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 dress code can vary depending on what situation you are in. Public places like the mall or a museum are treated quite differently to 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!
Local dress in Dubai
You will see that most locals dress in a traditional regional outfit.
For men 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 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
What should women wear in 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 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.
What should Men wear in 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 careful with any sloganned t-shirts, 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.
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. 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 an adults-only beach bar this 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 necessary but having an overshirt or dress pulled on top, or for men wearing a top 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 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. 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 are children expected to wear?
Prepubescent children should feel free to dress as they please, but teenagers have the same dress requirements as adults outlined above.
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, but 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 might be a good idea.
Some more frequently asked clothing questions for Dubai
Do I need a Hijab in Dubai?
Non-Muslim women are not expected to have their hair covered.
Can you wear a bikini in Dubai?
Yes, it is acceptable in a beach or resort setting to wear a bikini. See our advice above though about appropriate settings.
Before you go… more things to know about visiting 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.
- 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