What Can Women Actually Wear in Dubai?

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi Dress in Dubai | Packs Light

Dubai, UAE is one of the most spectacular, awe-inspiring, and modern cities in the world.

However, despite being modern international hub that as it is, Dubai is still a majority Muslim country and thus culture here still reflects that.

One of the biggest questions I had once before I moved here, and asked of me once I had lived here a while was: what can women wear in Dubai?

The advice I received from friends, the news, and research online pulled my brain in one hundred different directions!

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Some rumors say that all women have to wear hijab and abaya when leaving the house, some say the expectations are different for foreigners and for locals. I would hear that you could wear a one-piece bathing suit at the beach, and that was fine. Wait, but that girl said she wore a bikini and never had any issues? Then I’m told that someone wore a t-shirt and shorts to Dubai Mall and was told by the police to cover up?

Like… what? What to believe?

Well, after living and studying here for an academic year I believe I have dressing down to a science, and I’m here to share my knowledge with you so you don’t end up packing a suitcase full of things that you can’t or wouldn’t want to wear here.

The easiest advice to keep in mind is to always think of the situation and if your dress is respectful of cultural and religious tones of each place you visit. Hopefully the examples in this article will give you a better idea of how to dress to different places in this great city!

Dubai Religious Sites

For some reason, people believe that this is what Dubai residents are forced to wear on a daily basis:

 

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When in reality this is the furthest thing from the truth. However, where you would need to wear outfits like this would be a religious site, such as a mosque. (Note: the outer-garment is called an abaya, and the headscarf is called hijab or khimar.)

In the 1st and 3rd photos above I’m at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, where it is 100% required to have your body covered from head to toe, and for women to have their hair covered. This is the respect needed to be shown at any mosque, and it’s not exclusive to the UAE. In the middle photo, I’m at a cultural center in Dubai learning about Muslim and Emerati culture—trying on traditional clothing for photos and to experience it a bit.

In Dubai foreigners are not required to wear such traditional clothes such as these, except in religious areas.

Dubai Beaches

To answer your burning question: YES, you can wear a bikini to the beach!

In Dubai, it’s expected that the beaches and beach clubs will be filled with foreign expats and tourists, so swimwear is expected.

However, nudity, thong bottoms, or especially lewd swimwear is not accepted and could get you in trouble.

See what I’ve worn to the Dubai beaches, and beach clubs, below.

It’s important to remember this is just on the beach though—once out of the beach area, I recommend covering up again as you’re technically back out in the general public.

Clubbing in Dubai

Night life is where the modesty rules tend to go out of the window. The chance that conservative Muslim men and women will be in a club is low, so limitation on dressing is lower as well. Also, woohoo, alcohol if you are 21+!

Crop-tops, skirts, form-fitting dresses are all acceptable in Dubai night clubs.

 

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Dubai Safari

Not many limitations in terms of respect, but you should definitely consider the heat, the sand, and the photo-ops when dressing for safari!

I always recommended loose-fitting palazzo pants or capris, close-toed shoes (for adventure activities, but also because the sand is HOT), and close with a bright pattern or color to contrast against the sandy background.

Dubai Mall/The Burj Khalifa

Dubai Mall, and really any of the main malls in Dubai, you’ll want to make sure you’re dressing more conservatively. I personally would not suggest tank tops without sleeves, shorts/skirts above the knees, shear or mesh tops, crop-tops, etc.

Have people worn borderline things and gotten away with it? Sure. Have people been stopped by the police and “suggested” to buy clothes with more coverage? You betcha. So why roll the dice?

Below is my FAVORITE outfit I wore in Dubai. I felt very local and fashionable, but also that I would fit in to any scenario I fell into the day, from the mall to any restaurant afterwards.

 

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Sharjah/Abu Dhabi

The emirates of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi neighbor Dubai, and they are the other two most commonly visited emirates in the UAE. If you do a day trip to either emirate, you should know that both are fairly more conservative than Dubai is.

Though I would never dress disrespectfully in Dubai, I would be even more careful in Sharjah or Abu Dhabi. Also be weary of having too much contact with men, swearing, or any obscene gestures in these emirates. People are simply more conservative and traditional, and there is a much smaller population of expats than in Dubai.

Also, during the religious holiday season of Ramadan, you will want to be very conservative in every Emirate. This is one of the holiest Muslim holidays, and devout Muslims observe this as one of the five major pillars of their religion. So don’t mess around! Restaurants may be closed during the day, bars will be closed or scarce, and dressing in public MUST be respectful, and conservative!

Other outfits I’ve often worn in Dubai:

I can’t go through every single location in Dubai, but here are some other outfits I’ve worn on different occasions in Dubai and fit in fantastically!

Loose black capris and a body suit to Madinat Jumeirah, a simple blush dress and heels to the Burj Al Arab, a bralette and jumpsuit while yachting in Dubai Marina, a fun off-the-shoulder at Dubai Miracle Gardens, and a simple cardigan + tank top + loose pants while strolling around JLT, and a loose shirt and jeans at the Irish Village for St. Patrick’s Day.

 

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Simple advice to always dress appropriately:

  • Think to yourself—is this location designed more for expats, or locals?
  • Check the location on Instagram, and see what other people have worn there!
  • When in doubt, dress more conservatively. If you really want, bring an alternate change of clothing if it’s your first time to a location. Eventually you’ll get better at feeling things out.
  • Always bring a scarf with you. Always just have one tucked in side your bag in case plans change or something else happens and you’re not covered enough. It’ saved me more than once!
  • Every venue in Dubai is always a photo op. Always. So if you’re just here for a few days and want some good photos, always try to add a little extra effort in accessories or style, so you’re never caught in a photo on an off day!

 

Hopefully you now have a better plan of what you want to pack to wear in Dubai for your big trip! If not, don’t worry. There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Dubai to pick up new outfit pieces.


Did this give you a better idea of what to wear while in Dubai? Inspired by any outfits specifically?

Let me know in the comments!

What can women actually wear in Dubai? get advice from a Dubai expat on what to wear where, and when in this fabulous city!

Pin me so you can find this article again before you head to Dubai!

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28 Discussion to this post

  1. Natasha says:

    Thank you for this post!

  2. Sally E says:

    Fashionista! Really loving your outfits here and love that you gave tips as to what to wear and where you can wear them. This would have been so useful if I had it when I went to Dubai for the first time!

  3. Candice says:

    Sound, sensible advice. And so nice to see an original article on this subject, my blog post on this has been plagiarised so many times! Great photos too.

  4. Signe says:

    Okay wow. This was super interesting! Also, you have real style!!

  5. Sumanth says:

    This very informative, especially if someone traveling there first time

  6. Serena says:

    This is so well thought out. I wish I knew this when I was there 7 years ago and was getting weird looks!

  7. Dannielle says:

    Ahhh this is the question I constantly get too! I think you’ve answered people’s queries really well Gabby, and I love that you’ve broken it down like this. The weird thing is, after a year in Dubai I found myself looking at girls who were wearing hot pant while waiting for cabs on the street and tutting!

  8. Jessica says:

    This is very informative! and I love your fashion sense girl! Now I need to get myself to Dubai and wear the tips you gave. Thank you

  9. Sarah says:

    Such a fun, interesting, and useful read! Love how you organized everything – and all your fabulous outfits of course

  10. Love this! I had these exact same thoughts when I went to Qatar, but really it was fine. Love your outfits by the way – so cute. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Lola says:

    Loved Dubai and didn’t really feel like I had to watch what I was wearing but after living in India I already tend to dress a bit more conservatively. I got harrassed anyway even though I was in a caftan.

  12. Jessica says:

    This was such a good read! You look so cute and I really want to go to Dubai now!

  13. Karolina says:

    Very informative and I love the photos

  14. Danielle says:

    Great post, I’ve be considering visiting Dubai for a while now but the dress code and all the rules really had be worried! After reading this I feel much better, also love the sand pictures!

  15. Isie says:

    Such an interesting post. The photos are especially useful (you’ve got a great wardrobe!).

  16. Claudia says:

    I have been to Bahrain and Iran. I was expecting it is more strict in Dubai than in Bahrain but good to know. In Iran it was really strict in public. You are expected to wear a scarf everywhere and also a long sweater, long sleeves and long pants. Thank you for sharing.

  17. What well organized and informed post! I agree with you, one just has to look around their surroundings and be observant. Btw I love your instagram <3

  18. Mattea says:

    This is really insightful – amazing tips here and so useful! Thanks for sharing.

  19. It’s always helpful to get this kind of advise from someone who has lived there! Great post!

  20. Hannah says:

    This is such a helpful post! I’ve been to Dubai now twice so I have a pretty good idea about what I can wear, but definitely the first time I went I was really clueless!!

  21. Jordan says:

    This is such great advice! I’ve always wondered the dress code in Dubai and glad to have an opinion from an expat!

  22. Mohammed says:

    Hey,
    Abudhabi city looks amazing, the pictures are fabulous. Thank you for sharing!

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