As a secular country, visitors to Turkey enjoy a great deal of freedom in what they can wear especially in coastal resorts; but off the beaten track it’s important to recognize that most people in Turkey are Muslim and that away from the beach resorts one should dress a little more conservatively than perhaps one would do at home.
Turkey is vast and experiences distinct seasons and it is important to consider this in determining what to wear in addition to taking into account local sentiment. We’ve put together this handy guide to help you to make wise choices when it comes to what to wear in Turkey.
How do people dress in Turkey?
Turkish Traditional Dress
The traditional dress of Turkey dates back to the Ottoman era. Each region has their own specific traditional outfit which is characterised by beautifully embroidered colourful dresses, skirts, scarves, shawls and coin headdresses for women; and baggy trousers (salvar), shirts and waistcoats or jackets (yelek) for men.
Throughout the history of the Ottoman empire laws were passed which dictated who should wear what in accordance with their position within society. This peaked under the rule of Suleyman I who encouraged the wealthy to wear opulent outfits made from expensive materials like velvet, brocade and fur.
In the early 20th Century, many Turks adopted more modest dress, with women favouring the islamic hijab (headscarf) and an abaya (a long overcoat that covers the skin from wrist to ankle). Wealthier men took to wearing western style suits and a turban or fez (a red hat with a black tassel) on their heads, whilst the less well off continued to wear simpler forms of the more traditional outfits.
When the modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, its first president, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, sought to keep religion and the social segregation that had existed under Ottoman rule out of state affairs.
In an effort to remove religious symbolism from public life he passed a number of laws regarding dress including ‘The Hat Law’ of 1925, which punished anyone caught wearing a fez with a prison sentence and hard labour. Wearing the hijab was actively discouraged although it wasn’t formally banned in public buildings until the 1980s. In 2013 the ban was overturned, and women (in most roles) are now free to choose whether or not to cover their head at work.
Everyday attire in Turkey today
What you will see local people wearing will depend on where you are in Turkey. In coastal areas, most people favour western style dress, whereas inland people tend to dress a bit more conservatively. In big cities, you will see people wearing everything from jeans and t-shirts to the full Islamic burqa.
What should women wear when visiting Turkey?
What you should wear very much depends on where you will be going and what you will be doing in Turkey.
If you will be mainly chilling out on the beach and staying in tourist resorts like Marmaris and Bodrum, you can get away with pretty much whatever you want. It’s OK to wear vests and shorts, but we would advise against wearing shorts that are too short unless you want to attract a particular sort of attention to yourself!
Wherever you are it’s handy to have a shirt or kaftan to cover up if you feel uncomfortable.
When visiting Ankara or areas of central Turkey, modest dress should be worn. You don’t need to cover from wrist to ankle, but definitely make sure that your shoulders, cleavage and knees are covered. We would suggest wearing long loose skirts, long or cropped trousers and loose blouses, or maxi dresses with sleeves or a bolero/shrug. Leggings and a long kaftan style top would also be a good alternative.
What to wear in Istanbul
Istanbul is a fairly liberal city, but again, it’s a good idea to avoid short shorts and anything too skimpy. We would suggest covering your shoulders and knees when visiting this amazingly diverse city, just to avoid any unwanted attention.
What sort of footwear should I wear in Turkey?
For long days of sight-seeing we recommend sturdy anti-slip walking shoes or sandals with cotton socks for the whole family. The last thing anyone wants is painful blisters under their feet spoiling their trip!
In cities and coastal tourist resorts, pavements are generally good and you will have no problem wearing more delicate sandals and flip-flops.
Dressing for summer heat in Turkey
It does get extremely hot in Turkey – up to 45 degrees Celsius in summer – and for this reason we recommend lightweight natural materials like cotton and linen when travelling between April and October.
Linen trousers (either long or cropped) and long-sleeved shirts or kaftans are also a good choice for visiting archaeological sites such as Ephesus or exploring the magical landscape of Cappadocia. As well as being modest choices, such clothing helps to shield you from the harsh sun and protect against pesky insect bites.
Do I need to cover my head in Turkey?
The only time that you need to cover your head is if you visit a mosque or other place or religious significance. If you are visiting such places, you should dress conservatively in loose fitting clothing that covers all skin from wrist to ankle as well as wearing a head scarf.
Can I wear a bikini in Turkey?
Yes. You can wear a bikini at any hotel swimming pool or beach in turkey without getting into trouble. You will see people wearing all sorts of swimming attire from men in speedoes to women in full-length burkinis. Whatever you wear at the beach or pool, it is polite to cover up with a kaftan or dress once you leave the waterside.
What should men wear in Turkey?
Men should wear either shorts or trousers and a shirt or t-shirt during the summer months. We would suggest avoiding very short shorts anywhere away from the beach and would also advise against wearing anything with religious or political slogans or symbols. Men should also avoid walking around topless.
What should children wear in Turkey?
Boys are fine to wear shorts and t-shirts and girls can wear shorts and tops or sundresses in the same way that they would do in western countries. Older girls or girls that look older should follow the advice for women.
Don’t forget to pack hats, sunglasses and sunscreen as the Turkish sun can be very powerful even in the cooler months.
What should I wear in Turkey in Winter?
The key to dressing in Turkey between October and April is to have lots of layers. In the winter months, temperatures can drop quite low but some days can still be warm and sunny. It’s not unknown to experience something like all four seasons in one day along the coast! For this reason, having a cardigan and lightweight jacket is essential as well as a hat, gloves and scarf that can be easily removed when the sun comes out!
The climate becomes more extreme the further east that you travel. Temperatures drop from more than 40 degrees Celsius in summer to well below freezing in December and heavy snow can leave many areas impassable.
For this reason, a good quality winter jacket and thermal underclothes are recommended if you are travelling in central and eastern Turkey between November and April.
Will I need an umbrella in Turkey?
It can rain in Turkey at any time of the year and downpours can sometimes be torrential. We recommend packing a travel umbrella from May to September and a waterproof jacket at other times of the year.
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