Subject Material

Dress Codes Around the World

Published: 10.08.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
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 Study the pictures below and discuss with a partner:
1. Why do we dress the way we do?
2. What determines our dress codes?
3. Is it true that "clothes make people"?

Dress codesDress codes
Kunstner: Kunst, arkitektur og designelever Porsgrunn videregående skole
Why do we dress the way we do?Why do we dress the way we do?
Kunstner: Kunst, arkitektur og designelever Porsgrunn videregående skole
Dress and identityDress and Identity
Fotograf: Jacques Delarue



stepping stone, attire, prospective, illegal, skimpy, writhe, gyrate, emulate, vamp, plunging, stiletto, rag trade, rule of thumb, encompass, dependability, groomed, midriff, tailored, inconspicuous, herd, prohibit, pickpocket, mugger, worship, enforce, hassle



Globalization, travel, the Internet, telecommunications and the ever present media have all contributed to connecting people and cultures. During the last 10 years we have been brought closer together at a phenomenal rate.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do"?

Understanding dress codes, correct modes of behavior and table manners when visiting other countries have become essential stepping stones to mutual respect and tolerance. No matter if we are casual travelers, exchange students or international business reps the old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” has never been more appropriate. Socially accepted dress codes in the West may be looked upon with horror and disgust in the East. Many of the stereotypes Western visitors have acquired over the years are due to a lack of understanding of cultural differences.Young people in international businesses, people working for international organizations etc. have all had to take courses in what is appropriate attire for both formal and informal situations before setting out to new and exciting jobs. Educators have also seen the need to inform their prospective students. Look at the dress code instructions that apply for Manipal University (26,000 students) Manipal University Dress Code

West is West, or..?

Much of our Western culture is based on media icons both in music, films and TV. Producers have long realized that sex sells. “Less may be more”, but too little may be illegal in some countries. Skimpy costumes worn by music idols writhing and gyrating to the rhythm of a sexy beat on Music TV catch the attention of young audiences. And who can resist the temptation of emulating them? The seasonal haute couture of fashion designers - vamping plunging necklines on stiletto heels on the catwalk - is quickly copied by the cheaper rag trade that normal pockets can afford to buy. The pressure to wear what is “in” has never been greater; nevertheless, what is “in” in one country may not be “in” in another.

And East is East?

Our impression of a country is very often affected by what we see worn in the workplace as well as on the street. However, there are a few rules of thumb depending on what continent you are on. While Western countries are more relaxed about showing more skin, the further East we travel, the more coverage is required. There is also more focus on what women wear than is the case with men. This is partly due to the fact that women have more to choose from, but this also mirrors the cultural values that apply for the two genders. Although American and European women can wear anything from short sleeveless dresses, tunics, pant suits, tight jeans, mini-skirts, low-cut tops and blouses, all of these styles are under critique the further East one goes. What is appropriate and allowed may vary from continent to continent. Putting party and designer fashions aside, the two main dress code categories to focus on are formal and casual/informal.

Formal Wear

Formal dress encompasses clothes worn in the work place, at meetings or at interviews. The signals given by what you wear in each situation are well worth remarking. Clothes signal your personality and who you are. When you represent a firm, business, or want to make a good impression, one needs to give out signals of responsibility, dependability and professionalism. Depending on the type of job you are applying for, it is always a good idea to look neat and groomed. Baseball caps, T-shirts, raggedy jeans, or mini-skirts and bare midriffs may not give out the right signals. The mini-skirted, sexy, low-cut suits worn on TV programs by female lawyers or hospital executives are not always true to life. No matter what country you are in, office wear for both men and women consists of fairly conservative, tailored suits, ties, pantsuits, smart ensembles, polished shoes, or heels. Women are usually encouraged to wear a minimum of make-up and discrete jewelry.

Even in countries such as the Middle East it is prescribed that business women wear skirts instead of trousers. Further East, Egypt, Saudi Arabia Iraq and Iran; women may sport ensembles from jackets worn over high-necked shells, smart scarves, hijabs that cover the head to no-skin-bared chadors, to black manteaux. In East Asia, countries like China and Japan demand that men and women wear dark, inconspicuous suits. An exception is North Korea, where women are not allowed to wear pants.

Casual Wear

Anyone who travels has seen herds of tourists dressed in sloppy T-shirts, skimpy tank-tops, shorts, flip-flops, baseball caps, and sport shoes or sandals. But there is a great difference when it comes to what you should wear in a city and what you should wear on the beach. Europeans coming for a visit to the USA may be surprised to find that even in California, the Sunshine state, where no type of clothing is over the top on the street, restaurants often have signs on the door prohibiting bare chested or bare footed people from entering. Men wearing tank tops have also been stopped at the door. Even at American beach resorts, bathing suits are prohibited in restaurants. Regardless of what the media boast, Americans are generally conservative. Topless bathing on public beaches is prohibited; even small children are encouraged to wear bathing suits.

As we go further East and as far as Asia, more conservative beach wear should be worn. In China and Thailand, for instance, you will not see bikini-clad local girls on the beach. And in Dubai, the most liberal Muslim country in the Middle East, it is normal for both men and women to wear swimsuits. Topless sunbathing and swimming is prohibited. Thongs are considered offensive. As in most continents, when leaving the beach it is advisable to wear leisure clothes and not walk around in swimsuits. Even in malls in Dubai there are dress codes asking people to dress modestly. See Advice to women travellers in Dubai  

When in Cities...

Everyone swears by jeans; however, in Europe such as Italy, Spain and France it is a good idea to wear dressy casual when in cities. Many travel guides advise against wearing beach wear in a European city. If you look like a tourist in raggedy jeans, sneakers and T-shirts with loud logos, you will be the target for pickpockets or muggers. Scandinavians, used to wearing anything they want at home, have been stopped by London police to have their backpacks examined for drugs. In most American, European, Mid-Eastern and Asian places of worship and in museums, you need to cover shoulders and legs. Sleeveless tops and short shorts are not allowed. Some places of worship may ask you to remove your shoes when entering.

Islamic Clothing

It is essential to respect traditional dress codes when in countries such as Pakistan or Iran. Long loose fitting clothes and a scarf for one’s head is always a good idea if women want to avoid aggressive behavior from locals or unwanted attention from men. Saudi Arabia and Middle East countries are among the strictest in the world and some countries like Iran and Iraq use special police to enforce Islamic dress codes. Even non-Muslim women are required to wear scarves that cover their heads, and long skirts and dresses that cover them from head to toe. Hijabs are required. This will also show respect for their culture.


Clothes make the man, and of course, the woman. Much of our personal and cultural identity is summed up by what we wear. Just remember that when people are seeing you for the first time they will judge you by your physical appearance. If you want good service, respect, a friendly smile, and little hassle, you must look as though you deserve it.


  1. How do we define dress codes?
  2. Why do you think there is a greater focus on what women wear than what men wear?
  3. Why is it a good idea to adhere to local dress codes when visiting countries around the world?
  4. Generally speaking how do dress codes differ from continent to continent?
  5. What “rule of thumb” should we go by when visiting different continents around the world?
  6. What are some of the differences between formal and informal wear?



MyTask - Click icon to open task!MyTask - Click icon to open task!
Forfatter: Amendor

Formal/Informal Drag and Drop

Try the interactive task Drag and Drop - Dress Codes around the World     


Find Out

  1. Study this link Manipal University Dress Code 
    • Where is Manipal University located?
    • Which reasons do the educators give for their dress instructions?
    • Why do you think this is important to the educators?
    • What do you think about the dress codes this university requires?
  2. Study this link Advice to women travellers in Dubai. How are women advised to dress?
    • in the mall
    • in the souk
    • at the restaurant
    • at the hotel
    • on a desert safari
  3. What do we mean by: “hijab", “niqab”, “chador” and “manteaus”?



  1. What is the appropriate dress for the following occasions:
    • a wedding in a Catholic church
    • a job interview for an IT-company in New Delhi, India
    • a visit to a Buddhist Temple in Thailand
    • a drink at an English pub in London
    • an official meeting with the President of the USA
    • a visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
    • a beach in Thailand
    • a visit to a Jewish synagogue
    • a TGIF party
    • a mall in Dubai
  2. How have our attitudes to dress codes been influenced by music, TV and film icons?
  3. Name some of the stereotypes attached to American and European tourists.
  4. What general stereotypes do people from the East and people from the West have of each other?


This website offers advice on intercultural communication to business men/women. In many cases this also applies for tourists. Use the alphabetical list of countries and find out what is the recommended dress code Kwintessential  Use the website as background material for further work.

  1. Others should respect me for who I am and not what I wear” is a common mantra among the young. Write an argumentative essay either for or against this statement.
  2. You have been asked to give a short speech on Dress Codes and Mutual Respect to a multicultural class. Write your speech. 
  3. Compare Norwegian dress codes in the workplace with those of another country of your choice.