Deciphering the Dubai dress code and what’s appropriate to pack for your trip to Dubai
The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country but not as conservative as other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia when it comes to dress code expected of tourists.
That said, there are still minimum standards expected of tourists, and the dress code can vary depending on what situation you are in. Public places like the shopping mall, souks or a museum are treated quite differently from a resort or waterpark.
Whilst it’s important to dress for the warm desert climate, always bear your setting and what is culturally respectable in mind.
Dressing for religion and the heat in Dubai
Although daytime temperatures throughout the year range from warm to very hot to scorching, you must remember at all times you are in a Muslim country. It is possible to dress in a conservative manner that deals with the weather but remains respectful.
There are a few basic rules tourists should look to observe:
- Aim to cover shoulders and knees
- Avoid showing midriffs and cleavage
- Avoid anything transparent or overly clingy
- If someone does ask you to cover up – do so without protest
Just because you see someone else wearings something skimpier than you doesn’t make it OK!
Yes, you will also har conflicting advice in travel forums telling you to wear whatever you want, Dubai is so libreal etc, etc. Please don’t be that tourist!
Understanding Local Dress in Dubai
You will see that most local Emiratis and a large proportion of the expats in Dubai hailing from other GCC countries dress in a traditional regional outfit.
For men in Dubai this is:
- A long white kandora or dishdasha (you can see all the regional variations explained here!)
- Ghutrah (headpiece) secured by a black igal (agal/egal as you please!)
For women in Dubai this is:
- A long black abaya
- Black Shayla (head covering)
- Very occasionally you will still see some women with a metal burqa but this is uncommon. Full niqabs or burkhas are extremely uncommon
- Other colours are, of course, permitted but local women will almost always be seen in public only in black
What should women wear visiting Dubai?
Non-Muslim visitors are by no means expected to dress in the same manner as local women, nor have their heads covered at all.
For women, carrying a shawl or pashmina with you is always a good idea to cover up if you feel awkward – and for a bit of sun and dust protection!
If you are entering the Grand Mosque or any religious or government building you will need to buy or hire a full-length abaya and cover your head.
Women can wear leggings under a dress, a great solution if your dress is a little short, but avoid tight, revealing bottoms and showing too much cleavage. Cut-off shorts, midriff tops and spaghetti straps are all wardrobe no-nos.
Sleeveless tops in most situations which show only your arms are acceptable.
What should Men wear visting Dubai?
For men, you will find that despite the heat nearly all gents wear full-length trousers.
Bringing some light chinos is a good idea for public places, or if wearing shorts try and make them knee length.
Avoid the tank tops and be careful with any sloganned t-shirts, wear nothing that could be construed as offensive.
The best thing to bear in mind is “am I dressed with modesty?” If in doubt, a helpful hotel concierge may be able to guide you.
What should I wear to the beach in Dubai?
You will see huge variations in what is considered appropriate at the beach and resort wear. For men, longer shorts are much preferred to skimpy brief style Speedos.
For ladies, where do we start! It can be a minefield and these days, there are very differing views on just how liberal attitudes are in Dubai in the 2020s.
You will see many Muslim women prefer to wear a full-length burkini by the water. Whilst at the opposite end of the spectrum it’s not unusual at all to see extremely skimpy two-piece bikinis at exclusive beach clubs. Being topless is a strict no-no.
For modesty, we would suggest something in between that you feel comfortable in. Anything scanty and yes, you will get stared at. But also be respectful of your setting; If there are lots of families about it’s not appropriate to have everything on display, whereas in an adults-only beach bar you may find almost anything, except being naked, might be acceptable.
It is very important to note when NOT at the beach or a poolside setting, cover-up. This includes the public areas of your hotel or resort, or if you are going into a restaurant. No full abaya is necessary but it’s recommended ladies have an overshirt or dress pulled on top. For men, wearing any sort of top covering your bare chest is appropriate.
Public beaches will each have their own rules. At Jumeirah Beach, for example, they ask that women be fully covered, ie you must have a sun top or rashguard on over your bathers. Not a bad idea in the sun anyway, but this may come as a surprise if you are used to how liberal the rules are in resorts. In other places like The Beach, JBR the rules are more relaxed.
If you are asked by security to cover up a little, do so without argument. Security officers are well within their right to call the police if you do not cooperate or become abusive – remember this is a big no-no in Dubai.
What do I wear in the Desert in Dubai?
A desert safari is one of the most popular excursions to undertake in Dubai. It does, however, raise questions on how to appropriately dress. You have not only heat and sand to contend with but desert activities which may involve bouncing about, riding camels or taking on the dunes.
We would suggest wearing breathable natural materials to cope with the heat and sweat, but long shorts or trousers are more appropriate for ladies than a long flowing dress, as pretty as it may look in photos.
What are children expected to wear in Dubai?
You will notice that local children are dressed pretty much from head to toe, whatever the weather. The traditional local dress is normally reserved for religious occasions and special events for kids. However, even in the summer, Emirati children tend to be dressed in long clothing.
Visiting children are by no means obliged to do so and should dress for the weather. Dresses, shorts or skirts on girls is absolutely fine (though if they are doing adventurous activities, as in any situation leggings or tights underneath a dress or skirt might be a good idea).
Some more frequently asked clothing questions for Dubai
Non-Muslim women are not expected to have their hair covered. You will only want a head covering if going into a religious building and some Government buildings.
Yes, it is acceptable in a beach or resort setting to wear a bikini. See our advice above though about appropriate settings for wearing a bikini in Dubai.
Yes, there’s a time and a place for your short-shorts, and times where you should really wear full trousers or a long skirt. On most occasions you should dress for the heat and shorts are acceptable. try to keep them at least mid-thigh length or longer.
Yes, in most situations it is OK to wear figure-hugging leggings in Dubai. We would suggest it’s appropriate to wear a long top to cover your bottom in some public settings, though not essential.
Many ladies wearing shorter dresses or skirts like to wear leggings underneath. Leggings may also be appropriate winter wear if you are heading out to the mountains or desert and taking on strenuous outdoor activities.
Yes, in most situations skinny jeans, like leggings, are absolutely fine. The only place this may not be appropriate is a religious building. We would suggest ladies place an abaya on top of their outfits. These are inexpensive to pick up at one of the souks and will make a great souvenir from your Middle East vacation.
For the most part, yes. Though the jury is still out on when and where this is appropriate.
You will find for men the rules are quite strict, you should pretty much only be wearing sleeveless tops at the beach. It’s not appropriate for men to wear a tank top at the mall, souks, museums or religious buildings. Likewise, it will be against most restaurants and bars dress policies for men not to have shirt sleeves.
For women, there’s a little more leniency in sleeveless tops. You will see it’s against the rules published on most shopping mall doors, but it’s rarely enforced. Same with going out to a restaurant; only if a strict dress code is published or in religious buildings would you strictly be prohibited entry if your clothing is seen as too skimpy on your shoulders.
As a precautionary measure, it never hurts to bring a cardigan or pashmina/wrap with you if you feel uncomfortable or are asked to cover up.
In the right place, yes. We’d keep anything that reveals your midriff only for the beach. In shopping malls and many other public buildings, this is against the published rules and may draw unwanted attention. It would be a strict no in museums and religious buildings. On a desert safari, you’re pushing your luck too!
Of course! Open footwear is the norm and acceptable pretty much everywhere. You may want something a little more dressy for dining out; all but the finest of establishments will let you in with flip flops of any quality and variety!
If you’re visiting over the coolest months, December to February you are likely going to want some warmer clothing for the early mornings and evenings – though visiting from any cooler country you may not think the winters are too cold! Overnight in the desert or mountains though you will definitely notice it.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our hotel or tour recommendation links. Feature image supplied.Dubai Travel Planner