Anytime you’re in a foreign country, it can feel a bit odd to stick out fashion-wise. Especially in a Muslim country like Indonesia, one needs to be aware of certain clothing expectations in order to avoid unenjoyable situations or conversations. Thankfully, Bali is significantly more relaxed regarding these issues.
There are certain clothing expectations in Bali. However, most of these rules and regulations only apply inside of temples and holy areas. Past that, you can fully expect to dress how you would at home – swimsuits and all.
In Bali, you can find everything from swimsuit models to full hijabs. You can also expect to see a lot of men in short shorts – for better or for worse (we believe worse). We’ll explain the appropriate and inappropriate times to wear a sarong, sandals, shoes, and tank tops.
How to Dress in Muslim Countries
While it’s not our place to tell anyone how to dress, you should definitely expect to be treated differently depending on your outfit in certain parts of Indonesia. If your trip to Bali includes a detour to Lombok, Sumba, Flores, Jakarta, or elsewhere, you should expect the customary clothing to include more conservative outfits. This does not apply to the commonly visited Gili islands or Nusa Penida.
While Indonesia is technically a Muslim country, the island of Bali is predominantly Hindu. While there are certain fashion expectations within Hinduism, they are generally more accepting of different clothing choices. When one considers how many scantily clad models head to Bali for photoshoots, it’s pretty easy to understand that Bali is more relaxed on the particular subject.
We’ll cover what Bali’s fashion expectations are in later paragraphs, however, these customs only apply to certain factions of everyday life and certainly not beach-related activities. For example, in the rural communities of Bali, many old women (think about ladies your grandmother’s age) choose to roam around topless for the better part of each day.
Any community that still practices this behavior could not care less how short your shorts are.
Bali is home to one of the most actively religious communities in the entire world. It often seems like there is a huge religious event three times a week. If it seems that way to you, it is because such events and ceremonies truly do occur three or four times a week.
We highly recommend creating friendships with the locals in your community. They’re very welcoming. In fact, they’re so friendly that you might even be invited to a wedding as we did. If you’re unsure of what to wear to a particular ceremony, just ask whoever invited you. They might even offer you some of their own clothing so you don’t need to purchase anything new.
In a standard religious ceremony such as a wedding, home blessing, or cremation, it’s appropriate to wear a sarong. You can find sarong shops on almost every street corner. At almost every tourist attraction, there are ladies who offer to sell you various sarongs (and often don’t take no for an answer).
While private invitations to some of these religious ceremonies might exclude travelers who don’t leave the confines of a hotel room or refuse to stray from set agenda, there are still places they might need to dress up. For example, the most commonly visited tourist attractions in Bali often include Hindu temples.
When you enter these temples, it’s mandatory to wear a sarong to cover your legs. You can often purchase sarongs outside of these temples thanks to savvy small-business owners who realize you might not know this information.
Alternatively, the majority of large temples will include a rental sarong with your ticket purchase. These are normally lackluster when compared to the elaborate and bright colors/patterns you can buy from vendors.
When you enter these temple grounds, locals also expect that you will cover your shoulders. Generally speaking, it’s disrespectful to show cleavage in these religious places. The ticket agents aren’t shy about informing tourists that their dress doesn’t match with their rules. If you refuse to change, you won’t be allowed entry into the religious compound.
While they expect that knees and shoulders be fully covered by cloth, it is totally acceptable to wear sandals with your temple outfit. In fact, shoes look a little bit silly with a sarong. Balinese people commonly wear sandals to do just about any activity. I’ve even seen sandals inside the gym here.
Your particular fashion choices might be impacted by the different villages or communities of Bali. For example, people who are visiting Ubud tend to dress much differently than tourists who are visiting Canggu. Both tend to be much more stylish than the average person visiting Kuta (just an observation – not an attack).
For example, Ubud is known for its large spiritual community. You can find lots of yoga shalas, meditation centers, and vegan restaurants in Ubud. As such, people tend to dress a bit differently than your stereotypical Western town. Expect pants that have designs of elephants across the fabric. Expect vests with no shirt underneath. Expect people who are barefoot.
In Canggu, you can expect to find hordes of trendy Australian college graduates and young professionals. For some reason, Australian guys seem to live in short shorts. It’s ‘fashionating’, to say the least. These city-specific examples aren’t rules but rather expectations. No one wants to stand out!
Many Instagram celebrities, vloggers, and professional divas have something in common when they visit Ubud. They choose to wear long, flowy dresses. There’s a very specific reason for this fashion choice. The Rice Terraces in Ubud are world-famous. One of their most enticing features includes giant swings that send paying customers several meters over the terrace cliffs.
Women choose to wear long, pretty dresses to capture a romantic or charming picture in these rice terraces. As the swing peaks, the dress flows out behind the swing. Professional photographers and amateur photographers alike can capture an incredible picture when giving such content to work with.
However, there’s a downside. If you want to reach these swings, you have to hike down a wet and muddy set of terrace stairs. It’s quite the climb. It’s a bit ironic to wear such a nice gown when hiking into a muddy ravine. But some like to ‘do it for the ‘gram’.
When you visit Bali, you shouldn’t expect to experience grumpy locals who critique your fashion choices. You’re significantly more likely to encounter a snarky and spoiled Australian diva who comments on your outfit than a Balinese person.
When you visit Bali, just remember a few basic rules. If you visit a temple, you need to wear a sarong and cover your shoulders. If you forget, you can always purchase or rent materials at the temple’s entrance.
If you head to the beach to surf Bali’s waves, we highly recommend wearing a shirt to avoid the crazy hot sun. If you head to Ubud, don’t forget to pack your yoga pants. If you visit a waterfall, try to bring water shoes or Chaco-like sandals to avoid sharp rocks.
Above all else in Bali, there’s one item that is absolutely necessary to wear. If you choose to rent a motorbike, motorcycle, or scooter, it is mandatory that you wear a helmet! Make sure it’s the right size before leaving the motorbike rental office. Tourists get into accidents every day. You don’t want to become another statistic so act like you have a brain.
If you’re driving without a helmet on any major road, there’s a very real chance that the Balinese police will stop your bike. You will receive a ticket. Don’t risk the injury or the ticket. You can always fix your hair in the bathroom of whatever tourist attraction you’re headed to next.
Is there a dress code in Bali?
There is no dress code in Bali. If you visit a temple, you must cover your knees and shoulders. Most people choose to do this by wearing a sarong. If you do not visit a temple, there is no need to worry about the dress code.
What to wear in Bali at night?
Most people choose to wear something light as it does not reach cold temperatures in Bali. The sidewalks are not necessarily safe for walking so choose footwear that makes walking easy. Above all else, wear a helmet at night if you are driving a motorbike.