Djellabas and kaftans, Marrakesh
The traditional Moroccan dress for both men and women is this long hooded garment known as a djellaba. It seems very practical – the body is protected from weather and from the dirt of the street, and the hood can be pulled up to give warmth at the start and end of the day, or shade from the intense midday sun. Men mostly choose a neutral shade but we saw women in all sorts of bright colours such as blue, red and pink. If the garment has no hood it is not a djellaba but a kaftan. These are usually more decorated and worn for special occasions and celebrations. A djellaba could be used at home as a dressing gown and would make an unusual souvenir, as would a pretty kaftan.
Of course some women also choose to wear traditional Islamic clothing – to cover their heads, and sometimes to wear the veil or hijab, but we found this less common than in other Muslim countries we have visited and it appears to be left to personal preference, even among older women.
Peeping beneath the djellaba, on men at least (and sometimes women) are the traditional leather slippers, known as babouches (French) or balgha (Arabic). These are often in bright colours, most commonly yellow, and may have an exaggeratedly pointed toe. They too make popular souvenirs, but if buying in the souk do make sure they really are leather. We also saw a great selection at the Ensemble Artisanale (see Shopping tip) if haggling isn’t your thing.
Next 2009 tip: hamsa or Hand of Fatima
The traditional Moroccan dress is the djellaba for men, kaftan for women. You'll see many people around Marrakesh in these long robes, which look amazingly comfortable. However, there's a pretty broad spectrum of dress codes in Marrakesh--you'll see plenty of women with their heads uncovered, wearing trousers or other clothing. For men, t-shirts and trousers are ubiquitous.
Humph; well, I wasn't showing any collarbone at all; I was wearing a headscarf, loose long-sleeved blouse, and ankle-length skirt, but apparantly the men think it's funny to pester female tourists. The guys at the dinner stalls reassured us that it happened all the time, and my friend and I didn't get mugged or kidnapped as we expected, just followed around from one crowd to the next as we explored all of the entertainment at the square. I found that trying to tell the guys to get lost only made it more amusing for them, but the entertainers in the square were well aware of the issues, so offered us makeshift seats at the front of any crowd to make us feel more comfortable. Considering that loads of Moroccan women were dressed much less modestly than I was, and that none of them were getting the attention, I think it's safe to assume that you'll be given attention just for looking different, whatever attire you choose! It doesn't stop Morocco being a fascinating destination, though!
Ladies: avoid using revealing clothes. You will only get stared at, cursed, made fun of, or even chased.
I was chased by an old lady holding a piece of concrete slab. I was wearing a long skirt, a sleeveless shirt, and a light jacket on top. It was so hot, I took off the jacket for awhile. All of the sudden, I heard this woman yelling at me in arabic. I turned around, and she was coming towards me, raising her hand which had a piece of concrete slab on it. I didn't try to make sense of it, I just ran. Didn't think she was going to have a chat and reason with me... Needless to say, I put my jacket back on...
Well, cosmopolitan women traveling in Morocco are not expected to dress like traditional Moroccan women, and indeed, many sophisticated or foreign-educated Moroccan women have now adopted European fashion styles themselves... esp. in Rabat and Casablanca. However, no matter how snug those pants or how long your skirt length is, you must always try and keep your collar bone covered up. I guess it's the culture thingy again....
So pack carefully. Your lovely V-neck sweaters and t-shirts, no matter how chaste (ahem!) you may think they look, may be interpreted as risqué, disrespectful OR inappropriate in Morocco. I kid you not!
And when you have Moroccan men tailing after you for 2 hours, I guarantee you'd definitely wisen up!!!!
The Ladies should keep the head covered with a shawl, in respect of the muslim ladies, most of them wear the full kaftans around the town, with the heads covered.