This may sound trite, but I found myself honestly struggling with this question while preparing for my trip to Pakistan this week.
Not that I received mixed messages. Everyone I talked to cautioned me to dress modestly, and bring many scarves.
As my colleague Michael eloquently put it: "This is a good opportunity to use those silk scarves you have collected over your travels and/or off sales racks at Daytons."
Rashid, our Country Manager, requested that I bring no less than "Four formal dresses" (??? My only guess on this one was that he doesn't understand that "formal" translates into "prom" here in the US. Regardless of his suggestion, I am NOT bringing my green orgazana ballgown to Pakistan..)
Smartly, my friend Farida recommended the salwar kameez, a tunic and pants outfit worn commonly throughout southeast Asia. I agreed with her, but where to find any? This isn't something TJ Maxx normally carries...
Honestly, I've never been so frantic over wardrobe before. Usually, one gets the "western" card when traveling overseas (as in "Oh well, she's a westerner, she doesn't know better). But I already expect to stick out quite a bit, so if it's in my control to dress like the locals, why wouldn't I want to do that?
Hence, since Saturday, me running around the Twin Cities trying to find an India/subcontinent dress shop. I'd even stooped so low as to heading to Holy Land grocery in NE Mpls and accosting customers for ideas on where to shop. (Am not proud of this).
So, imagine my relief when last night when I was cruising down Central Ave in NE and I came across a small, but glittery, sari shop. I was so excited, I pulled over my car and RAN the three blocks in sub-zero temperatures, rather than turn around and find a closer spot. I was so afraid that it would close! The second I was in the door, I knew I was in the right place. Several kameez's (tunics) hung in the front entry way and, although too big, the shop keep was helpful in pointing out one's that would fit, and offering to tailor ones that didn't.
I spent the better part of an hour weeping with joy in the back room, finally picking out two outfits. One is a very somber, and warm, rough knit orange with a deep blue linen salwar (for lack of a better description - genie pants). It doesn't show too much cleave (I think!)
Secondly, I found a beautiful blue silk kameez with jewel embroidered flowers scattered across the front, paired with jewel toned purple pants/scarf. It was way too expensive (and I knew I'd be finding nice ones in Pakistan, too), but my vanity couldn't pass it up.
These, coupled with one my co-worked loaned to me, and the tunics I bought in Banda Aceh, I hope will bring me through.
I've packed Western clothes, too; a somber black suit and sweater set that never lets me down. My suitcase is bulging, but atleast I feel like I've got something for every occasion.
Goodness, I hope.