Since there is no such thing as a signature Israeli look, visitors can fit in throughout the country in clothing that is not vastly dissimilar from that worn in North America or Europe. As well as Western fashion, Israel blends Arabic, Mediterranean and ultra-Orthodox styles, although each camp is fairly rigid in its dress code. In fact, knowing where you are going and which culture is likely to be there is a decisive factor in choosing what clothes to wear.
Visitors to Haifa and Eilat will find local dress very similar to North American and Mediterranean styles, with jeans the norm for men -- worn with T-shirts or short-sleeve shirts to stay cool during the summer -- and jeans or skirts for women. Dress up and express yourself, though, in Tel Aviv, which has the reputation of being Israel’s most cosmopolitan, fashion-savvy city, with Western brands prevalent and an undercurrent of Parisian chic running through women’s fashion. Tone it down in Jerusalem, on the other hand, which has a far more conservative streak, not least because of its abundance of holy sites and strict religious communities. Wherever you are in Israel, from Jerusalem to the Negev desert, sunglasses are a necessity.
Business travelers to Israel will not go wrong by dressing formally, though Israeli business attire is noticeably more relaxed than in the U.S. Even Israeli politicians frequently appear in public in short sleeves without a tie, and ties and jackets are often abandoned in a business setting, particularly in summer. However, a visitor who dresses down might cause offense, so the best bet is to choose clothing appropriate for a business meeting at home. Likewise, there is little wisdom in trying to imitate the distinctive black clothing and homburg hat or fur shtreimel worn by men in the Hasidic Jewish community. Wearing Hasidic clothing is the right of men who have celebrated their bar mitzvah only. Wear the clothing in homage and you will most likely be told to remove it.
Women should dress conservatively in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in western Jerusalem, an ultra-Orthodox district where shorts and skirts are forbidden and shoulders and arms must also be covered. Men, too, should wear long pants and sleeves. Likewise, the Arabic areas of east Jerusalem, the Old City and the West Bank require modest dress in fitting with Muslim custom. Women should wear a shawl that covers the shoulders and arms completely. In all cases, no one will be offended at your attempt to imitate local dress, as the gesture is clearly a sign of respect rather than a fashion-related decision.
No locals will be wearing shorts or short skirts at Israel’s religious sites, the majority of which are in Jerusalem. The key is to cover legs, arms and shoulders, meaning that a simple sarong or shawl is acceptable. If visiting the Wailing Wall, a sacred site in Judaism, you will notice that men wear their heads covered with a kippah, also called a yarmulke, a small cap which covers the top of the head. Although the kippah is only supposed to be worn by male Jewish worshipers, male visitors must cover their heads and can usually buy a paper skull cap from vendors around the site. Women visiting the wall should also cover their heads with a shawl.
- Frommer’s: Tips for Women Travelers
- Jewish Virtual Library: Travel Preparation
- The Jerusalem Post: Street Fashion, Tres Chic Tel Aviv
- Haaretz: Israeli Fashion, The Next Generation
- Economic Mission of Israel in Germany: Guidelines for Business Dress in Israel
- Haaretz: Business Casual, A Trend Well-suited to Israel
- Huffington Post: Sarah Silverman's Sister Arrested Praying At Wailing Wall; Rabbi Susan Silverman Wears Tallitot
- The Guardian: Victory for Israel's Women of the Wall after 25 Year Campaign
- Photo Credit SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images
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