Finding a balance between being comfortable in the clothing you’re wearing for travel and being conscious of local customs and traditions is important. Pakistan is a country of diversity in terms of terrain and temperature, with a great variation between the cities and the more rural areas, as well the mountains and the plains.
I’ve put together a guide as to how to dress in Pakistan with some tips on what to wear to be respectful as well as comfortable.
How women should dress in Pakistan
The title is perhaps slightly misleading as there isn’t necessarily a ‘should’ in terms of what to wear in Pakistan. I asked many of my local friends what to wear in Pakistan, and the response was usually that I could wear what I wanted, and that jeans and a t shirt would be fine. Whilst I’m sure this was true, and in cities such as Karachi where it’s more liberal would probably be fine, the reality is that outside of malls and higher end restaurants then most women did seem to dress for more traditionally or at least more conservatively.
Once I was out of the major cities and particularly in the North then most women covered their heads, and whilst this wasn’t a requirement at all except inside mosques, most tourists would perhaps feel more comfortable dressing a little more conservatively. I actually had many people come up to me and say they appreciated that I was wearing a kurta and they were happy that I was being respectful in this way. I’d like to point out again that nobody asked me to wear a kurta, it was my choice; just a choice that seemed to be appreciated.
The traditional Pakistani clothing for women is made up of the Shalwar Kameez, a sort of long sleeved shirt worn with a shawl for modesty alongside loose trousers tapered at the ankles. Often these items are colourful and sometimes even adorned with designs and jewels. The Shalwar Kameez serves two purposes; one it’s modest as it covers the shoulders, chest and usually arms and secondly the lightweight material is helpful for hot weather. It’s actually a delight to wear as European fashions aren’t usually so colourful.
Ideas as to what to wear in Pakistan for women
Asos has a great selection of modest clothing that look stylish. I chose a few maxi dresses with long sleeves and tapered at the waist to maintain some shape. Equally oversized shirts work well and the looseness means you’ll have a little bit more air.
Mix and match your own clothing with local items
Wearing a kurta with jeans is easy and comfortable. The kurta will of course go down below your hips to be a little more conservative but you’ve still got the comfort of jeans (and pockets) which you’re probably used to.
Why not buy some local outfits during your travels in Pakistan?
Some of the regional clothing from Pakistan is beautiful. I bought a few items during my travels that not only proved practical (and will be for future trips) but also colourful and enjoyable to wear. Furthermore, local people often seemed thrilled that I was wearing items of clothing from their country and region which is often met with happy gestures and smiles.
What to wear in religious sites or mosques in Pakistan.
Outside many mosques there will be a sign that says that women must adhere to proper Islamic dress to enter. This means that your arms legs and shoulders must be covered and also your head. It’s always wise to carry a scarf with you but often they can be provided if you have forgotten to bring one.
To cover your head you can simply use the scarf to drape over your hair or so it doesn’t keep needing adjusting then consider tying it up in a top knot.
What to wear as a male tourist in Pakistan
There’s more flexibility for what to wear in Pakistan for men. In the cities then jeans and t-shirt are perfectly normal and acceptable, it’s worth noting though that during the particularly hot summers then heavy jeans might be a bit too hot. Shorts, whilst not offensive are not that commonly worn except in the more modern areas of Karachi etc.
Outside of the major cities then almost all men wear the matching traditional wear, this is made up a long shirt with a grandad style collar and a loose trouser. It’s lightweight and fairly smart to be honest. Even in the rural areas then most men seem to have their traditional wear in immaculate condition and usually pressed. Once again you’re definitely not expected to dress in a traditional fashion and it may not be practical for you but many people actually find that the cool materials are helpful in the Summer. Otherwise, wearing jeans and a t shirt even in the rural areas won’t really attract any more attention than you’d expect as a tourist anyway.
Does it get cold in Pakistan?
Pakistan does have seasonal weather and during my trip in September I could feel the temperature dropping day by day. As you travel further north it will certainly become cooler, particularly at night time, so it’s wise to travel with a scarf and light jacket. In terms of what to wear in Pakistan in winter however it’s a different story in the mountains, and be sure to check temperatures before you travel to decide what level of warm clothing to take. Waterproof boots for snow, gloves, hats and thermals are all necessities in the far North and Balochistan.