Waking up in your swanky Dubai high-rise, looking down at your super yacht, you find yourself with the niggling dilemma: “Do I wear the blue or the black burka today?”-NOT!
There are many preconceived ideas about what living in the Arab Emirate of Dubai is like and although we’re neighbours with Saudi Arabia, the same rules do not apply. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t show respect to our hosts here in the UAE.
Emirati national dress is known as the ‘Kandora‘ for men and ‘Abaya’ for women. They’re both worn with variation, such as covering the head/or not (men & women) and wearing an Abaya open/or closed. You will also find that Emirati’s could wear local dress one day and an outfit from Zara the next and this varies from person-to-person, based on preference. Nobody expects you to wear the national dress whilst living in Dubai! But there are a few written, as well as (un)spoken rules that you should adhere to:
Location, location, location!
If you’re on the beach of a five star hotel, then by all means wear the barely there bikini till your butt is content. However, if you’re at a public beach, then be prepared for possible ogling whilst donning your thong two-piece and maybe (but not as likely as the ogling) even asked to cover by local authorities for offending Emirati culture.
…Ever go topless in Dubai. ‘Public Indecency’ laws here are real and carry a hefty fine and possible time in jail for anyone stupid enough not to respect them.
In the Day:
Short-shorts, string vests, off the shoulder tops, mini-skirts and all that’s in between pretty much goes — so sayeth the law. However, just like in European cities, there are areas more densely populated with cultures to whom that dress code is often equated to an unsavoury character. So, along with that preconception you may feel a tad uncomfortable.
As you’d expect, areas with beaches like JBR, Marina and The Palm Jumeirah are a lot more accepting.
In the night:
In most of Dubai’s neighbourhoods you’ll see outfits start to shrink the closer it get’s to midnight; when the revellers start crawling out of their caves better rested from the night before (because every night in Dubai is a night to party).
…Flash your undies! Even in clubs, because the bouncers will ask you to put something over that bra you thought was a top. And fella’s, no topless trawling I’m afraid (sorry not sorry).
Cover your shoulders – no spaghetti straps for women or vests for the men. No crop-tops & preferably nothing above mid-thigh. You could visit a mall 50 times wearing short-shorts and a boob-tube but on the 51st time have a complaint made about you for causing offence, be asked to cover or even escorted off the premises if you can’t. No one wants to feel like a naughty kid when old enough to know better.
Despite a public park being the closest thing us Londoners have to a beach, that is not the case here! You will not find women in their bikini’s or men with their shirt’s off like you would in London Fields mid July. Parks are extremely family oriented places and they cater to all of Dubai’s residents. That includes those who don’t wish their children to get an eyeful whilst running around.
When it comes to public transport in Dubai, as long as you treat them the same you would a mall, you will fit right in… between a sweaty armpit or two (or three) at rush hour.
It might seem like a lot of rules and blurred lines if you haven’t yet arrived to the United Arab Emirates. But I promise you, at no point have I ever felt restricted by neither the written nor the (un)spoken rules about dress-code here. I’ve forgotten to take a shawl to the mall after a walk along the beach on occasion, wearing a spaghetti strap top and nothing has happened. I just froze my bits-off in the unforgiving arctic temperature air-conditioning that’s inescapable in Dubai’s Mall’s in the summer (and pretty much all year round FYI).