First things first: If you look different from the Bangladeshis (and even if you don’t), people will stare at you in Dhaka. And if you are an expat, you will most definitely be stared at. It’s just what people do. Usually the stares are not aggressive or sleazy. For expat men, going shirtless or in shorts will attract attention. But, expat women seem more concerned (and they get more attention) about what to wear to be modest and respectful. Here are some basic observations I’ve made. Basically, if you are covered in loose clothing from collarbone-elbow-ankle and make sure that your rear end is covered by tunic… then you will be dressed like the locals. I notice that expat women who have lived here for a few months wear what I call the “expat uniform” – a kameez (tunic top), scarf (cotton), zip off REI pants, and TEVAs. Or the equivalent non brands. The basics of what I do (much more when going outside the expat area of town) is:
1. wear baggy pants/trousers/slacks which reach to the lower calf or longer. I don’t wear pants that drag on the ground because there’s sewage everywhere so I don’t want crud to accumulate on my ankles.
2. cover the assets (bust and bum) with loose cloth with the scarf covering the bust even though my neckline is to the collarbone. Cover my bum with the long length of my tunic.
3. cover my shoulders. No tank tops. And you are welcome since you don’t want to see my upper arms anyway.
No, I don’t cover my head. But, you can read my posting about why you might want to. I also have my hair out and I don’t think it’s too sexy. Lots of the locals wear their hair uncovered. Dark eye makeup is normal for the ladies here. If you are a pale blonde and wear red lipstick, folks are going to stare (which they will anyway but maybe for different reasons). But, many expats (especially hard on young blondes) find it a hassle to not be able to go anywhere without being stared at ALL the time. ALL the time. As a life long outsider, I’ve been stared at a lot so I don’t feel bad. If they are trying to photograph me all the time, then I take photos of THEM.
One last thing, there are expats who will jog in short spandex… if you plan on doing that, make sure that you can OUTRUN the hordes who will race after you.