The updated guide is here.
A lot of expats stress over dressing for their first stint in Kabul. Well, fear no more, first-timers! I’m here to take the stress out of putting together your wardrobe.
For the womenz
A) “It’s Afghanistan. They don’t care about fashion. I can just pile on some baggy old things and be good to go.”
Um, no. Afghans, even poor Afghans, care about fashion as much as people of any other nationality. And Kabul, being the capital, is actually pretty fashion-conscious.
B) “It’s Afghanistan. I will be wearing a burqa or a niqab or a chador over an abaya all day.”
No, you won’t. And you definitely, seriously, really do not need to wear a burqa i Kabul. Probably ever. If you even try, you’ll never live it down. Unless your office is unusually conservative and difficult (in which case, attire will be the least of your concerns), your Afghan colleagues will make fun of you if you overdo covering.
Cover your hair. A hijab will suffice just fine, and it can be styled a number of different ways.
I generally go with the look on the right while moving about the city during the day, the style on the left while traveling at night, through checkpoints and in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
A lot of the time, though, I end up with this.
Cover your butt. Your shirts and jackets should be at least long enough to reach mid-thigh. Knee-length or calf-length is even better.
Cover your arms and chest. Shirts, tunics and jackets should not be low-cut and sleeves should reach your wrists.
Cover your legs completely. Skinny jeans are in fashion right now among young Kabuli women. Wide-leg trouser jeans are popular with female expats. You can also pair a maxi skirt with a long top and a jacket.
Shoes are also your call, but keep in mind that Kabul’s streets are rutted, unpaved, and dusty. And when they aren’t dusty, they’re muddy. If you won’t be doing much walking, just bring the shoes you would wear at home. Strappy heels, flip flops, platforms, pumps, boots and sneakers are all permissible. If you will be walking, make sure your shoes are sturdy and have enough of a heel to keep your skin above the mud, broken glass and polluted water. Bring rainboots!
Most offices are casual, but you will need at least one dressy outfit for formal meetings. A pair of dress pants and a dark sweater dress over a white tunic is a pretty standard coordination/donors/diplomatic meeting outfit.
The woman in the photo below is an American designer, but her outfit is the kind of thing younger women professionals wear in Kabul.
Winter (December, January and February)
Kabul rarely dips below freezing during the winter, but few offices and houses are well-heated.
- Lined, waterproof boots
- Wool tights or thick leggings to go under pants
- A knee-length winter coat
- Fleece pajamas
- Warm sweater dresses
- A fleece bath robe for around the house
Spring (March and April ) and Fall (October and November)
Muddy, clammy, unpredictable.
- A lighter coat
Summer (May, June, July, August and September)
Hot, dry, dusty.
- A woman’s shalwar kameez is your best friend
- Light tunics and manteaus
- Cotton pants
- A light cotton robe for around the house and over pajamas
If you are heading out int rural areas, consult your Afghan colleagues about what to wear. They will give you helpful tips, and might even offer to take you shopping or let you borrow something from their own closets. In general, rural areas are more conservative, but different rules apply in different areas of the country. For example, you might need to wear a burqa (some of the time) or an abaya, or at least a bigger, longer scarf, if you are traveling in the rural south, but you don’t even need to cover your hair in the far northeastern Wakhan.
For the menz
Guys, you will have an easy time dressing for Kabul.
For formal meetings, a regular business suit or a pair of dress pants and a button-down shirt will do.
For the rest of your stay, go with jeans and long-sleeve t-shirts. Shorts aren’t socially accepted and few Afghan men wear t-shirts in public. That said, t-shirts won’t get you into any kind of trouble in Kabul, while shorts will ensure you are the center of attention –in a bad way.
Bring a pair of flip-flops, a pair of study sandals, and a pair of sneakers.
If you are heading into the countryside, you may need to dress differently. Always, always, always consult your Afghan colleagues about local and regional dress codes. If you do need to wear something you didn’t bring, ask an Afghan friend or colleague to help you shop for it in Kabul. There are many shops in the Shar-e Naw area where you can find what you need, and Chicken Street is a reliable place to find a low quality, overpriced shalwar kameez and accessories in the pinch.