Q&A: What to Wear on Vacation in Southeast Asia

July 24th, 2008

Q: I’m going to Southeast Asia for a month in September, and I know that I have to wear long trousers and if possible long shirts because of mosquitoes and the danger of malaria.  I fear that with wearing long linen trousers and blouses I look either old (I’m 21) or like the stereotype tourist. Do you have suggestions for a fun and fashionable travel wardrobe for a Month in Southeast Asia?

Feeling the love for this outfit?  Here’s more information about it.

Fitted Tie Neck Shirtby Colleen Geary, fashion stylist and image consultant

A: I checked with a friend of mine in Hong Kong and she said that the heat and the bugs are horrendous.  She tackles this situation by wearing sun dresses and covering herself in deet. 

I do think that when you are young, linen can be unflattering, as it loses shape quickly and can make you look baggy.  If you don’t find linen pieces that you like, I would recommend looking for clothes in cotton modal fabric. Cotton modal is wrinkle resistant and it’s also more form fitting.  It’s a tradeoff of course–in the heat, form fitting clothes may not be as comfortable as looser fitting garments, but they’ll also generally be more flattering.

Personally, I think in very high heat nothing will be all that comfortable, so you may as well go for what looks best.  But as you pack, make sure you include, at a minimum:

Tie Shoulder DressDresses: Dresses are going to be cooler, and you can stay covered up with longer styles.
Blouses: Look for long sleeved shirts in lightweight fabrics.
Layering Tees: Again, lightweight fabrics are going to be your best bet.
Long Trousers: Natural fabrics like linen or cotton are going to be best.
Lightweight Sweaters: It’s going to be hot, but you can stay keep yourself covered up with a light sweater in a loose weave.

How to put your outfits together?  You may be inspired by the actress Jane March in the movie The Lover.  In this movie, the young woman exudes youth and sex appeal wearing a simple sleeveless black linen dress with a belt, kitten heel pumps and a man’s hat.

Final style tips?  When you’re traveling in Southeast Asia, my number one tip would be to buy super strong bug repellent.  Bug repellent will allow you more flexibility in choosing your clothes (so you won’t be limited to long sleeved blouses and long linen trousers).  My second tip would be to underpack rather than overpack.  You’re bound to find great (and weather appropriate) clothes while you’re traveling through Southeast Asia.

Fitted Tie Neck Shirt | $48 at Gap and Tie Shoulder Dress | $54.99 (sale) at Gap.

Have a great tip about what to wear for a trip to Southeast Asia? Share it with us in the comments!

Entry Filed under: Q&A,Ready Made Outfits,Shopping Guide,Women,Women's

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Denise  |  July 24th, 2008 at 1:20 am

    I’m from Malaysia, a country from Southeast Asia. And while the weather over here can be quite hot for westerners, I have yet to see any who doesn’t like a free sun tanning 😉 Even so, It can also rain heavily without much warning. So be prepared by carrying a foldable umbrella in your bag.

  • 2. Suzie  |  July 24th, 2008 at 6:13 am

    I’m from Malaysia and trust me, we dress similarly to people from Western countries during summer your summer months (although we’re cursed with having hot weather all year round). Just try to not to reveal too much cleavage and legs as some SEA countries are a bit on the conservative side.

  • 3. Trisha  |  July 24th, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Dressing for a more conservative culture and carrying an umbrella – great tips, Suzie and Denise! Thanks for sharing :)

  • 4. Corynne Escalante  |  July 24th, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    i don’t know about southeast Asia, but i do know that for bugs in the south (USA) and also the soldiers in iraq use either avon skin so soft or vanilla as a bug repellent. my husband used a vanilla body spray when he helped with the katrina aftermath and he said it worked amazingly to keep the bugs away. everyone who was using plain old bug spray still kept getting bitten, but he didn’t…

  • 5. Trisha  |  July 24th, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    Vanilla body spray? That sounds much more pleasant than bug spray. Thanks for the tip, Corynne!

  • 6. kay.  |  July 24th, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    it really depends on which part of southeast asia you’re going to and what you intend to do. if you’re going to cities, then dressing like that would definitely make you stand out, because we all wear the same stuff you’d see in other western countries. although of course if you’re trekking or going to visit ancient ruins, then lightweight trousers would be good. shoes are also important! because it can rain pretty heavily.

    overall though, dont worry too much. just bring some comfortable basics, because the shopping in SEA is pretty good :) hope you have fun on your trip!

  • 7. helene  |  July 28th, 2008 at 6:29 am


    thank you all for the tips! I was the one asking the question, because I’m going to vietnam in September.
    I think I kind of freaked out after all the warnings I got, but now I’m relieved that I can just dress “normally” for hot weather.
    I will attend university there, and I just found out that I have to wear skirts all the time, so I guess I’ll just go with bug repellent and my usual way of dressing (thanks also for the tip for conservative clothes, I’ll think of that when packing!)

    Again all your tipps really helped!!

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