How can women dress in Dubai in 2024? What can female tourists wear in Dubai, and are there really different rules for visitors? Do women need to cover their hair? Can I bring a bikini?
Dubai, UAE is renowned for its glamour, architecture, and modernity—it's a city that truly captivates.! However, beneath the contemporary exterior is a majority-Muslim country and the laws and foundation of the culture there reflect that.
The Middle East is a varied, beautiful region that continues to evolve into the modern age.
Probably the most burning question I had before I moved to Dubai 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.
What advice to believe, and what advice to leave
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…
How can you tell what Dubai advice to believe?
The truth is if you're asking anyone who went to Dubai before 2023 about how to dress, what Dubai is like, what's acceptable, or even the best restaurants to go to, their information is very outdated.
As someone who lived in Dubai in 2016, lived there again 2021, and visited yet again in 2023, I can tell you this city has a face lift almost every single year. Restaurants, attractions, rules and social norms shift quickly and with the pandemic, even more-so.
Here are some quick examples of spotting outdated information:
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
- Homosexuality is explicitly illegal, and overt expression of non-heteronormative expression is
Dubai in 2023
- Cigarettes and tobacco hookah are not allowed indoors and have been in-masse replaced by vape pens
- It's no longer illegal to cohabitate/live with someone of the opposite gender if unmarried (your boyfriend or girlfriend!), and non-marital sex is also decriminalized
- Alchohol is now legal to purchase where available without license
- Homosexuality is still illegal—but it is not as hush hush as in the past. Non-official gay bar nights, private parties, and hushhush queer culture exist (read this article by a queer travel expert for more)
As the Middle East continues to globalize, Dubai is a center point for expats business investors, immigrating doctors and engineers, and all types of liberal people who influence the social norms of the city.
When it comes to dressing here, 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 something, you can shop most anything in Dubai. 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. (read: use common sense, and when in doubt, bring a scarf.)
Dress code for tourists vs. local women
This is definitely true in Dubai, as it is in many different cities around the world.
It's not that the local women are unequivocally oppressed or treated differently, but that there are different expectations and dress for tourists vs. locals.
Example: A woman visiting France for a week might don a beret hat, striped shirt, and red skirt… Where as a local woman wears a white t-shirt, loose jeans, and a perfume of cigarette smoke. 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.
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 specific dress code, but they are hoping that you won't wear some things to offend the general Muslim public.
Why does Dubai have rules/restrictions on clothes?
Dubai is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which is centered in the Levantine region of the Middle East. Te region is traditionally founded on Islamic religion and laws (Sharia Law) of which modesty is a pillar.
Just like traditional, Orthodox Christianity and Judaism. This is just their tradition from their religious faith, and now cultural practice.
The U.S. and the West have legal and cultural dress codes for certain spaces (night clubs, church, school, your parents' house, etc.) and it's the same idea in Dubai.
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 air conditioning usually makes the inside temperature around 68℉/20℃, I think visiting would feel most comfortable and appropriate in:
DO wear in Dubai public spaces…
- ✅ long, loose 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
DO NOT wear in Dubai public spaces…
- ❌ tank tops without sleeves,
- ❌ shorts/skirts more than 2 inches above the knees
- ❌ shear or mesh tops
- ❌ super low shirts
- ❌ tight crop-tops
- ❌ swim suits
- ❌ visible underwear
Public locations like Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina Walk, and Madinat Jumeirah have both indoor and outdoor areas, 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 occasion you dress for as long as it's moderately modest.
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 public 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. If you have short arms: half-way up your thigh.
When you need to dress conservatively in Dubai? Mosque dress codes for women
For some reason people believe that this is what Dubai expat residents are forced to wear on a daily basis:
The reality, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. For tourists, these clothes would be appropriate to wear at a very official royal or government buildings and religious site, such as a mosque. Most tourists aren't visiting these places for most of their trip so, ladies, chances are you don't need to worry about wearing one of these at all.
💡 The outer black robe garment is called an abaya, and the headscarf is called a hijab, khimar, or sheila.
Tips for women for visiting for Sheikh Zayed Mosque
In the above photos, I'm on a day trip to Abu Dhabi, touring the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque! Because it's a religious site, here it is 100% required to have your body covered from head to toe, and for women to have their hair completely covered.
If you see women on social media with their hair out, a leg poking out of their robes, kissing their boyfriend on the cheek(!) they snuck those photos for Instagram, and it is not okay.
This is the level of modesty expected at any mosque (Muslim place of worship, like a church or synangogue) and it's not exclusive to the UAE.
You don't need to worry about bringing robes either. Sheikh Zayed Mosque offers very affordable rentals ($10 – $30 USD) at the front desk before you enter. They are a bit ugly though, honestly, so I personally brought the robes I wore and was a lot happier with my photos because I did!
Can non-Muslims enter mosques?
Traditionally, no. Unless a tourist attraction like the Sheikh Muhammed Grand Mosque, non-Muslims are not usually allowed.
Where can you 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.
Dressing them nicely in casual clothes is just fine! But for the photos, why not dress them up a bit?
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 reach the age of puberty (12 – 14).
How should tourists in Dubai 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 more separated than usual or have adjusted hours as to not disrespect locals, and when 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 commonly expected that the beaches and beach clubs will be filled with foreign visitors and tourists, so swimwear is expected. If that makse 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:
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 men can get away with wearing almost anything in Dubai. Unfair, I know, misogyny exists out here too.
The only thing may be wearing too short shorts into public areas (read: not above the knees) away from the beach or pool, and he should not attempt to walk around shirtless away from swim areas either.
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)
What can women wear clubbing in Dubai: shocker, no hijab required!
Nightlife is where the modesty rules pretty much go out of the window in Dubai. The chance that conservative Muslim women and men will be in a club is beyond low, so limitation on dressing is much lower as well. Many parties are also private events or in private homes or private yachts, and that's where almost anything goes in Dubai anyway.
Crop-tops, skirts, form-fitting dresses are all acceptable in Dubai nightclubs.
Here are some examples of what I wore at night, and to day beach clubs. I hung out with a lot of locals so I'm pretty conservative, but you can go on Instagram and see for yourself what the Dubai models and Instagram lovers get away with at parties.
Dubai safari outfit ideas for women
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.
And I do recommend a day trip—the UAE is so much more than Dubai and there are many hidden gems and non-party, non-city activities to do if you know where to look! Here are 7 underrated activities to do in Dubai
Though I would never dress disrespectfully in Dubai, I would be even more modest in the other emirates. 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. AKA, be on your best behavior!
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. I went to Dubai for the first time in July in 2023 and the average outside temp was 95℉ with 100% humidity (but this intensity of heat is only from May to September)
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. Especially you Canadians or UK folk, you may be sweating on the coldest Dubai days. But again—the intense air conditioning makes it a different ballgame!
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 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 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? Please support my work 🏽
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