In traditional Islamic societies, women dress very modestly in public and wear more revealing clothing only in family quarters among close relatives.
Until recently, European and American-style "secular" fashion (meaning uncovered heads, forearms and calves) were not often worn, however, most older and some younger Turkish women continued to adopt the conservative tesettür style in public, which is the headscarf and long, light cover-all topcoat covering arms and legs completely, even in summer.
The recent trends for those who wear more conservative clothing has created a divide between those who wear modest European-style clothing and traditional Islamic clothing.
As a foreign visitor in Turkey, it is understood that dress in your home country may differ from that in Turkey. Still, modesty is appreciated. For your holiday in Turkey, dress the same as you would to visit France, Germany, Italy or the UK, but on the conservative side.
You may see some women in burka (black full-body covering, with veil). Most may be visitors from other countries with a stricter interpretation of Islamic dress traditions, though some will be Turks who have revived the Ottoman tradition.
Actually, the veil is outlawed in Turkey (but the law is little enforced), and even the wearing of headscarves in secular contexts (universities, government offices, etc.) is controversial, though the trend is to allow the headscarf everywhere.
How Women Dress in Turkey
1. Stylish casual dress for most places.
Dress up more ("smart casual") for the cities, less for the seaside resorts. The nearly universal summer tourist seaside dress of shorts and T-shirt is fine, but not in mosques. However, in Turkish cities—as in New York, Sydney or London—most of the local people around you will be more stylishly dressed.
Clean, modest clothing is appreciated and often required when visiting mosques. In short, don't show thighs, shoulders or upper arms. Slacks, or knee-length skirt or dress; blouse or top with sleeves to at least the mid-upper-arm. Have a headscarf to cover your hair. In cooler seasons, a light, long-sleeved hoodie is a great idea: just raise the hood when entering a mosque. More...
No shorts, sleeveless tops (tank tops) or revealing clothing should be worn by women or men. Shoes don't matter as you will be removing them before entering the mosque (so slip-ons make it easier). At the most-visited mosques (such as Istanbul's Blue Mosque), attendants may be provided cover-all robes (free) if your manner of dress is questionable.
3. Seaside & Beach: As You Like
In seaside resort towns, dress as you like. Outright nudity is illegal, but on remote stretches of beach some tourists may sunbathe topless.
4. "Smart Casual" in Restaurants
In the better restaurants, dress is somewhat more formal than in the USA or Australia. Avoid wearing shorts and a T-shirt to a nice restaurant or dining room for any meal. In the evening, stylish dress, slacks or skirt and top are preferred. For men, ties are not normally required, and jackets are usually optional. Many Turks wear a tie and a jacket to dinner, but may remove their jackets for comfort at some point during dinner.
5. Out in the Countryside
In rural areas away from the touristy locations, Turks will accept you as you are, but women in more modest dress (sleeved tops, slacks or knee-length dresses or skirts) may be seen as more worthy of respect. A foreign woman wanting to fit in with traditional village life would wear slacks, or going native, comfortable Turkish bloomers called şalvar [SHAHL-vahr]), a top with sleeves at least to the elbows and perhaps even to the wrists, and a headscarf when out in public.
You'll want to dress for the weather, also. See Tom's Turkish Almanac for a month-by-month summary of weather and temperature.
|Tom's Turkish Almanac|