Bali Blog

How much leg can you show in Bali?

Well, really you can show as much as you like, unless visiting a Temple or a Government Building, no one will say anything,……but does that mean the locals don’t care?

Why do we suggest on our tours to cover at least to the knee when visiting a non Tourist area of Bali, and not just when visiting a Temple? I have already covered Temple attire and its function in a previous Trivia Topic “Do we have a choice of what to wear in Bali?”

Let’s just take a look at what Balinese wear in our area, both the Northern rural village and our southern Bali village (10 minutes out of the tourist area).

For Adults this is.
• In own backyard/around the house, men maybe no top or a singlet top (woman maybe a bra in the house or a tank top) a sarong or shorts, note the “backyard” or around the house may extend up the street for older people, remember it may have been their land before it became a public road. Most elders are used to being related to everyone in their village so it’s okay to dress like this around the house or in your own backyard. 
• Going to “visit a new village” – much more formal, always at least a 1/2 length sleeve blouse or a Kabaya even, a nice sarong or long pants, always a collared shirt for men, short sleeve is fine, non covered but clean shoes are worn as you remove them upon entering a home.
• Going to visit a government office. – Either skirt to just cover the knee or long pants, with blouse or polo shirt with no less than a 1/2 sleeve, generally a collar. Men always long pants and collared short (1/2 sleeve is fine, a smart polo shirt is also fine) Always closed shoes, you do not remove when entering (please note this is how everyone, included foreigners are required to dress in a government building, such as immigration etc).
• Going to work elsewhere – Balinese love uniforms, it’s part of that team spirit culture and many workplaces provide a uniform. Always closed shoes (may change to flip flops for lunch breaks when leaving the office/workplace)

Or just look at what the staff wear in your hotel, café etc….let’s not get confused with the sexy girls at the bars ok.

Okay, so are you seeing a pattern here. The number one common theme is that in the non tourist areas the leg above the knee is rarely shown and in public (non backyard areas) shoulders are generally covered but not always unless office/government or “visiting”.

It is written on signs, such as immigration that you must cover your shoulders or you cannot enter the building.

So, what about the legs???

Ah, so again the covering of the legs is written on those same signs, the same Indonesian Principals.

However what is there about the legs with the Balinese?

You have probably seen the old topless photos of Balinese in the olden days, did you notice the legs were ALWAYS covered?

Why is that?

Well, one explanation is that the Balinese believe that the body has 6 chakras

3 of those chakras should always be harnessed by cloth (clothing), the temple attire provides this function, however what about day to day clothing?

In order to not come across crude to some Westerners reading this, I will use the medical terms for the 3 chakras that should be covered:

The lower Chakras are the solar plexus, the hypogastric plexus and the pelvic plexus. (Crudely, and more easily described as Navel, genitals and Perineum, although to a Balinese the discussion of genitals is not crude at all and that may need to be my next trivia topic)

So, wouldn’t shorts just cover these areas?

Well, that is a good question, although some of the little shorts in Western woman’s fashion of today don’t actually cover all of the pelvic plexus, and for men, with regard to the hypogastria plexus; if you consider where the genitals would naturally sit for example (without tighty tight underwear) we may need to look at those shorts being slightly longer. So let’s not get too crude here but without underwear and not referring to a Bad Grandpa, shorty shorts just won’t cover it in Bali.

So, why do we suggest to cover to the knee (or even below the knee in remote areas)?

Well, to simplify it, the navel to the knee is considered the sexual area. Although some young Balinese of today are showing a little more leg, you would find it very hard to find a Balinese in a rural area to show a lot of leg (apart from maybe while riding a motorbike side saddle and the wind under her Sarong).

Balinese men wear a longer short, whether dress shorts, denim shorts or bathing shorts (unless in their backyard) will be at least to the knee.

It’s purely modesty, Balinese are modest, and their modesty may be different to yours. Yes, you may see them bathing naked in streams, but they are not there for show or sexual entertainment, they are there too bath, pure and simple. I guess like when you put on a bikini or bathing shorts and go for a swim on the beach, you aren’t there for show.

Unlike in Western countries where the attitude is you can wear what you want, it is not like that in a lot of Eastern countries and some Balinese that are not used to tourists might find your lack of clothing in the sexual area just a little embarrassing to them.

So, take this into consideration next time you want to visit a rural area of Bali, or even a non rural when you are not on the beach. Remember what the Balinese do when they “visit”, and just take into consideration what they consider is modesty on their Island and in their country. Even if you are on your way to somewhere and wish to stop at a small locally owned shop to buy a water, have a think about how embarrassed the shop owner will feel if you all pile out of the car in short shorts. Consider if you stop at a Circle K on the highway, as you have just been whitewater rafting, that the younger staff working out there won’t know where to look if you come in wearing your bikini.

Gee that was a lot of one word used in the last sentences, “consider”. I use that word as it’s not about telling you what to wear, it’s about understanding some reasons to why you may get a few strange looks or uncomfortable giggles in a remote areas (I have even experienced a Balinese woman pointing at an older female tourist wearing shorts and shouting for everyone to look at this grandma and what she is wearing, luckily the tourist was oblivious to what was going on). You may have a completely different experience to someone that has their legs covered, you may begin a relationship with a Balinese on a different understanding.

Oh, and don’t ever expect a driver you have just met or a Balinese that you are not close to answer your question “is what you are wearing appropriate” with an honest answer, they are too shy, they will be embarrassed if you are not, and they don’t want to lose your business.

But on the other hand, if you show up somewhere in a rural area or your driver picks you up for a day trip to get out of the tourist areas and explore the “Real Bali” already wearing covered shoulders and a sarong I can bet you will get a “thumbs up” literally with a Bagus (Good) and huge beautiful grin or a positive comment every time, not only from your driver but from people in the village “you are visiting”.

Tip: if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a ceremony while you are walking the streets, even if one pops up in front of you on the beach in Kuta, just grab a sarong (best to carry one for emergencies) to cover legs if your shorts are too short, or that towel and just wrap it around your legs. Do not worry too much about the shoulders and then you can start with the photo taking and enjoy the memorable experience. Or, if you are heading off in search of some amazing rice fields for that perfect photo, or some mediating or yoga in the rice fields, just remember as you are getting dressed in the morning, it’s the rice farmers back yard, and you are “visiting”.

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