No skin? No sweat!
May 13, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

How can I keep cool while covering up?

I'm traveling to Dushanbe, Tajikistan in Central Asia this summer. I'll be there for June, July, and a bit of August, where temperatures can reach the 90s °F (mid-30s °C).

In addition to the heat, Tajikistan is a mainly Muslim country. I won't need to cover my hair, but I will need to dress modestly. That means no low necklines, short sleeves, tank tops or shorts - all staples of my summer wardrobe here in Ohio, USA.
I'm very fair-skinned and about 30 pounds overweight, so the sun and heat already aren't my best friends. I most likely won't have access to air conditioning.

What can I do to keep my sanity in the heat? I plan on observing the locals and picking up some clothes over there when I get a chance, but I want to bring at least a few outfits of my own to wear in the meantime. I'm tall-ish, chubby, female, and early 20s. I'll be going there as a student.
posted by Gordafarin to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Linen and cotton are your friends here. I actually find that a long sleeve white cotton shirt is quite cool, as it blocks the sun but still breaths very well. Most of the big retail outlets should be carrying cotton and linen clothing this time of year.
posted by farishta at 8:25 AM on May 13, 2010

Lucky you, shifts (dresses) are cooler than shorts anyway...made from lightweight linen and the heck with wrinkles. Big ol' wide-brimmed sunhat. Check out Eileen Fisher. What's the humidity like?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:26 AM on May 13, 2010

Light, flowing natural materials (such as cotton or linen recommended above) are your friend. You might or might not wish to have a straw hat or some sort of scarf to protect your head from the sun. Loose cotton skirts and blouses would be perfect. Pro-tip: avoid tailored blouse styles which are closely fitted around the arm-hole.
posted by tavegyl at 8:29 AM on May 13, 2010

I'd wear linen, cotton, and a sun hat with ventilation or a visor.
posted by Melsky at 8:29 AM on May 13, 2010

Yes, linen, cotton... you'll be fune.
posted by k8t at 8:41 AM on May 13, 2010

Very comfortable travel skirt (I own a couple):
posted by tilde at 8:42 AM on May 13, 2010

There's lots of nice covers for warm temps at Deva.
posted by The otter lady at 8:43 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: My travels in India taught me that even modest, full-covering garments won't work well if they're the wrong style. I wore a button-up white long-sleeved shirt and loose pants, but because that's a common outfit for Indian men, I think it made some people uncomfortable to see a woman wearing it. People visibly relaxed once I had bought the traditional tunic and pants combo there, and even people who weren't bothered by my previous outfit seemed thrilled that I was wearing their clothing. So investing in beautiful linen clothes at Eileen Fisher may not be worth it.

I'd recommend going to any hippie store in the US and buying one long, flowy skirt and one thin tunic top. They'll be inexpensive, breezy, long, and come in all sizes and colors. Grab a big hat somewhere too, because that may be harder to find abroad. Then, when you get to Dushanbe, stock up on the appropriate clothing -- it'll be cheaper and the correct style there.
posted by equipoise at 8:45 AM on May 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

J.Jill does lots of loose fitting linen pieces for summer time, and they do have an online outlet. A few basic shirts and a couple pairs of pants or skirts should start you out on good footing until you can figure out what the local style is.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2010

What an interesting challenge!

You may find this blog entry helpful; it talks about what young people in Tajikistan are wearing:

In terms of materials and maximum interchangeability, I'd go with combinations of loose linen and cotton slacks and linen and cotton tunics. Here are some examples from an Islamic fashion shopping site: Islamic Outfitters. Old Navy makes some really comfy, very reasonably priced linen pants in lots of colors:

Note that in most pictures, you'll see tunics layered with something underneath. You can find high-necked short-sleeved shirts or undershirts in moisture-wicking material if you look in the athleticwear sections of stores like Old Navy, Eddie Bauer, and Columbia Sportswear.
posted by juniperesque at 8:54 AM on May 13, 2010

I was also going to recommend something like a salwar/kumeez outfit, or the equivalent in the country you're visiting.

Years ago I bought a couple sets from a regular customer at the place I worked, because they just were so pretty and unusual to me (in suburban Phoenix, at that time). I wore a set to an outdoor music festival, it was boiling hot that day and I was way more comfortable than all the girls in black teeshirts and cutoff jeans, I bet.
posted by padraigin at 8:56 AM on May 13, 2010

Agreeing with loose cotton or linen. Hey, this is what people who work outdoors in the US southwest wear, and for a reason. Even if it isn't required, it's important to keep your head covered and the back of your neck too. Straw hats or good, but a light hijab would work, or a scarf worn like one, and be readily accepted there.

You know local fashions developed over thousands of years and for a reason. Not all of those reasons are to torture the wearers.
posted by Some1 at 8:57 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: I've traveled through Tajikistan (female alone, fair, heavy but also with big boobs) and had no problems with modesty. I am very sensitive to cultural differences and always cover up when I feel its necessary (India, Egypt etc.). Granted, I spent only two weeks in the country in 2006 but you don't need to go to the lengths to cover up as in a lot of other Muslim countries. If you're spending most of your time in Dushanbe and not near the Fargana Valley I think you'll be fine in mostly Western clothing.

Central Asia has a weird balance between muslims and Russians. I've seen women walking around completely covered up next to ethnic Russian women with long blonde hair and short shorts. The woman with covered hair wore a scarf more in the Russian style (tied like you would a bandanna) rather than a full head covering. Most older woman wore flowing dresses with short sleeves.

So, for what its worth, I think a lot of the above advice is too drastic and might make you stand out even more. I wore t-shirts and pants — nothing tight fitting but also had no problem showing arms, neck or hair. No one tells you that those "performance tees" that are moisture wicking hold onto stink and are really hard to get smells out of with hand washing but they are handy in the heat. Memail me if you want to se photos or get more details on my trip (you must try to do the Pamir Highway, including the Wakhan Corridor!).
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:16 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Use Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap when you shower!! This always leaves me tingly. And find minty shampoos and body lotions maybe?
posted by mokeydraws at 9:23 AM on May 13, 2010

The fabric recommendations here are right on, but I want to emphasize NO POLY BLENDS. Anything with even 10% polyester will hold the smell of sweat way more than 100% cotton, and will be hotter. Cotton-linen blend is fine though.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:24 AM on May 13, 2010

I saw this article today and thought it might be of interest. It says that there's been an uptick in hijab-wearing in Tajikistan despite them being banned from being worn in public institutions. Even so, I still think you're okay in typical but not tight or too revealing Western clothing.
posted by Bunglegirl at 5:53 PM on May 16, 2010

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