Updated: May 16, 2020
Fashion in Morocco runs the gamut, from global staples like blue jeans and business suits to traditional clothing like djellabas and gandoras. Tourists wander through urban centers and lounge in resorts wearing anything and everything.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on the continuum of dress in Morocco to help you think about how to pack for your trip.
First, I’ll talk about the context (what Moroccans normally wear), and then I’ll talk about why the way we dress matters, and finally I’ll give some tips and recommendations specific to Morocco.
As I said, there are a lot of fashion options and you will see everything. Additionally, "appropriate" dress is highly contextual - you may put on an outfit that seems perfectly normal in one part of the city and then find yourself later that day in another neighborhood where it feels out of place.
So, what do Moroccans wear? What do they view as acceptable?
In general westerners will find standards of dress in Morocco to be more conservative than in their home country. Here are some observations of what “average Moroccans” wear in the city.*
Traditional dress is popular. As mentioned above, many Moroccans still wear traditional dress, if not daily then at least regularly, especially on Fridays and religious holidays, especially Ramadan. This includes a delightful fusion of “Romy” (western) and traditional styles, like the camo djellaba.
Men don’t often wear shorts. I am starting to see more, mostly longer (knee-length) shorts in the summer, but they are not the majority.
Sleeves are worn longer for men and for women, even in the summer.
Sandals are less common than in America.
Not all women wear hijab. I would say the majority do and guess that in Tangier around 85% of Moroccan women cover their heads.
Women tend to wear full length clothes like djellabas, skirts and/or long tops (mid-thigh to knee length). In summer, legs and arms are at least 75% covered.
More conservative women’s garments like abayas are uncommon.
*Statistics, of course, are educated guesses based on experience and observations in my city, Tangier. Take them with a grain of salt — these are subjective observations of social conventions which are continually evolving.
Why dress conscientiously?
Those of us who were born in western countries are probably more likely to view the way we dress as a sign of individual expression and freedom. This is true, and it remains so in Morocco. However, the way we dress also communicates to others the kind of person we are and the groups we belong to.
Just like language is different when you travel to another country, nonverbal communication can differ significantly too. There's not just new words to learn, there’s new ways of behavior and thinking, a new way of seeing the world.
Think of the descriptions above and the guidelines below as tips to help you pick up this Moroccan language of dress. It’s not about stifling individuality or creative expression, it’s about understanding you’re entering a place with established norms that may be different than where you're from. Whether or not you choose to keep to these norms, at least you’ll know what "normal" looks like and be able to make more informed decisions about how you dress.
At the same time - don’t stress about what you wear!! Like I said, the fact that there’s such a wide variety of people and styles in Morocco means people have seen everything! They are used to all sorts of people visiting their country and don’t expect everyone to dress like Moroccans.
Based on my experiences and observations in Tangier, and what others have recommended to me, these are the guidelines that I generally give visitors who want to be thoughtful in the way they dress while visiting Morocco.
As stated above, shorts are uncommon. If you’re traveling in the summer and want to blend in more, bring breathable pants.
Avoid sleeveless tops and shorts. Speaking candidly, in Morocco we don't see arms and legs in public as much as people in other places do (e.g. Spain - so close, but so far away). Be aware that bare shoulders and calves will stand out.
For formal meetings, opt for long sleeves and long pants or skirts.
If you present as a woman, opt for long tops that cover your hips. Some of my fashion staples are long, open sweaters and light scarves which can cover scoop-necked tops.
It's inappropriate to go out with wet hair (the implication is you've just washed up after sex 🙄) so if you've just showered and don't have time to dry it, it may be better to wear it up.
Some people advise women with long hair to wear it pulled up but based on what I’ve observed I’d say it’s fine to wear your hair down (in downtown Tangier).
Be aware that Morocco is highly gendered (there are not many gender neutral spaces, most spaces are coded masculine - the street and basically everywhere else in public. Feminine spaces include the home and the few other places that belong exclusively to women, e.g. the salon, the hammam).
Again, the way you dress doesn’t give people an excuse to objectify you or treat you poorly. Even if you dress conservatively, you will still face catcalling.
What about the beach?
As with everything else in Morocco.... it depends. Basically it depends on which beach you're at and who else happens to be on that beach at the same time. Private beaches and resorts are bikini-friendly but if you're on a public beach, even a one-piece suit might stand out. Normally when I’m going to a "normal" beach, I’ll bring shorts and a tank top to wear over my suit and swim in. If I’m going with more conservative friends, I'll bring leggings and a long sleeve shirt (yeah, when I knew I was moving to this country, I shelled out for the swim tunic. Apparently there's a whole world of aquatic fashion for those who like/need to be covered that I knew nothing about). Dress in layers! Basically I like to have options so I can add a layer or take off a layer based on how crowded the beach is and how comfortable I feel.
Layers are always the way to go. That way, you can always dress up or dress down depending on the weather and the general social atmosphere.