Dubai, UAE is one of the most spectacular, awe-inspiring, and modern cities in the world. But despite being the modern international hub that as it is, Dubai is still a majority-Muslim country, and the culture still reflects that.
One of the most common questions I had even before I moved here was: what can visiting women wear in Dubai?
The advice I received from friends, the media, and my online research seemed to pulled my brain in one hundred different directions.So... Can I pack this skirt, or no? Click To Tweet
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, so do whatever you want. I heard that you could wear a bathing suit at the beach, but only a one-piece. Wait, but that girl said she wore a bikini and never had any issues? Then I’m told that someone wore a simple t-shirt and shorts to Dubai Mall and was told by the police to cover up for indecency?
Like… what? What to believe?
Well, after living and studying here for an academic year I believe I have the dress code 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 your 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 mosque dress codes for foreigners
For some reason, people believe that this is what Dubai expat residents are forced to wear on a daily basis:
In reality, it couldn’t be furthur from the truth. These are the appropriate clothes to wear at a religious site, such as a mosque. (Note: the outer-garment is called an abaya, and the headscarf is called hijab, khimar, or sheila.)
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 level of modesty expected 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 Emirati culture, trying on traditional clothing for photos and experience—but not required to wear it.
In Dubai, foreigners are not required to wear such traditional clothes such as these except in religious areas or in more rural areas outside of the main city. As for children’s expectations at mosques, they are not expected to abide by modesty expectations until they are around the age of puberty.
What to wear at Dubai’s beaches?
In Dubai, it’s expected that the beaches and beach clubs will be filled with foreign expats and tourists, so swimwear is expected. Get it? If it’s a “tourist” location the rules are more lax, if it’s a “local” location you’re expected to be more conservative.
However, nudity, thong bottoms, or especially lewd swimwear is frowned upon on any public beach and can 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—once out of the beach area, I recommend covering up again as you’re technically back out in the general public.
Clubbing in Dubai: No hijab required!
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.
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. I did safari tours with Arabian Adventure and Happy Adventures Tourism at different times of year, and was always grateful I wore loose clothes to shake the sand out.
Dressing for 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.
Outside of the city: Clothes for 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.From a local expat—find out if you really should pack that bikini or burka for your Dubai trip. Click To Tweet
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 Dubai Outfit Ideas:
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.
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.