An expat’s Dubai dress code: what can women wear in Dubai?

by Gabby Beckford
Reading Time: 9 minutes

How can women dress in Dubai? What can female tourists wear in Dubai, and are there different rules for visitors? Do women need to cover their hair? Can we bring a bikini?

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.

The Middle East is a varied, beautiful region that continues to evolve into the modern age.

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 pull my brain in one hundred different directions.

The rumors: “my cousin's best friend went to Dubai in 2012 and she told me…”

If you start asking around online or to friends and family, you'll hear rumors that 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 visitors can do whatever they want. Some say that you can wear a bathing suit at the beach, but only a one-piece.

But wait, that girl from the office said she wore a bikini to Kite Beach and didn't have any issues. And a Reddit thread you read that someone wore a simple t-shirt and shorts to Dubai Mall and was told to cover up…

What to believe?

The truth is if you're asking anyone who went to Dubai before 2018 anything about how to dress, what it's like, or even the best restaurants to go to, that information is outdated.

As someone who lived in Dubai in 2016 and again in 2021, I can tell you this city especially changes year over year, and rules and social norms from even a few years ago have completely changed!

Here are some quick examples of how:

Dubai in 2016

  • People smoke cigarettes and hookah in restaurants, clubs, and outdoor spaces
  • Living with or having sex with your partner when unmarried is illegal, and criminal by law
  • Alchohol is only sold inside hotels and a special license is needed to purchase or possess it

Dubai in 2021

As the Middle East continues to open up and globalize, Dubai is a center point for ex-pats of all nationalities, business investors, immigrating doctors and engineers, and all types of people who influence the social norms of the city.

In general, you should keep in mind…

  • Dubai is the most relaxed, Westernized city in all of the Middle East
  • The Middle East is not a monolith: some things might be true in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Bahrain that are not true or expressed differently in the UAE, Lebanon, and Jordan
  • You're probably packing fine. And if you find you're missing somethig, it's easy to find shopping opportunities of all kinds in Dubai. So you can just grab something here. Don't sweat it!

The best advice is to think of the situation, and if your dress is respectful of the cultural and religious tones of each place you visit.

i.e. Use common sense, and when in doubt, bring a scarf.

Are dress expectations different in Dubai for tourist women than for locals?

This is definitely true in Dubai, as it is in many different cities around the world.

Example: A woman visiting France for a week might don a beret hat, striped shirt, and red skirt to someone stereotypically walk around the city having their envisioned experience in Paris.

But if a French woman, born and raised in Paris, did the same behavior in front of their neighbors, family, and friends, it would be considered very unnatural.

It's the same in Dubai and the UAE as a whole. It's not that the local women are culturally oppressed, or treated so differently, but that there are different expectations and dress for locals vs. tourists.

What does that mean for you? That outside of very specific government or religious sites, most common sense ways of dressing is completely fine. Tourists aren't being patrolled to abide by any certain dress code, but they are hoping that you won't wear some things to offend the general public.

Why does Dubai have rules/restrictions on clothes?

Dubai is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which is centered in the Levant of the Middle East. This region is traditionally founded on Islamic religion and laws, of which modesty is the pillar. Just like traditional, orthodox Christianity and Judaism. This is where these traditions come from.

Do visiting women have to wear a hijab (scarf) or abaya (robe) for modesty?

No. Only at religious sites.

Let's go into different scenarios that women might be wondering how to dress for.

How should visiting women dress in public spaces (Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina, Madinat Jumeirah, etc.)?

In Dubai Mall—and really any of the main malls in Dubai—you can dress without almost any limitations (using your common sense).

Considering the location and the fact that the mall's aircon usually makes the inside temperature around 68F, I think visiting would feel most comfortable and appropriate in:

  • ✅ long pants
  • ✅ sleeved shirts
  • ✅ maxi dresses
  • ✅ button ups
  • ✅ loose materials
  • ✅ these malls are high end, so you won't be out of place weather you wear Gucci or GAP.
  • ✅ jeans

I do not recommend:

  • ❌ tank tops without sleeves,
  • ❌ shorts/skirts more than 2 inches above the knees
  • ❌ shear or mesh tops
  • ❌ tight crop-tops
  • ❌ swim suits
  • ❌ visible underwear

All of these locations have both indoor and outdoor parts, and high-end restaurants, budget eats, and attractions for all budgets. So between jeans and a black-tie fit, you will look fine no matter what you wear.

Have people worn borderline risque 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 are some day-to-day outfits I wore in Dubai. I felt very local and fashionable, but also that I would fit into any scenario I fell into the day, from the mall to any restaurant afterward.

Can women wear leggings in public in Dubai?

Yes. But you know how there's a difference between leggings and a t-shirt, and leggings and a sports bra? Lean toward the former. Leggings are totally fine if dressed with common sense.

Can women wear shorts in public in Dubai?

Yes, women can wear shorts especially in tourist areas like the beaches, pools, and outdoor sports areas. Taste for shorts as bad as can be worn, though I suggest they don't go up higher than your lowest finger when your hands are placed at your side.

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:

The reality, couldn't be further from the truth! For tourists, these clothes are appropriate to wear at a government building or religious site, such as a mosque.

💡 The outer black robe garment is called an abaya, and the headscarf is called a hijab, khimar, or sheila.

In the above photos, I'm actually on a day trip tour of 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 (Muslim place of worship, like a church) and it's not exclusive to the UAE.

What do children under 12 need to wear inside mosques?

As for children's expectations at mosques, they are not expected to dress any particular way by modest expectations until they are around the age of puberty.

Dressing them nicely in casual clothes is just fine.

Where can I buy an abaya and hijab?

You can buy all sorts of beautiful, traditional Muslim and Arabic garb all around Dubai. For budget purchases, I recommend Dubai Creek and Ibn Battuta Mall. Of course, Dubai Mall or Mall of Emirates for quality, luxury items.

Can non-Muslims enter mosques?

Traditionally, no. Unless a tourist attraction like the Sheikh Muhammed Grand Mosque, non-Muslims are not usually allowed.

How should tourists in UAE dress during Ramadan?

You likely won't be personally affected by Ramadan in the UAE as the tourist areas tend to operate as normal. But Ramadan 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! Bars may also be closed or scarce to find, dressing in public please be respectful and conservative.

What can woman wear to the beach in Dubai?

Let me answer your burning question: yes, you can wear a bikini to the beach!

I can't believe this old “you have to wear a burkini” rumor is still being passed around, for Dubai of all places…

It's expected that the beaches and beach clubs will be filled with foreign visitors and tourists, so swimwear is expected. Does that make sense? If it's a “tourist” location the rules are more relaxed, if it's a “local” location you're expected to be more conservative.

However, the following are still seen as crude and frowned upon at *public* beaches like Kite Beach or Jumeirah Beach:

  • ❌ nudity
  • ❌ thong bottoms
  • ❌ skimpy or see-through
  • ❌ especially lewd swimwear

See what I've worn to the Dubai beaches, and beach clubs, below:

Ladies Day at the Palazzo Versace Downtown

It's important to remember this is just on the beach, and at the designated pool and beach club areas—I recommend covering up again as you're back in the general public.

I'm coming with my boyfriend—what can he wear in Dubai?

Expat can get away with wearing almost anything in Dubai. Unfair, I know. The only thing may be wearing two short shorts into public areas away from the beach is or pools, or attempting to walk around shirtless.

What should women pack for a week in Dubai?

My suggestion:
– 3 swimsuits
– 4 – 6 dresses for photos
– 4 bottoms (1 pants, 1 short, 1 skirt)
– 6 tops
– 1 sweater
– 4 pairs of shoes (1 heels, 1 sneakers, 1 fashion sandals, 1 walking sandals)

Clubbing in Dubai: no hijab required!

Nightlife is where the modesty rules tend to go out of the window. The chance that conservative Muslim women and men will be in a club is low, so limitation on dressing is lower as well.

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

What Women Can Wear in Dubai Clubs

What Women Can Wear in Dubai Clubs

What should I wear on a Dubai safari?

Not many limitations in terms of modesty, but you should definitely consider the heat, the sand, and the beautiful photos you'll want to get while dressing for a safari.

I always recommend:

  • loose-fitting palazzo pants or capris
  • close-toed shoes (for adventure activities, but also because the sand is HOT)
  • clothes with a bright pattern or color to contrast against the sandy background for great photos

How to dress in the other emirates: outfit ideas for Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, and Umm Al Quwain

The emirates of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi are neighbors of 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 modest in the other elements. Also be wary of having too much contact with men, swearing, or any obscene gestures in these emirates.

Generally, people are socialized to be a bit more conservative and traditional, and there is a much smaller population of expats than in Dubai.

 

 

Is the dress code in Abu Dhabi the same as in Dubai?

No. Abu Dhabi is a bit more traditional than Dubai. I like to compare Abu Dhabi to Beyonce, and Dubai to Kim Kardashian.

What is the weather like in Dubai?

Warm! Some say hot as the depths of hell itself, and I can't really argue with them.

It's always sunny in Dubai–in fact, they have to create their own artificial rainfall using cloud seeding! So you'll at least always know when it's raining.

The hottest summer days reach temperatures of 115℉. On average, Spring and Fall weather varies between 70℉ – 90℉. The coldest weather I've ever felt was around 65℉ during the day, in which a sweater and jeans worked just fine.

The thing about dressing in Dubai isn't the outside temperature though: it's the inside. The air conditioning in the

Do you need warm clothes in Dubai?

Yes! Dubai can be chilly in highly air-conditioned buildings, during the winter, and if out in the desert at night. Any time of year you go, pack at least one pair of warm pants, and a warm sweater or jacket.

How to dress in Dubai in winter?

honestly, most people still get by quite well during the middle of winter wearing a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. But a long sleeve, jeans, and maybe a light jacket will work just fine. I remember spending Christmas Day on Jumeirah Beach in a bikini. It doesn't get too cold!

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 bodysuit 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 tips for visiting women to always dress appropriately in Dubai:

  • Ask yourself—is this location designed more for ex-pats, 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 inside 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, and share the pin below to always find this helpful guide.

Advice from a Dubai expat on dressing appropriately yet fabulously in the jewel of the Middle East. The number one tip for women to remember is always be respectful! #Dubai #Expat #MiddleEast
Advice from a Dubai expat on dressing appropriately yet fabulously in the jewel of the Middle East. The number one tip for women to remember is always be respectful! #Dubai #Expat #MiddleEast
Advice from a Dubai expat on dressing appropriately yet fabulously in the jewel of the Middle East. The number one tip for women to remember is always be respectful! #Dubai #Expat #MiddleEast

Gabby Beckford

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41 comments

Imran April 16, 2020 - 9:21 AM

Nicely written and very much informative as well. Great work.

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Veronica January 23, 2020 - 11:40 AM

Thank you! Great information. I’m literally packing now.

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Brenda August 9, 2019 - 3:59 PM

Thank you very much, it was quite helpful

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Gabby Beckford August 10, 2019 - 8:59 AM

I’m glad, Brenda! 🙂 Thank you for reading

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Jameela July 26, 2019 - 12:09 PM

Incredible information, does anybody mind if I reference back to it?

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Gabby Beckford July 31, 2019 - 11:11 AM

Of course, feel free! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Tanisha Dean September 13, 2018 - 1:15 AM

This is absolutely the best post I have read about what to wear in Dubai and I have read a lot. You have provided very useful tips especially carrying a scarf. I think I’m ready to pack although I don’t leave until November. Thanks a bunch!

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Gabby September 15, 2018 - 4:29 PM

You’re so kind! Thanks so much for reading, have an amazing trip!

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Tanisha Dean September 13, 2018 - 1:14 AM

This is absolutely the best post I have read about what to wear in Dubai and I have read a lot. You have provided very useful tips especially carrying a scarf. I think I’m ready to pack although I don’t leave until November. Thanks a bunch!

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Baia Dzagnidze August 18, 2018 - 1:40 PM

Finally, I see a post which sheds some light on a very important topic! Thanks for writing this up. I am sure this will be helpful for many <3

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Kellee August 18, 2018 - 5:57 AM

Perfect timing to find this post. I got to Dubai in a few weeks and want to do more than just resorts. Really wanted to understand what is best to wear. I’m very much a tshirt and boy shorts type perhaps but perhaps some below the knee dresses, capris and wraps would be a good idea. Thank you for sharing.

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Jossus February 21, 2018 - 12:09 AM

Thanks for the advices. Now I cant wait to go shopping, I need a new dress for Abu Dhabi.

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Sarah Ansari November 20, 2017 - 7:16 AM

Dubai is a tourist country; every year countless people of every religion visit this country. That’s why, we don’t think it is bound to wear a specific type of clothing in Dubai, you can visit whatever you covet. However, modest type of dressing is positively liked in UAE, being a designer it’s my suggestion as well.

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Mohammed November 4, 2017 - 6:10 AM

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

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Jordan October 22, 2017 - 8:50 AM

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

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Hannah October 21, 2017 - 2:07 PM

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!!

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Michelle Joy October 21, 2017 - 1:54 PM

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

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Mattea October 21, 2017 - 11:17 AM

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

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Kareemah Ashiru October 21, 2017 - 10:53 AM

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

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Claudia October 21, 2017 - 10:38 AM

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.

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Isie October 21, 2017 - 6:15 AM

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

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Danielle October 21, 2017 - 4:41 AM

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!

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Gabby October 23, 2017 - 4:39 PM

Yes, I hope I helped debunk some misconceptions that Dubai, and even the whole MENA region, may have!

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Karolina October 21, 2017 - 4:17 AM

Very informative and I love the photos

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Gabby October 23, 2017 - 4:38 PM

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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Jessica October 21, 2017 - 12:49 AM

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

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Gabby October 23, 2017 - 4:39 PM

I appreciate it!

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Lola October 20, 2017 - 11:09 PM

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.

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Amy Poulton October 20, 2017 - 10:44 PM

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.

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Sarah October 20, 2017 - 9:39 PM

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

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Gabby October 23, 2017 - 4:39 PM

Thank so much for reading, and the kind words!

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Jessica October 20, 2017 - 7:38 PM

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

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Dannielle October 20, 2017 - 6:44 PM

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!

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Serena October 20, 2017 - 5:38 PM

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

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Sumanth October 20, 2017 - 11:57 AM

This very informative, especially if someone traveling there first time

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Signe October 20, 2017 - 11:51 AM

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

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Candice October 20, 2017 - 11:43 AM

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.

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Gabby October 20, 2017 - 12:55 PM

Always 100% originality from me! Thanks for reading Candice, glad you liked it!

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Sally E October 20, 2017 - 12:00 AM

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!

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Gabby October 20, 2017 - 12:54 PM

I appreciate it Sally!!

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Natasha October 18, 2017 - 10:41 PM

Thank you for this post!

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