When it comes to the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is probably the most open-minded city – due in part to the high number of expats from right around the world who come to live here. So when it comes to what to wear in Dubai you can chill out a bit, as it’s not as strict as in other neighbouring towns and cities, and countries in the wider Middle East.
That being said, there are a few things you need to consider, and when in doubt, a good rule of thumb is always to err towards the conservative side of things when dressing. For extra peace of mind before you pack, we’ve whipped up a quick guide for both men and women, as well as answering some of the questions that pop up a lot along the way.
Is there a strict dress code in Dubai?
Yes and no, but mostly no! As Dubai has opened up to large numbers of Western tourists, their rules around clothing have relaxed over the years. These days, it’s unlikely for you to get pulled up by officials for wearing the incorrect clothing, except in a few specific circumstances. As with most new cultures you brush up against – the idea here is to be a good traveller and respect the local customs as the guest you are, even if the dress code isn’t mega strict!
What to wear in Dubai as a woman
Never underestimate the power of a scarf! Always have one with you, just in case you need to cover your hair and shoulders in a mosque or other religious site. They’re also just really handy to have when you’re inside for a while and you start to realise that the UAE doesn’t mess around when it comes to powerful AC.
Ideally, your knees should be covered when in a religious or more formal setting too, so midi skirts and maxi dresses are a good shout. As for clingy clothing – in most cases, ditch it! Not only are you likely to raise a couple of eyebrows with something super fitting, it’s just not all that practical for a country that runs this hot. Trust us, loose-fitting and breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are your friends here.
When it comes to the beach, don’t worry about not being able to throw your bikini on, especially when on a private beach – just don’t go starkers! Nope, not even topless! Sunbathing topless is one of the things that actually is illegal and will you get more than a slapped wrist. And make sure to get that cover up on when transferring from the beach back to your hotel or to lunch, it’s not the done thing to get about in your bikini when not at the beach.
If you’re planning on hitting the clubs, Dubai’s a bit like Vegas in the sense that if you don’t dress the part for the fancier places, you ain’t getting in. But again, go easy on the clingy stuff on a night out too, and try and avoid having too much cleavage on show!
Do you have to cover your hair in Dubai?
Mostly no, but a little bit yes. Unlike in some other countries, for example Iran, you won’t have to cover your hair when out in public in Dubai. The one time you will have to grab a scarf and cover up your locks is when you visit a mosque – if the mosque you’re visiting allows non-Muslims to visit, then they’ll often have scarfs available for you to use whilst there, so don’t worry if you forgot to chuck one in your bag.
Is strapless okay in Dubai?
Short sleeves, strapless, and off the shoulder tops are all okay in places like restaurants and clubs, but again common sense is king here – take note of your surroundings and if the vibes are more conservative, cover your shoulders. It’s also good to remember that something that’s totally fine in one place might not fly in another, so if you’re going to be going around from place to place, make sure you can adapt your outfit to suit if needs be.
What to wear in Dubai as a man
Don’t think that the blokes don’t need to apply a bit of common sense too – there’s a few things you need to keep in mind as well. Just like women, in religious settings like mosques you’ll need to cover your shoulders and knees too. Local men tend to wear shorts that hit the knee or lower and loose shirts, but many male tourists can be seen in vests and short shorts – it’s more a question of paying respect to your surroundings than a hard rule.
When dining in restaurants, men’ll need to ditch the sandals and opt for closed-toe footwear, and they’ll also need to switch into something more appropriate after a trip to the beach – just as with women, swim shorts don’t fly elsewhere. If you’re a t-shirt kinda guy, then just pay a bit of care to some of the slogans on them – things that might seem innocuous to us could be perceived as offensive in the UAE.
Can you show tattoos in Dubai?
Whilst neither getting or having a tattoo is illegal in Dubai, it’s not allowed in Islam, so you’re very unlikely to see many locals with them, and there are no licensed tattoo shops in the city. And just like with slogan t-shirts, proceed with a bit of caution – swear words, nudity and profane images could get you into some trouble if you don’t take care to cover them up.
Like with a lot of things in Dubai, use your common sense – if you’re headed to a religious site, it’s best – and respectful – to cover them.
Do clothing rules apply to my resort in Dubai?
Nope! If there’s one place you can relax so much you’re horizontal, it’s at your resort. In the same way that alcohol is freely available within your resort, you can dress however you like here, but that still doesn’t mean you should get the mankini out – we reckon that rule applies anywhere.
What to wear elsewhere in the UAE
Remember that Dubai is one of the more lenient cities in the UAE – if you plan on travelling elsewhere in the country, or popping out for a day trip to more rural locations, then you’ll want to dress more conservatively than you would here. Outside of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, you’ll find local attitudes to dress a lot stricter, and you’ll be expected cover up a lot more. This means no shorts for men, and longer sleeves and below the knee dresses and skirts for women, and not just at religious sites. Making a little more effort to fit in with the local culture will take you a long way.