When in Rome, don't do as the Romans do (native dress)

Which non-Western countries where locals typically wear non-Western garb would a Western visiter be considered odd by the locals if he decided to dress like them?

In the US, it’s considered more normal for everyone to where western style clothing, and I can’t think of an instance where someone visiting from another country would be look askance at for adopting our style of dress. And yet, I suspect the opposite is often not the case. Or is it?

Korea, IMHO. If a non-Korean were to go around wearing the traditional garb, it would strike many people as odd. Mind you, the traditional garb is only worn for very special occasions; otherwise, folks wear Western style clothing.

I’m not so sure that’s so everywhere in the U.S. If, for example, you were Japanese and went to Montana and dressed like a cowboy (cowboy hat, western shirt, boots, etc.), I think the natives would consider you odd and might laugh a little behind your back even if they wore the same stuff everyday.

Sorry. Western = the US and Western Europe. Not “Wild West”. :slight_smile:

I’m thinking of western clothing that would be typically seen in any of the above countries, but not to include unique regional styles.

The guide books explicitally warn you against dressing in the traditional mayan garb in Guatamala (which you still see worn there). As there are so many subtle implications to a particular style of dress, to do with position and status, that you would not understand and could cause offense (typical mistake is apparently inadvertently cross dressing as destinction between the womens and men’s dress is not obvious).

Personally, I subconsciously view adopting local traditional clothing as a statement that one has truly learned (or ‘mastered’, to sound a bit more brutal) and become a part of that culture. So if I went to another country and saw an American who had been living there for ten years wearing local garb, I’d think nothing of it. If they were a tourist who had been there a day and knew only how to say “where is the bathroom?” in that language, I’d probably roll my eyes. I also tend to associate Americans who too-quickly adopt foreign clothing with New Agers who pilfer the most superficial aspects of various cultures.

Exceptions abound, of course; for example, a non-Muslim American woman wearing the hijab in a country where she would greatly stick out not to.

A non-Muslim American woman in a country ruled under Islamic law would not be expected to wear a hijab, but she would be expected to cover her arms and legs - no shorts, no t-shirts or halters. This is considered “decency” and has nothing to do with religion. Indeed, it may be dangerous for her to wear a hijab as she would then be expected to be knowledgeable about behaviors she is not familiar with and could get in trouble. In some Islamic-ruled countries, “infidels” are not allowed to roam freely, so it is not a real issue, but in areas where you are allowed to be, it might be more important to make it apparent that you are NOT a local, while still respecting the laws of decency.

While most people in Japan wear western-style clothes, seeing people in kimonos is still a common, everyday occurrence. A westerner in a kimono, however, would probably be looked at as either a dumb tourist or some kind of street performer.

However, in the right context, westerners can wear other kinds of traditional clothes without attracting any odd looks. During festivals, you can wear yukatas (single-layer casual kimonos), happi coats (the pants are another matter), or a samue without looking like an oddball.

However, even if you are Japanese, you can’t walk around in a fundoshi (warning: buttflesh. May not be worksafe), without getting a lot of stares, as I noticed while riding the subway yesterday.

When two of my female friends and I spent a month working in a rural hospital in India, we all went out and bought salwar kameez (tunics and loose trousers).

Not only was this for modesty, but simply because where were were going was very rural, and no-one wore western dress (unlike Delhi and Mumbai, where we wore our own clothes).

Basically, no one where we were thought anything of us wearing traditional costume, because it hadn’t occurred to them we would wear anything else (and the nurses and teachers greatly enjoyed dressing us up in their saris for Independence day).

In fact, when we showed them some photos of us with our families, most people were shocked that we didn’t wear salwar kameez at home, and commented on how much nicer we looked wearing them!

So, although I wouldn’t have worn my “outfits” in the parts of India where western clothing (and western women) don’t draw crowds, when you’re in a place where you’re the only real-life white person anyone has ever sen, and a small crowd follows you everywhere you go, wearing not wearing clothing they considered outlandish and immodest was an advantage!

There are a few Westerners that live in Japan that have ‘gone native’. Usually women. They wear Kimono every day and act like a Japanese woman from 1890. It is very weird. Especially when Japanese women usually wear jeans or business clothes.


Isn’t that a bit expensive? When I lived in Japan, the costs of kimonos was sky high (And, no, I didn’t wear the things myself–my girlfriend at the time wore one on occasion).

All of Europe, if you wore traditional dress.

Watching Korean TV game shows, I see more foreigners wearing the hanbok than I do Koreans nowadays. The hanbok itself is so seldom worn that anyone wearing it in public is going to get funny looks, unless it’s New Years, Chusok, or near a wedding hall.

On game shows, the “dress code” is a tad different than in real life; especially if the contestant happens to be a foreigner.

That bit about wedding halls resonates. Whenever I see anyone in han-bok, I look around to see if there’s an attendant wearing a sash with the name of the wedding hall (which, btw, to me look exactly like the tackier Japanese love hotels). The attendant’s job is to direct people to the wedding hall, given that the address system here is approximately worthless. But that’s fodder for a rant in the Pit another day.

There is a book which you can probably only find in japan called Types: The Foreigners You Are Most Likely to Encounter, Or Be!" (Tokyo: The Japan Times, 1994). “Residents can find themselves and everyone else they know among such caricatures as the Esoteric Type, the Deadbeat Type, and the Come-As-You-Are Type. One favorite is the kimono-clad, cosmetic-less young Western woman known as the Gone Native Type, who is described as being able to read menus in Japanese - upside down.” Quote from here-http://metropolis.japantoday.com/tokyointerview/305/tokyointerviewinc.htm

When they go native, they go native. They wear real kimonos. I think they sell their house and move to Japan. These westerners who have gone native are there for good. Not just one year of English teaching.

My Scottish friend tells me that only American tourists wear kilts over there to everyday functions.

BMalion- true, plus, only tourists wear kilts at all in Ireland.
You’d be surprised the number of tourists who think that because the American Irish are fond of bagpipes (when the actual Irish intrument is the Uilleann pipes) and Scots and Irish are all celts, that the Irish wear kilts too.
We don’t.

Not sure this is really relevant to the OP. Kilts are definately NOT *everyday * dress in Scotland. The only time Scots wear kilts (with a few eccentric exceptions) are to weddings and a few other functions (e.g. Burn’s night dances, posh christmas parties etc).

Just out of interest we never wear them to funerals, not sure why not.

And coming back to the OP in some way, it would be seen as both unusual and, if i’m honest, a little insulting for foreigners to wear a kilt. I think the general Scots view is that Kilts are for Scotsman and others should not wear them.

As Irishgirl says, you can definitely go to India and wear salwar-kameez. I recommend not wearing the really fancy stuff, like lenghas and such, but lots of people wear salwar-kameez and even saris…those Indians come here even and still wear them.

And I don’t know how well this will go over…but I think white girls look positively stunning in our clothes. Our clothes are full of bright colors and stuff, and pale skin and light-colored hair are set off gorgeously by them. Sometimes they look better than us! :slight_smile:

Why on earth not? Unlike a lot of the “traditional” garments mentioned above, people actually do wear cowboy hats/boots/belts/shirts/skinny jeans in certain parts of North America. It’s a distinct form of dress with a history–maybe I’m being a bit touchy, but it shouldn’t be discounted just because “oops–it’s Western, worse it’s American, therefore it’s boring. Next!” Remember, Texas used to be a country.