What to Wear in Afghanistan
The big question every expatriate woman asks when preparing to come to Afghanistan is, "What to wear?"
Afghanistan clothing for women is colorful, often stylish, and definitely feminine.
As a woman who has lived in Afghanistan for almost 10 years
through pre-and-post-baby sizes, trying to be stylish, modest, yet comfortable, clothing has been a fun challenge.
We will discuss Afghanistan Clothing tips for men, women and children. But first, the hardest hurdle is for the women. Men - page down to the bottom!
When thinking about Afghan clothes, be open to having clothes tailor made for you by Afghan tailors, and shopping thrift stores at home for appropriate clothes to bring here. Do expect the Afghan clothes tailoring to not be to western standards, unless you go to the very few top-notch tailors in the city.
A woman MUST wear pants underneath, or you will be considered immodest and have a harder time with how Afghan men view and treat you. You can choose to wear several layers: pants under a skirt or dress. Another option is to wear western pants and longer jacket.
Typically, a pant/jacket combo are made from the same material. I've seen western women have extremely stylish pant suits made for them out of the Afghan men's clothing material. The suit material for men is of good quality, but requires effort to either get the fabric samples or go to the fabric bazaars yourself to choose.
It should be noted that your expectations should be that not only will tailoring not be up to western standards, but good quality thread is not available here, and good cotton/breathable materials are not available.
Natural materials are cooler for the summer but not available here. Afghan women seem to favor polyester, nylon, and other materials that wear well and long in this harsh setting.
One basic outfit you can bring from home is a blue jean outfit - long blue jean coat dress to wear over nice blue jeans.
Afghan women in the big cities are often seen wearing long skirts with pants underneath and a tailored jacket. The other option is a peron/tombon combination - these are pants with a long shirt/dress which goes down to mid-thigh or longer.
The general rule of thumb for Afghanistan clothing for women: If you are married, you should dress extra modestly.
It is the young, unmarried women who are wearing shirts which barely cover their backside. It is better, as a foreign woman in the present political environment to be more modest in your choice of clothing.
If you can, wear long sleeve shirts all year 'round, but at least try not wear sleeves shorter than 3/4 sleeves. No Afghan woman here is wearing 3/4 sleeves out on the street - they only wear long sleeves. We are seeing younger, unmarried woman in shorter shirts, but still long sleeve.
I also encourage expat women to not be in the front of leading Afghan clothing fashion change - just be more conservative if you are a married woman, even if your husband is not here. If you are not considered modest, your husband will not be respected.
Afghan men will probably assume you do not love and respect your husband if your clothing in Afghanistan is considered immodest by Afghan standards. The main exception possibly to this rule is if you are working entirely in an expatriate environment, like an Embassy. Even then, consider wearing pants instead of skirts.
You can wear flashy, colorful, stylish clothes in private, but on the street, it's best for married women to wear plain black or a bland-color long jacket over clothing.
When I am going out of my compound, I throw on a small chadar (scarf) and a Chapan (long black jackets). These are easy to buy here for $25, and actually quite stylish with elaborate beading or embroidery around the bodice and length in front, but still plain black.
If you have some layover time in Dubai, run out to Carrefour and buy an Abaiya - the long black robe U.A.E. women wear. Those are also often elaborately decorated and easy to throw on over a tank-top and jeans.
Here in the summer I actually wear a tank top and my favorite raggedy jeans out on the street, to stay cool, but I am completely covered by the chapan so it is generally irrelevant what's underneath.
Young Women/Unmarried Woman
Young, single women living in Kabul City are perfectly appropriate in nice jeans and a shorter jacket that covers hips. Brighter colors are fine, too.
Foreign women - single and married - should dress way more conservatively any time you leave the city, and any time you go to places even within Kabul City where foreigners usually do not go. Wear more conservative clothes when:
- you go visiting Afghan friends in their homes
- You wander through old Kabul
- You take a trip through Mondai, the big bazaar downtown
- You leave Kabul City to go remote
What are "more conservative clothes" you ask?
This includes wearing a larger chadar (head scarf) and more Afghan style dresses and pants. The clothes should be more loose and not reveal much of your figure.
You will want to ask someone here to take you to the Kot-e-Sangi bazaar after arrival so you can purchase a chapan. There are two department stores by the main chowk (turn-about) where the shopping is easier.
Lack of fashion in Afghanistan is one of the myths about Afghan women - Afghan woman ARE stylish, and have always worn makeup, painted their toenails, and worn high heels, even in winter, even during the Taliban (I was here).
It's probably because this place is so dusty and dreary that women make a point to wear color UNDER their burkas and chapans, and they LOVE makeup here. I've been in the desert and seen girls and women in bright shiny sparkly dresses, even though they clearly were not going to a wedding.
So I always encourage new women to keep these Afghanistan clothing tips in mind as a bridge to building relationships. If you come here and well, quite honestly, if you wear a frumpy jean skirt with ugly tennis shoes, you will really be "unattractive" to Afghan women, especially in Kabul city. They will be less inclined to want to spend time with you or listen to you, even if you are a highly paid consultant.
It's time for a tea break, but I'll upload soon some pictures of clothes I wear. Plan on bringing light-weight long vests, cute coat dresses, swing pants with long gauzy shirts, and bring your Pakistani, Iranian, or Indian clothing. A combination of these will help you feel stylish and feminine.
Make sure to stop in at Zardosi's in Kabul - they have many gorgeous Afghan clothes from top Afghan designers. Right now Zardosi's is really close to Kabul City Center.
Part of Afghanistan clothing is to plan on purchasing chadars (head coverings) here - you are advised to always have your head covered when out on the street in Afghanistan.
There are many beautiful pashmina, silk, acrylic, and lacy chadars (head coverings) in Afghanistan. These are pretty to drape over your head, wear around your neck, and use as table runners once you leave!
Men and Children
Men - the rules are simple - no shorts out on the street, no sleeveless shirts. Generally business casual and non-raggedy jeans. That's it. You get it easy. You can purchase Afghan peron/tombon in country, and have vests and western-cut suits made here for a low price.
If you are concerned about Afghan men's fashion, well, hmmmm, consult with your wife or girlfriend if they want you to dress like current Afghanistan men's clothing fashion dictates: shiny suit fabrics, extremely pointed dress shoes, bright pink/purple dress shirts...
Generally we've let our children just be normal western children. It is suggested that if you have blond-hair daughters, consider having her wear "street clothes" when she goes out on the street.
This includes a loose fitting long skirt to wear over her shorts and a light chadar to drape over her head and shoulders, especially if she is wearing a sleeveless shirt in the summer.
Having both daughters and sons in Afghanistan, I am quite happy to answer your specific questions on Afghanistan clothing: what to wear, what to pack, and how to dress in Afghanistan.
Please don't hesitate to write!
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