One of the most common questions for those coming to the UAE for the first time is: what is the Dubai Dress Code? On the web there are many answers, rather confused and sometimes discordant with each other.
That’s why I thought this short and simple guide, with the best tips from those who live in Dubai on how to dress in the UAE, could be useful for you!
Dubai Dress Code: What Should I Know Before Going?
The UAE is generally a much more open-minded and less conservative country than other countries in the Middle East, which means that there is usually a greater habit and tolerance towards tourists.
As such, you’ll see a wide variety of behaviors, from top models in bikinis on Jumeirah Beach to (of course) locals dressed in traditional clothing.
Personally I believe in traveling in an ethical and responsible way. I hate seeing people who have no respect for the places they visit.
The world is beautiful because it is full of different cultures, which is also why it is important to respect the local people, their customs and their laws.
The Dubai Dress Code is really very simple, just a few rules to keep in mind:
- Dressing respectfully does not mean you have to wear traditional Arab clothes, you can dress your favorite clothes without any problems;
- For women, it is best to wear clothes that cover at least the knees and shoulders. For men, a pair of Bermuda shorts may be fine. The t-shirts are ok too!
- Avoid wearing too tight or sheer clothing and avoid showing midriffs and cleavage;
- Avoid wearing t-shirts with writing or drawings that can be offensive;
That’s all! Easier done than said!
In any case, if someone asks you to cover up, just do it! Avoid protesting!
It is also good to keep in mind that the UAE is a union of 7 emirates, which often have different laws and customs.
Dubai is the most cosmopolitan emirate, and therefore more tolerant of Western manners of dress. Quite similar is the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
In the other emirates it is good to show more respect in the ways of dressing, because the locals are less used to tourists.
Ajman today is getting quite touristy, in its beautiful resorts you can feel free to dress in shorts, and to put on your favorite swimsuit on the beach. But not in public places, where it is good to dress respectfully, so with your knees and shoulders covered.
Umm Al Quwain is one of the less touristy emirates, so please dress appropriately.
Despite its proximity to Dubai and being quite touristy, Sharjah is famous for being the most conservative emirate. So here too, it’s best to dress appropriately: covered knees and shoulders, no sheer dresses, no cleavages, no tight-fitting clothes. Obviously, no offensive or allusive designs or writings on your t-shirts!
How do locals dress in Dubai?
In Dubai, and in most of the UAE, locals dress modestly and rather similarly to the rest of Arab countries. This is due both to local customs, respect for Islamic traditions, and protection against high temperatures and the strong desert sun.
UAE Traditional Dress for MEN
Many men wear the traditional dress, called kandura (also referred to as a thobe or dishdasha). The white one is very common (it is the best against the sun’s rays), but there are many colors.
Furthermore, men typically wear ghutra, the traditional headdress. It originally had a dual purpose, to protect from the desert sun and sandstorms. The traditional ghutra of the UAE is white, but today the white and red textured one is also quite used. The ghutra is held in place by a black rope that wraps around the head, which is called agal.
It is also quite common to see men wearing trousers and t-shirts, this is largely due to the multiculturalism of the UAE (and especially Dubai), where people from many different countries live.
UAE Traditional Dress for WOMEN
Women usually wear the traditional dress, called abaya. Actually the abaya is not really a dress. Instead it is more of a thin cloak, which covers the body and protects from the heat and strong desert sun.
Under the abaya, women wear their favorite clothes (often similar to Western ones, such as jeans). The traditional color is black, but the choice of decorations is often quite large.
The women also wear the traditional hijab, the veil worn by Muslim women, which covers their hair, ears and neck. One of the most popular styles in the UAE is shayla, which is a cross between a hijab and a niqab, the veil that covers the face leaving only the eyes exposed.
Other types of clothing (such as the burqa) are quite uncommon. While it is interesting to know that a type of metal face mask, called, burqua, belongs to the Gulf tradition. It is really rare to see a woman wearing it, because this belongs to the customs of the older generation and is not in use among the young.
Can a tourist wear the traditional UAE dress?
You can go and see (and if you want, also buy) the wide selection of traditional clothes in the workshops of the Dubai Textile Souk. It is not considered offensive if a Western woman decides to wear it (with respect). In fact, many people buy it before going on a desert safari, and then take some great photos.
It is rather strange to see a Western man in traditional dress, but if worn correctly and modestly, there is no problem.
How should a woman dress in Dubai?
As said before, just follow a few rules: don’t show too much skin, in particular it is better to cover shoulders and knees.
In the resorts the attitude is much more relaxed, as well as during desert tours (where you will be mainly with other tourists, and with locals used to working with tourists).
In most public places it is required to dress appropriately (for example, in shopping malls), while only in places of prayer (for example when you visit the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai, or the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi) are women required to cover the head and to wear clothes that cover the legs and arms.
My advice is to bring (or buy in the souks) something like a shawl or a pashmina, it will also be useful to protect you from the sun’s rays, which can be very strong especially in summer.
How should a man dress in Dubai?
In reality, the rules for men are not very different from those for women. So the main advice is to dress in a modest, classic, conservative way.
T-shirts and Bermuda shorts are fine, as long as they do not have drawings or writings that are contrary to morality or offensive.
Most locals (including expats) prefer to wear full-length trousers. My advice is to do like them, perhaps choosing jeans for your city tours and something more comfortable and loose fitting for your desert safaris.
If you are in Dubai (or Abu Dhabi, or any other city in the UAE) on a business trip, it is best that you know that in local companies it is rather considered appropriate to dress well, so it is better to dress formal or business casual at depending on the occasion.
How to dress on the beach in the UAE?
Just take a look at the world famous Jumeirah Beach to realize how people behave very differently and how confusing and unclear the situation is.
Let’s make it clear what are the things not to do:
- Nudity is strictly prohibited
- Topless is strictly prohibited
And now, let’s see what are the tips that guarantee you can sunbathe and swim in peace:
- In the resorts the rules are pretty relaxed, you can wear the swimsuit of your choice. When you leave the beach or the pool, however, you should cover yourself, as it is not allowed to stay in a bathing suit in public areas of hotels or restaurants
- Even in the beach clubs you can feel free to wear what you prefer, the bikini is allowed and worn by the majority of girls (these places are mainly frequented by tourists and foreigners)
- On public beaches, it is best to wear a one-piece swimsuit, and shorts are preferred for men.
- Pay attention to the family areas, marked as “Family Beach”, reserved for women and families. Here women are required to be fully covered.
- If someone asks you to cover up, do it! Protesting can easily end in police intervention. And this is not good!
Other useful things to know for your trip to the UAE
The Dubai Dress Code, as you just read, isn’t that complicated, and it’s really easy to stick to.
- You can find other useful information for your trip, or discover the best things to do in Dubai.
- Remember to pack a good travel insurance, in this guide I’ll explain why it is important.
- If you are interested in exploring the amazing surroundings of Dubai and the other emirates then you may need to rent a car, in this guide you will find tips for the best and cheapest car rentals.
- If you want to save up to 60% on Dubai attraction tickets, check out the Dubai Unlimited Pass, the tourist card that allows you to fully enjoy Dubai!