jeans and tight shirts- a style that my oldest son was obsessed with back in 2010. Here is a photo showing the two extremes:
Speaking personally, the only time I see men dressing this way en masse is if I happen to be among a community of homosexuals. I think the fact that so many Egyptian men dress like this, coupled with their open physical affection with one another, causes people to wrongly accuse them of being ‘closet gays’. Here are some more pictures showing the prevalence of the style:
While we are talking about clothing, I want to say that shopping in Egypt is way more affordable for westerners than shopping back home. Even shopping retail at the mall is going to save some money. I bought 3 silk skirts at a popular store in a high-end mall, and it didn’t cost me more than $50 USD. But what I like even more than that, is that Egypt keeps the tradition of tailoring clothes. I’m not talking about just fixing repairs, but buying your own fabric and enlisting someone to make the clothing for you. There are countless fabric stores to use for this purpose, and fabric there is priced ridiculously lower than what you would have to pay in the west. Not only that, but the fee the tailor charges is almost nothing in USD. Before I left, I had two light summer jackets made for me. The cost of the entire endeavor (fabric and labor fees) was about $40 USD. I would’ve paid much more than that if I had to buy something comparable off the rack. And if I tried to have it tailored here in the same way, it would be outrageous!
Long story short, I’ve decided that I’m going to try to secure all my clothing in Egypt from now on! It helps that I can find the Islamic style I normally wear here much easier there, too.