Information about Tunisia

Advice on tourist clothes in Tunisia

traditional clothes - islamic dress style - rural areas - women clothing

Usually, women who travel to Tunisia, are encouraged to dress "decently and conservatively" according to the islamic dress rules, such as, for example, shirts covering the shoulders, long skirts or pants, no jewelry or makeup.

Women who do follow these recommendations will, however, soon find out that some of the tunisian women wear shoulder-free shirts, sometimes even short skirts, often striking jewelry and almost always makeup.

Fact is that at least many young tunisian women, especially those who are financially better off and live in the tourist areas and large cities, dress very much "western" and follow the latest fashion of Italy and France.

Satellite dishes are nowadays on each and every roof in Tunisia and all young people watch the channels broadcasting music videos and american series all the time.
So, the population is used to the western dress style - and their opinion is made up already, be it positive or negative.

And, after all, let's not forget that Tunisia went for many decades, much like Turkey, the "western way". If you look at pictures from the 1970s, you won't notice any headscarfs, but a lot of women and men wearing western dresses. Tunisia has never been a strict muslim state.

In rural areas, though (and these often start already at the border of  large cities and a few steps away from tourist zones!), the traditional dress styles are predominant. One should not mistake "traditional" for "islamic", because the most conservative islamic dress codes were, until 2010, even forbidden in Tunisia (the argument then was that "afghanian" dress styles do not belong to and are not typical for tunisian culture).

Since the uprising of the year 2011, muslim fundamental groups (Salafists, etc.) propagate increasingly the full cover veil (Niqab) for women (the numbers are in general small and do not rise anymore recently, though). This has resulted in increasing peer pressure and bigger number of tunisian women wearing at least the headscarf or a part veil (Hijab) than in the years before 2011.

For tourists who stay mostly in the tourist zones and large cities, there is, therefore, hardly any reason to dress "covered" or avoid western bathing suits at the hotel swimming pool or hotel beach.

If one is visiting rural areas and traditional districts in towns, some decent clothing is recommended, namely for women.
Such areas are, however, almost never the destination of organized excursions of travel agencies.
Even the excursions to "authentic traditional areas" always end up with people who are very much used to be visited every day by large numbers of tourists...

Simple "tunisian" clothes are quite inexpensive and can be bought easily everywhere in Tunisia (hint: buy second hand in the popular "Fripe" stores or on markets!), when it is really needed (hint: just have a look at what the Tunisians are wearing on the streets and then buy something that blends in - this way, you can't go wrong).

One can often hear the claim that tunisian men will be "spoilt" by barely dressed european women and are thus thrown into a permanent state of "desire". Or you will even hear that people in Tunisia will "loose their culture" altogether because of the tourists.
However, such stories are made up rather to be told on a boring evening amongst Europeans.

A western woman will, no matter how she is dressed, not be accepted as equal in the tunisian society - and not because she is not dressed adequately, but simply because she in not a tunisian, not a north african, not an arabian, not a muslim.
And she won't gain, certainly not just after a few holiday visits to Tunisia, access to the society in Tunisia, no matter what she wears and no matter what she believes or what she is made believe.
And the same is true for western men, although to a somewhat lower degree.

A remark at the end: One can often hear that western women are "dressed like prostitutes" - but this is nonsense and just a protective claim (watch who complains...), because tunisian prostitutes are on one hand only rarely out in the public and on the second hand they are rather dressed "normal", conservative, to blend into the scene.
And, in what happens behind closed doors, the difference between "honorable" tunisian women and European women is fading very quick...

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