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What to wear in Dubai

How to be classy yet stay traditional in Dubai all year round

Wondering what to wear in Dubai? Dubai is perhaps the most well-known city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as one of the most visited by international tourists. Both a global city and a Middle Eastern hub, Dubai offers a great variety of activities for anyone visiting, whether their travels are for leisure or business alike. In many ways, Dubai is an incredibly modern city. From its towering skyscrapers, and top of the range infrastructure, to the way by which locals enjoy their lives. Dubai is also the most progressive of all cities in the UAE. Despite this level of modernity however, it is important to take into consideration the fact that Dubai’s culture is very similar to that of other Arab nations. The primarily influences present in Dubai are those of Arab and Islamic culture, and this is evident in the architecture of the traditional market and souks, to the cuisine and of course the clothing that locals choose to wear.

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What locals wear in Dubai

As Dubai is part of an Islamic country but is also incredibly modern and on the forefront of many international trends in fashion, it is unsurprising that people often get somewhat confused as to what they should pack when visiting this fascinating city.

The most important thing to take into consideration when visiting Dubai, is that despite its modernity, respect of the local customs is of utmost necessity. This, of course, applies to any new nation that you are visiting whose culture is different from your own. In many ways, the way that you choose to dress is a fantastic indicator of this. Those that live in Dubai know that dressing in classic, modest and, as such, beautiful garments is the go to. Just because something is modest and classic, it does not mean that it can’t also be high-fashion. In fact, Dubai locals manage to bring together these two elements with the utmost elegance.

Many Dubai locals choose to wear traditional dress. This consists of an abaya for women (a black robe), and a kandora for men (a white robe, similar to that of a woman’s). Traditional dress for locals is not compulsory in Dubai, except perhaps for when visiting a mosque. Similarly, tourists do not have to wear traditional dress when visiting the city. They are, however, welcome to try the local attire if they so wish. So if this is something you would like to experience, you have to do nothing but ask when you are visiting one of the local markets.

Women do not have to cover their heads with a headscarf if they do not want to either. In terms of fashion, Dubai is very much like many other cosmopolitan cities. The city is at the forefront of fashion in many ways, and it is also making gargantuan steps toward expanding on a cultural level. However, no matter how progressive the city is trying to become, dressing modestly and with respect toward the local culture has to be your primary aim when choosing what to pack and what not to pack for your trip to Dubai. If you look at any of your clothes and think that maybe that could be considered immodest, just leave it at home. There are plenty of other holidays that you will go on where wearing short shorts is completely acceptable.

What to wear in Dubai

Dubai offers a diverse range of activities for its visitors. From relaxing by the beach, enjoying your hotel’s spa, and exploring local public places such as shopping malls and markets, to going on a quad bike ride in the desert’s sand dunes. Many parts of Dubai also sport a dress code, this is particularly true for nice restaurants, bars, and clubs that refuse entry if you are wearing trainers, or are looking too casual. Dress codes also apply in shopping malls.

As such, what to pack for Dubai largely depends on the activities that you know you will be undertaking. If you are not entirely sure about whether somewhere you want to go has a dress code or not, research before you pack. That way, you will be able to plan for all potential events, and you will never feel as though you under-packed or are underprepared for your trip.

It is now worth mentioning as well, that in the markets there are large varieties of small shops that sell beautiful traditional pashminas, shawls, and scarves, amongst other beautiful items both in terms of clothing and various other items. Therefore, make sure you do not overpack your suitcase so that you have some space to bring back some souvenirs.

What to wear in Dubai for women

Dubai is a city in an Islamic country, therefore women should be sensible with what they choose to wear. Although Dubai is significantly more lenient in terms of dress code for women, there are some general rules that ought to be taken into consideration when packing for Dubai:

Clothing packing list for women

  • Loose fitting summer dresses
  • Sundresses - though make sure these are not too short and that they cover your chest and back.
  • Shorts - again not too short, see set of rules above.
  • T-shirts
  • Shirts
  • Tunics
  • Swimsuits
  • Swimsuit covers
  • Jeans - as long as they are not too thick, or too tight. This is not so much because they are considered immodest, but because it is just too hot to wear something so tight!
  • Midi skirts
  • Maxi skirts
  • Kaftans - for the beach, and to relax in when you’re at your hotel.
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Pyjamas
  • Sensible shoes - for walking and desert safaris.
  • Sandals
  • Flip flops
  • Pashmina, shawl, and/or scarf
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Some slightly more formal, elegant clothing options for when you want to go to a nice restaurant, bar or club.
  • High heels - again for nice restaurants, bars, and clubs.
  • Beach bag
  • Jumpsuits
  • Clutch handbags
  • Jewellery
  • An everyday handbag that is secure and easy to use - for when you are exploring Dubai’s sites. Crossbody bags are usually a good choice for an everyday bag.
  • Summer suit
  • Culottes
  • Espadrilles
  • Wedges

What not to wear in Dubai

Don’t pack anything that will show your cleavage. That is seriously frowned upon.

If some of your clothes fall into any of these categories, they should be left at home. Or if you insist on bringing them then wear them only at the beach or your hotel pool.

  • Booty shorts
  • Hot shorts
  • Mini skirts
  • thigh-grazing shorts
  • Brazilian cut bikini thongs - ideally just don’t bring these at all.
  • Anything, where your lingerie is either partly or fully visible, is inappropriate.
  • Transparent leggings, unless you are going to wear a long tunic over them that covers your backside.
  • Really low-waisted jeans that bring all the attention to your backside, and have the potential of showing your backside when you sit.
  • Anything that shows your midriff, unless you are at a beach or a nightclub. Crop tops and such items are just about acceptable if you are wearing high waisted bottoms
  • Sleeveless or short-sleeved tops and dresses are okay, as are fitted clothes. Dresses and shorts that are just above knee length are also acceptable. However, they may not be so acceptable in places that have a dress code requiring that you cover your knees and shoulders.

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What to wear in Dubai
What to wear in Dubai

What to wear in Dubai for men

The attire rules in Dubai are somewhat easier for men, with only two basic rules that ought to be considered when packing:

Vests and shorts are okay, but really short shorts are best kept for the beaches.

Many restaurants, bars and clubs have no shorts and trainers policies for men. So while wearing shorts with a smart collared shirt may be alright in some places, some others may refuse entry.

Clothing packing list for men

  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Tailored trousers
  • Fitted trousers
  • Sunglasses
  • Shirts - both long and short-sleeved
  • Sensible shoes - for walking and desert safaris
  • Nice shoes - for going out to nice restaurants, bars and clubs.
  • Flip flops
  • Hat
  • Swimming trunks
  • Vests
  • Polo shirts
  • Jeans
  • Espadrilles
  • Mocasines
  • Summer suit
  • Tie
  • Cufflinks
  • Watch
  • Blazer
  • Bowtie - if you plan on going to the opera or attending a black-tie event.
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Beach bag
  • Backpack

What to wear in Dubai during the summer

Although a warm city all year round, the summer months can get incredibly hot. Daytime temperatures during June, July and August can reach an impressive, and somewhat intimidating 50 degrees celsius.

As such, you may be wondering what you could possibly pack that will keep you relatively cool and comfortable during such unbearable heat.

Whilst remaining modest is important no matter the surrounding weather conditions, when it is unbearably hot opt for natural, breathable and light fabrics. Cottons and linens are incredible for such hot weather. Additionally you will want to opt for slightly more loose fitting clothing, that is airy, comfortable, and easy to wear.

What to wear in Dubai in public spaces

Public places include places such as shopping malls, the metro, parks, souks and markets, restaurants, cafes, festivals, and any other place that may be frequented by locals and tourists alike. These are the areas where you will meet locals, so it is important to remain respectful and modest in the way you dress.

Women can wear just about anything, as long as they do not show cleavage or too much leg. Excellent clothing choices for such areas may include anything from shirts, t-shirts, jeans, trousers, knee length skirts and dresses, maxi length skirts and dresses, and jumpsuits.

It should be noted that many shopping malls actually do have dress codes, and while some enforce it more strictly than others, it is always better to err on the more modest side of things when you are choosing your outfits. In these spaces, your shoulders should be covered and you should at the very least avoid showing your knees.

A cardigan, light jacket or shawl are all excellent ways by which to make your outfit more modest in certain public places such as shopping malls. Furthermore, as Dubai is an incredibly hot city, most indoor places have very strong air-conditioning. As such, a cardigan, shawl, or light jacket will also protect you from the near arctic conditions in the indoors.

This same logic of modest clothing applies if you are visiting the souks and markets of old Dubai. Ladies, by covering your shoulders and not wearing anything too short in these areas will ensure that you are not going to get stared at.

What to wear in a mosque

Mosques are places of worship and are considered holy. If you are going to choose only one place in which you are going to be respectful in Dubai, make sure it is a mosque. (Though we absolutely are not suggesting that you should be disrespectful anywhere else, just that mosques are very important locations for the religious locals of Dubai).

Although this is not the case for all mosques, some mosques are open to the public for tours. As such, modesty in terms of attire should be common sense in these places.

Women should wear full length trousers, a maxi skirt or dress, and should ensure they are not displaying any bare shoulders, cleavage, back or midriff. Ladies should also bring a scarf for their heads. During mosque visits, women are very likely going to be asked to wear an abaya, which is a traditional black robe, on top of what you are already wearing, and there is also a high possibility that you will be given a head scarf (locally known as a shayla).

Men visiting mosques also need to be respectful and courteous. Make sure you wear full length trousers, and shirts with long sleeves.

What to wear for a desert safari

Finally, if you are visiting Dubai you are likely going to be spending a day or two enjoying a safari. During this activity you will be able to experience the desert by riding camels, sand boarding or riding quad bikes on the many sand dunes. As such, your choice of clothing should be practical over anything else.

Remember that in the desert it gets very hot and sunny during the day, while at night temperatures can drop quite drastically.

Some sensible options for going on a desert safari whether you are man or woman therefore include linen trousers, light jeans, casual t-shirts or shirts. Ladies you will ideally want to avoid shorts, skirts and dresses during desert activities as they can be uncomfortable during all the active things that you will be doing. These items of clothing will also not do much in terms of keeping you warm when temperatures drop in the evening. As far as shoes are concerned, make sure you wear comfortable, practical shoes that will not let the hot sand into your feet whilst you are enjoying your desert safari activities. Importantly, you must bring along a warm jacket, and/or shawl, if you plan on staying in the desert overnight.

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