People here dress differently than I expected they would. They certainly dress different than people in Lebanon, and undoubtedly I stand out as an American if only by my attire.
The men here, if they are not dressed in dapper suits, can be divided into two categories.
The first, mostly younger (but not necessarily) wear long sleeved (usually some shade of blue) collared and striped button-up shirts, tucked in and paired with dress pants or overly faded or acid-washed jeans. The shirts are either dirty or cleaned, (this is due to the high cost of washing clothes here) but the general sentiment is one intended to impress. Whereas in Lebanon most of the young guys wore tight jeans and even tighter shirts that spell out messages that don’t make much sense, such as “Heroes vs. Zeroes”, “Welcome Mr. Sexy” and “Thunder and Lightning” (I personally bought one that said “My friends, right or wrong.” as a half-joke), things are much humbler and simpler in Egypt. There is still that young population (particularly those who go to AUC) who dress decidedly “Lebanese”, but this trend dies out when people reach about 25 years old.
The second category is mostly older men who wear the full garb (I seem to have forgotten its name). Basically it is a long robe in either white, brown or blue that covers the entire body. These are reserved for those who have completed the pilgrimage to Mecca (The Hajj). They are usually older either because they are no longer (or never were) working in an office-type job, or they’ve spent their entire life savings (multiple decades) on the pilgrimage, and could only afford it in old age. The people who wear them are called Haajiis, or, in Egypt where j is pronounced like g, Haaggiies. You’ll frequently hear on the street someone yelling out “Ya Hag!”, which isn’t an insult, but a way to address someone dressed in this manner. They are generally nice and will most likely speak only in Arabic to you.
The women can similarly be put into two groups: Those who dress “western” and those who are veiled.
Especially within the “veiled” category, there is a lot of room for variation. For example, many of the girls at AUC who are veiled wear much tighter clothing than those who are uncovered. They seem just as fashion-conscious as those dressing in Gucci and Prada, they just express it by matching their scarf with their entire outfit and carrying an expensive (usually Louis Vuitton or Gucci) handbag. For all intents and purposes they act exactly the same, speak exactly the same, and look exactly the same. It really is a personal choice whether or not to wear the hijab that usually has more to do with tradition than it does orthodox religious belief.
The girl who is dressed in a “western” manner looks pretty much exactly like any rich young lady from the US or Europe who is extremely concerned about her looks. These girls mostly congregate on the Greek Campus stairs, and from what it looks like, they never go to class. Many have described these stairs as a “fashion show”, an assertion with which I agree. Remember, all of these students, guys and girls alike, covered or uncovered, religious or secular are the sons and daughters of the elites of the country- and they act as such, buying $2,000 handbags and valet parking their Mercedes’ and BMWs at school.
I really need to buy some long sleeved collared shirts. Not only because it’s turning into fall, but also because I feel perpetually underdressed.