January 29, 2011

fez formula

Jnane Sbil, Fès
Jnane Sbil, Fès 
sunnies - thrifted / purple paisley scarf - vintage, thrifted / trench - H&M / jeans - H&M / shoes - Toms

This outfit may be unlikely to make sartorial history, but it's a pretty good representation of what I've been wearing every day since we arrived in Morocco. While it's pretty unlikely I'll ever pass for a local, it's been important to me to dress modestly while I'm here, and to be intentional about the message my clothes send to people around me. Unfortunately, the image of western women held by many Moroccans has been heavily influenced by the widespread popularity of American porn, so licentious comments and advances on the street are not uncommon. I've come up with a general formula for getting dressed that feels pulled together and reasonably chic without inviting a lot of unwanted attention - here's how it breaks down:

the fez formula

These are the pieces I've found myself going back to, day after day.

Pants: There are lots of garment-types that would be seen as immodest here, but fortunately for me, there's no prohibition against skinny jeans and they are as popular with younger local women as they are back home. I do like to err a bit on the safe side and opt for longer tops and jackets, and I think it's probably best to the heed the "leggings are not pants" edict.

Top: A button-down top is perfect for traveling anywhere, Morocco or otherwise - you can button it higher or lower at the collar as need be, and can always roll up the sleeves or layer it to accommodate different climates. While in Morocco, I wear mine buttoned almost all the way to the top or layered over a tee with a modest neckline.

Shoes: Flat shoes are a must in the medina, as streets are paved with rough cobbles, if at all. After our first day out walking in rainy weather, I've decided my Zara flats are exclusively 'indoor shoes' (no worries, the donkey poop and mud came right off!). Boots might really be the best choice, but since mine have been in need of repair, I've been wearing my Toms everywhere. Canvas shoes would definitely be a great option in warm weather, as they're easy on your feet and relatively easy to clean if they get dirty.

Jacket: It's a good idea to keep your chest, shoulders, and arms fairly well covered while out in public, and if you are running short on tops that work, a lightweight trenchcoat will hide a multitude of sins. My trench has also been a good choice as the winter weather can be a bit unpredictable, and I can choose to cover up in rain or roll up the sleeves when the sun comes out.

Scarf: This is probably the most useful and versatile thing I have here - a well-wrapped scarf can easily raise the neckline of most tops. If you're caught by surprise with rain, or if you find yourself feeling particularly conspicuous as a Westerner, your scarf can be refashioned into a headscarf. Done and done.

Sunglasses: It's a lot easier to avoid the unwanted attentions of men on the street and of over-eager shopkeepers if they can't catch your eye - plus, you'll look cool.

Wedding ring: This is definitely something that not everyone would be comfortable wearing, but since I am traveling with my man-friend, it has been substantially easier to just tell people we're married and leave it at that. While it's not illegal for an unwed tourist couple to stay together*, it is frowned on by many people, and it has made both us and those we've met here more comfortable to indulge this small fiction. It's also a little bit of a deterrent to would-be suitors.

While this formula doesn't always result in the most exciting outfits (it is, after all, a formula), it has kept me comfortable in a variety of weather and social conditions. It's sufficiently modest for Morocco, but really these kinds of straightforward, classic pieces could be the building blocks of a traveling wardrobe almost anywhere. I'm certainly not being mistaken for a local, but I am at least being mistaken for a French tourist instead of an American one, which is really the best sign you could ask for that you look reasonably put together. I have still gotten some comments while walking through the medina - my favorite today was, "Hello flower hello sweetie hello hottie" - but I really haven't heard anything worse than what you might hear on the subway in New York.

*That is, because we're both foreign. If either or both of us were Moroccan, it would be illegal.


Cecilia Oviedo said...

Who said fashion and maths were enemies! That's why I went to school, to come out with formulas like this! Perfect outfit not to flashy but still lovely and comfy! Can't wait to see pictures from Morocco!


dotty said...

when i was in beijing, my favorite line was "banana, banana, pretty lady buy banana"

and it's seriously awesome that you've been mistakenly identified as french! congrats!

Looks & Books said...

This is so interesting, especially the part about wearing a decoy wedding band. Thanks for sharing!

Archives said...

loving this post. i had to follow a similar dress code traveling in India. additionally, my bf may be relocating us to the middle east for work, so its nice to see other westerners take on modest wear for situations like these! you still look very chic, my dear! :D

Thekla said...

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BetweenLaundryDays said...

Well, in my opinion, the fez formula is pretty dang fantastic and quite stylish!

emily said...

Ha! I would totally buy the banana for that one :)

emily said...

I've also heard it suggested that if you are traveling alone, you carry a picture of your "husband" with you! I haven't really had our 'marriage' questioned yet, although it's hard to know whether that's the result of wearing a ring or simply changes in dominant social codes.

emily said...

It's funny, now that I've spent some time in Marrakech as well, I'd have to say that dress codes for visitors vary wildly based on where you are - while Fez is a very traditional (and in the medina, literally medieval!) city, Marrakech is substantially more westernized and it seems like many of the modesty expectations are lifted here.

If you do end up relocating, I'd imagine that expectations would be similarly variable - more conservative in smaller cities and towns, and much more western in larger, more 'international' cities. I'd imagine a move like that would be both exciting and scary - when will you know if you're relocating??

Archives said...

yes. i definitely found that to be true in india. in larger cities like delhi, you could get away with more western looks...but in smaller towns covering up was a must.

the chances are getting slimmer every day, luckily...but we'll probably know more in a few weeks. Qatar is small and extremely conservative, so i would anticipate a major culture shock. the change would be exciting, but long term sounds exhausting and difficult. we'll see!

jill said...

It's a great look! I know how hard it can be to dress so modestly... I live in the UAE and it's ankle length skirts and sleeves to my wrists everyday at work. I enjoyed seeing how you put together your Fez formula... I'll for sure be able to use it over here (on weekends!).

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