Written by Callan Quinn, Impact magazine
It’s all very good to moan about a lack of diversity in the way the world dresses. From Tierra del Fuego to Nunavut, Lisbon to Vladivostok, denim jeans and an ill-fitting t-shirt are hands-down the national dress of planet Earth.
Somaliland is one of the few exceptions. Of all the sublime delights the region has to offer, suggestive, exotic dress is not one of them. While the area has been Muslim for centuries, in the last decades it has become increasingly religious and dress has fallen in line with this trend.
Dress norms in Somaliland are different for men and women, with the former’s being more liberal. Below is a quick guide for what to wear when visiting Somaliland.
How to Dress in Somaliland (For Men)
Somaliland is gradually coming around to the idea of a man’s right to bare arms, but trousers are a must. Shorts are frowned upon, as are earrings and long hair (expect to be asked if you are a girl if you sport either). Other than that, guys are all set. You might want to bring some sunglasses as the air can get quite dusty though.
If you’re looking out for some souvenir couture, Hargeisa’s markets have plenty of qamis (floor-length tunics) traditionally worn in Islamic cultures. Macawiis (pronunced ma-wees) are a Somali style of sarong, usually brightly-colored, that are also popular with men.
How to Dress in Somaliland (For Women)
Girl’s dress is, as always, a little more complex. Local ladies generally wear a headscarf that covers all their hair and is wrapped tightly around the face. This is accompanied by an abaya (a long, loose, often black, dress) that covers all the way to the wrists and ankles. A large number of women also cover their entire faces and wear gloves to cover their hands.
That said there’s little point in buying a whole new wardrobe for the sake of a few days and covering up as much as locals is likely to be something non-Muslim women aren’t completely at home with.
Abayas can be found cheaply in many places and are the perfect lazy girl’s outfit. You can have your pyjamas on underneath for all anyone cares. But if you’re dead set against it, a long skirt or loose fitting trousers with a long full-sleeved top will do.
With headscarfs, opinion varies as to whether tying a bandana or turban is acceptable (writer’s note: I wear these styles on a day-to-day basis and get told off by overzealous teenagers on average once a fortnight), however, you will see wealthier ladies and women from other parts of Africa wearing fancier styles.
“Girl’s dress is, as always, a little more complex.”
The simplest way to wear a headscarf is to put it over your head and wrap one side over your shoulder. There are plenty of online tutorials on how to do different styles.
Dress codes tend to be more relaxed at evening events such as live music and weddings. Women are also not required to wear headscarves while inside the grounds of Ambassador Hotel due to an agreement between NGOs and management.
The world being what it is, it’s important to note that you’re far more likely to get away with a looser dress code if you’re “Western-looking”. If you are/look Somali, locals will hold you to local standards.