It’s been ages since I’ve been pondering on writing an article on the dress-code for Westerners in Dubai. I got inspired to do so because when I moved to the UAE I had absolutely no idea what to wear, and I was scared I would do something wrong. I once wore tiny shorts to a café in complete ignorance after coming from the beach, and a lady got really upset with me and told me I should dress decently. This made me re-think my wardrobe.
Over the past few years of living in the Middle East, I have learned a lot about how our choice of clothing can influence how people think about us. What we wear is greatly determined by our culture, and the way we think about how other people dress is completely based on what we were taught is acceptable. There are massive differences between the European/Western approach to clothing, and the Middle Eastern way to dressing one-self.
Obviously, being European, I am used to walking around half naked 😉 I grew up in the Netherlands, where we could wear whatever we wanted (to a certain degree). Also, in the Netherlands or any other European country it is quite common to have nude beaches and mixed male and female sauna’s and people are generally just more free when it comes to nudity and showing skin.
When I moved to Dubai I perceived it as a very cosmopolitan and international city, so I just continued to wear shorts and summery see-through dresses outdoors. Even though I’ve never been into exhibiting my body unnecessarily, I did feel free and comfortable to wear such clothes, due to the amazing weather. However, nearly five years in the Middle East changed my perception on what is acceptable to wear, particularly for women.
I now enjoy wearing Abayas and long dresses. Yes I still wear shorts, it is allowed, but when going to public places like malls or family oriented venues, I prefer to wear long and less revealing clothing. It doesn’t mean I cover up completely or feel like I should hide my body, but I do tend to wear something, which is not showing a lot of skin. You could be frowned upon if you choose differently.
In Middle Eastern culture, dress-code is different. Whatever your opinion might be about it, or however much you’d like to express yourself freely, the fact is you have come to a Middle Eastern Country to work, live, or visit as a tourist. Therefore it would be expected to learn a bit about the culture of the country, and choose clothes accordingly, in order not to disrespect the keepers of the land. Dressing inappropriately creates the wrong kind of image for us Westerners. It is not something I wish to contribute to, as there is already enough stigma, judgement and separation from West to East and East to West.
So what do I recommend? As I mentioned before, Dubai is a very cosmopolitan and international city, and it is not strict. When you go to clubs and bars, you can basically wear whatever you want. Also outdoors it’s fine to wear more revealing clothes. But I feel when going to malls, supermarkets, cafe’s and these kind of family oriented places, it is important to be mindful of what to wear. Here are my recommendations for an easy stay in Dubai:
- When going to beaches, beach clubs, clubs and bars, wear whatever makes you happy, short and tight also allowed, but maybe wear a long coat when getting into a taxi if your clothes are dramatically revealing
- When visiting daytime venues, malls, cafes and supermarkets, wear regular clothes, meaning jeans, tops, or a long dress. Make sure you have a couple of good-looking outfits ready.
- Have a scarf with you in case you go somewhere like a local supermarket or something very Arabic, it’s nice to put a scarf over your shoulders (also because of the freezing cold AC in most places)
- Get yourself an Abaya, just for fun!
- Do have Maxi dresses and skirts, these are easy to wear and still look fashionable, while dressing decently
- Remember, Dubai tends to get hot hot hot! Do have light fabric & loose clothing. You can leave your winter jackets at home
- It’s a good idea to bring a light jacket or sweater for those breezy desert nights
- Make sure to bring a good pair of classy sunglasses. Firstly for the sun, but at the same time to look even more awesome
- Don’t wear shorts or mini dresses to a mall of family oriented venue. Make sure to cover up. Avoid showing too much cleavage.
- You don’t need your winter coats and clothes, Dubai doesn’t really know winter 🙂 (unless you call 22 degrees celsius winter, hehe)
- Don’t wear pyjamas and pants or bed clothes as an outfit, or house slippers out. It is frowned upon
- If you have piercings or tattoos, you might be wise taking some of them out and covering up those tats
These are my simple tips to make your stay in the most amazing city in the Middle East the most enjoyable. It’s all common sense really. I am sure you will love Dubai, and if you need any help or guidance, you can always comment below this article.