Modest Fashion: Things to Know Before Traveling to Indonesia

If you’re an Indonesian, I suggest you read the Indonesian version one “35 Aksesoris & Pakaian Wajib Dimiliki Wanita Indonesia.”

Indonesia is one of the most populous Muslim-majority countries in the world. Therefore, we have a certain standard of modesty as a mark of respect to Muslim values.

I’ll introduce you things to know about Indonesian fashion and standard of modesty. Hopefully, this article can help you to learn about my country’s culture and get an idea of what to wear when you travel to Indonesia.

Every day feels like summer

Padar Island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Padar Island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

One of the best things (or maybe boring) about living in a tropical country is that it never gets too cold or too hot!

Indonesia has a tropical rainforest climate and it’s humid or rainy all year. The rainy season usually occurs around  September to February, but global warming probably affects everything because until now (March), it still got heavy rains.

The temperature varies according to cities, but it normally remains stable on the average 22°C/72 °F (min) and 32°C/90 °F (max). I live in Bandung, the capital city of West Java. It’s a mountainous city which has a really nice, fresh, and cool weather. The temperature average is usually around 20°C/66 °F (min) up to 29°C/90 °F (max). Eastern Indonesia areas are hotter, like Bali, the average is around 24°C/75 °F (min) up to 32°C/89 °F (max)

Cultural diversity

Kampung Adat Bena, Bena Traditional Village, Flores, Nusa Tenggara Timur Indonesia
Bena Traditional Village, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Indonesia is full of diversity, it has lots of different ethnic groups and languages.

With more than 17,000 islands, so can you guess how many cultures are there in Indonesia? I advise you to do some researches of specific places in Indonesia that you would like to visit, especially for Special Region areas like Aceh and Yogyakarta. Even though I’m an Indonesian, I still need to do some researches on what to wear when traveling to other cities.

The first time I visited Nusa Tenggara Timur island, the eastern part of Indonesia, I felt like a foreigner. The culture, language, food, and the climate is totally different from my hometown. When I visited rural areas in Yogyakarta, many people stared at me. I was anxious and my local friends told me it was probably because of my skin tone and how I didn’t look like local.

klotekan lesung traditional art rice pounder pacitan east java indonesia
Klotekan Lesung, Traditional Art using Rice Pounder from Pacitan, East Java, Indonesia

Indonesian is conservative but open at the same time.

Every ethnic group has different and unique characteristics. We preserve our cultures and traditions, some ethnic group can be more strict than the others.

Calling older people by name is mostly considered impolite, of course, unless the person asks so. We usually use Mr., Ms., Sir, etc., but since we have so many language and different ethnic group, we have many different terms. For example, we call Javanese older woman by “Mbak” but in Sundanese is “Teteh”.

Telaga Warna Dieng, Wonosobo, Central Java Indonesia
Telaga Warna Dieng, Wonosobo, Central Java, Indonesia

In some areas, especially in a smaller city, rural area, or areas which don’t get a lot of tourists, the standard modesty can be more strict especially for females. However, you can dress more freely if you are in resort or tourism areas which get lots of visitors from around the world.

‘Fit’ is Okay! The longer + the baggier: the better

dress up modestly in moslem country indonesia

When you travel to Indonesia, avoid wearing revealing clothes unless you go to a touristic area with lots of foreigners. You don’t necessarily have to cover everything but basically, you should at least wear medium coverage outfits and anything which is not too tight.

Growing up in a modest country, I was taught that the main reason not to wear revealing clothes, especially for women, is to protect us drawing men’s unwanted intention or flirting with us.

The dress etiquette is more strict for female compared to male. It’s acceptable to wear at least a short sleeves t-shirt top with a neckline which is not too open. I don’t recommend you to wear a tank top and especially see-through outfits unless you wear a camisole underneath. For bottoms, everything below the knee is acceptable.

General Indonesian fashion styles

most indonesian dress up casually

Most Indonesian dresses up casually.

T-shirt, jeans, leggings, sneakers, sandals, and flats are the most common outfits for men or women wear. Light jackets, hoodies, and cardigans are the most common outwear we use. You’ll see more people wear neutral or pastel colors than bright or bold ones and simple graphics or patterns.

Fashion in the bigger cities

indonesian smart casual white dress code

Nowadays, more people begin to accept new influences and integrate it with their traditions.

The ones who live in bigger cities, especially in the Metropolitan areas like Jakarta, is usually less strict because they adapt to western cultures. However, it all depends on how their family’s values.

Movies, TV Shows, magazines, and especially social media begin to have a big role in influencing Indonesian fashion style. Instagram is a really huge thing now. People looking for style and beauty inspirations from Indonesian influencers. Moslem fashion has grown a lot these days so you probably will see stylish hijabers (a term commonly used to Moslem women who wear veils/hijabs).

modern fashion denim indonesian batik outfit

Although batik originally comes from Indonesia and it’s one of our precious heritage. Not many people wear it daily, but Indonesian fashion designers begin to develop a more modern batik style. It’s generally considered looking more dress up when wearing batik shirt. Government tries to empower us to wear Batik by creating a “Batik Day” every Friday. It’s common for an office to have a Batik dress code on Friday.

Signature dresses for formal occasions

Indonesian traditional batik kebaya Marriage ceremonies parties

Marriage ceremonies and parties are huge things in Indonesia. 

Most people willing to spend more on their money to create a very big party and invites hundreds to thousands of people. Batik and kebaya are commonly worn to the party, graduation ceremony, and become the main choice for bridesmaids dresses. Some people still choose to wear a classic western style, dresses or suits.

Fashionably respectful

Pack lightweight clothes with natural fibers, light wools, and everything that absorbs sweat well when you travel to Indonesia.

If you aren’t used to hot weather and easily sweat, consider wearing colors that show your sweat the least. In rainy days, some of the roads can be covered by puddles so it’s better to wear darker bottoms.

indonesian smart casual semi formal outfits

When you travel to Indonesia on business, prepare for a nice t-shirt, trousers, flats, leather shoes, cardigans or a blazer (it’s not necessary but depends on your field). Women can wear a nice knee skirt for women and men can prepare a tie. Polo shirts are also a great option if you attend a less formal meeting.

Avoiding pickpockets

yogyakarta indonesia fashion

Generally, Indonesia is a safe country to travel, but there are pickpockets in certain areas, especially touristic areas.

We certainly don’t want to draw attention to some pickpockets. It’s better to always keep your hand around your bag especially in a crowded area. When carrying a shoulder bag, keep your hand around and try to keep your bag away from the road (if the road is on your right side, hold your bag on your left side) to avoid pickpockets who ride a motorbike take your bags. If you carry a sling bag, it’s safer to always put it across your body and in front of you. When you don’t need to carry so much stuff, one of my favorite bag to travel is a belt bag.

It’s safer to spread your valuables around various hiding places. Remember not to put your wallet on your back pocket jeans and don’t forget to always use a lock for luggage and backpacks when traveling to Indonesia by airplane.

Wae Rebo Village, Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara
Wae Rebo Village, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Dressing modestly in a hot or humid climate may be challenging, but I’ll share you some general knowledge, later on, to give you some ideas and wardrobe essentials which you can get easily at your country or even have it already at your closet. Read #iwearmystories which features interview with Indonesian people sharing their thoughts about their clothing.

Please leave comments below if you have any questions or any suggestions on what to write about Indonesian fashion! Click Subscribe to keep yourself updated with my latest articles.

PS: Don’t be surprised if many local people stare at you when you travel to Indonesia. Especially… when you have pale skin or hair color other than dark brown or black.  If you have already dressed properly, relax, there’s nothing wrong with you! It’s usually because of you being a bule, Indonesian word describing foreigners. Think Crème Brûlée and pronounce Brûlée without R.

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2 Comments on "Modest Fashion: Things to Know Before Traveling to Indonesia"

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Arinda Puspitasari

Interesting post, love the tips.
Looks like you travel a lot, hope we could meet up one day! x

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