Dubai and UAE have varying degrees of tolerance to clothing styles from across the world. Nevertheless, dress code in Dubai is quite liberal, in comparison to several other states in the Middle East. There are legal guidelines about what is acceptable, but, in general people are mostly allowed to wear what they like. However, it would be wise to tone down your dress code in other emirates of UAE (other than Dubai), especially in areas where there is greater proportion of nationals or Emiratis.
Usually Arab nationals from GCC countries, wear clothing similar to that otherwise worn in Dubai and UAE.
Dress code in public places in Dubai
In general most 'normal' clothing is tolerated, provided, it is not too outrageous.
Women do not have to cover their heads, faces and hair with a scarf or something similar when in public, although Muslim women, particularly Gulf Arabs, do cover their hair, faces, heads with scarf for cultural and religious reasons. But, when visiting a Mosque, women have to cover their hair, bodies and legs, although covering the face is not a must.
To be respectful of the UAE culture, it is best to remain covered from shoulder at least to the knees. For instance, although t-shirts (preferably with sleeves covering at least upper arm) are fine, spaghetti tops for women may not be appreciated in public areas. Also, very tight and/or low-cut t-shirts are also considered offensive. Females wearing strappy tops may be in for a warning at Dubai shopping malls, or shopping centres.
It is best to not to keep the skirt length above the knee level. As skirts get shorter in length, there is higher risk of male attention, police arrest and fine.
When visiting a government office (including visa, driving license, hospital), women are required to dress more conservatively.
In more traditional areas such as villages and souks, markets and such other areas, short skirts are not considered appropriate for women, and long-skirts below knee length are preferred. Western tops with deep neck lines are strictly prohibited.
Men wearing shorts, although may be considered odd, are unlikely to get into trouble. However, cycling shorts that reveal certain contours or boxer shorts may result in warning from the authorities. Wearing cycling shorts when cycling should be fine.
Sports clothing appropriate for the sport being played is allowed at the sports venue. However, any combinations of t-shirts and shorts are not a problem, even if worn elsewhere on the way from sports location. At the beach, a swimsuit is acceptable.
When visiting a Mosque, men are required to be dressed in long trousers.
T-shirts with offensive slogans or pictures, gestures, or obscene language that might cause religious or cultural offence are not acceptable in Dubai.
Official wear in Dubai
Women can usually wear similar clothing as when working in their home countries, although, anything extreme should be toned down. Women are expected to wear dresses or knee-length skirts or full length trousers, with t-shirt sleeves covering the upper arm of their body. But, the best thing would be to check with the company you are working in, about any special rules, or better still, is to be conservative when you first arrive.
Smart casual is fine for office wear. Males are expected to wear long trousers. Shorts are mostly worn only by swimming pool attendants, tennis coaches etc. A short or long-sleeved collared shirt is considered standard in most cases. A tie is commonplace, and expected in many jobs. A jacket or suit may not be much in demand (unless if visiting some high profile professionals). Best is to check with your company.
Note: Keeping in mind the climate in Dubai, it is best to go in for natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, and wool that suit many people better, than any sort of artificial fabrics (including polyester). Almost all offices in Dubai are Air-Conditioned, given, the hot temperatures in the emirate.
Dress code in Dubai - Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common queries regarding dress code asked by tourists when they visit Dubai:
Can you wear shorts in Dubai?
There are no fixed rules regarding wearing shorts. When it comes to wearing shorts in Dubai, even in case of tourists, remember that thigh grazing shorts, hot shorts, booty shorts and mini-skirts that barely cover may not be a good choice in Dubai, unless you are wearing them at a beach.
For women, it is best not to keep your skirt length above knee level, particularly in more traditional areas such as villages, souks, markets and such places, where short skirts are not considered appropriate.
As for men wearing shorts, they are unlike to get into trouble. But, cycling shorts (except when cycling) that reveal certain contours or boxer shorts may not be appropriate.
Are bikinis allowed in Dubai beaches?
Women can wear bikinis or a bath suit at the beach / hotel pool in Dubai, as it is quite liberal in comparison to other Emirates in the UAE. However, being topless is not allowed. Shorts are also allowed in the beach/pool area. Remember, bikinis are allowed only the beaches.
Can I wear skinny jeans / ripped jeans?
Wearing jeans are allowed in Dubai. A normal jeans can be worn anywhere in Dubai But, wearing skin tight jeans is a bit risky, and it depends on the place that you would like to visit in Dubai. While skin tight jeans may be fine in the night clubs, wearing it in other public places may seem offensive. Ripped jeans are not allowed in Dubai.
How to dress when visiting Dubai?
Being a cosmopolitan city with diverse cultures and religious faith, all attires and cultural preferences are generally acceptable in Dubai. However, as a tourist, it is up to you to understand what type of clothing is considered appropriate in the place that you plan to visit.
In places such as the historical quarters of the city, and in Mosques and places of religious worship, you should dress conservatively, and the clothing should cover shoulders, arms and legs, and headscarves for women are required too.
Swimwear is acceptable only in beaches, pool and spa, or areas for water-based entertainment, and are not appropriate in areas such as business districts and shopping malls.
On the whole, you can pack anything that is reasonable. If you are travelling to Dubai for the first time and wondering what to wear in Dubai, just bring in clothing/outfits that won’t get you into trouble.
So, wondering what not to wear in Dubai, so that you won’t get into trouble? Then it would be best to stay away from mini-skirts, revealing clothing, too low-cut tops, etc. Wondering if it is okey to wear shorts in Dubai? Yes you can, provided they are not too short, and should be at least knee-length.
Check with your hotel if they have a rule about wearing bikini, so that you can pack a few kaftans to wear over your swim clothes while on the way to hotel beach or pool, as some hotels do not allow swim wear around the lobby or public areas.
The same may be applicable when visiting malls. This does not imply that you have to cover yourself top to bottom, but just take care to be on the conservative side, when it comes to modesty.
Dress code for female tourists
There is no particular dress code for female tourists visiting Dubai. However, there is so much of conflicting advice on what women should pack when visiting Dubai, with each response being different from the other. But, what you wear in Dubai, really depends of the place that you are visiting, and what you are doing there.
At the waterparks / swimming pools / beaches
For example, when visiting water parks, swimming pools and beaches in Dubai, you can really wear what you want, but, you cannot wear walk though public places or your hotel lobby wearing a bikini, on the way to the beach. If you are at the beach, then a bikini or a swim wear is absolutely fine, but again remember not to walk to a nearby shop in a bikini. It is essential that you have a light dress with you, which you can pop over the top when walking around. Again, a normal bikini is fine, but not a super skimpy one, an ofcourse you can’t go topless!
At public places such as hotel/resort
Most hotels will be filled with non-citizens or expats in Dubai, and you can again wear anything. However, going super-skimpy is not advisable. Shorts, skirts, dresses and vests are fine, but avoid super short and very low-cut clothes.
Within the city and shopping malls
When going out into the city, or to the malls, you may need to cover up a bit more than at home. It is recommended that women cover their shoulders and chest, and wear something to the knee-level. A t-shirt, rather than a vest, or a midi-skirt rather than a mini-skirt should be fine. Well, if you do not cover, it is not that you are likely to get arrested or something, but, it is considered disrespectful and people will stare. So, just in case you have plenty of strappy tops, then you can simply wear a T-shirt underneath. If you feel it would get too hot, wear a crop top to stay a bit cooler.
At religious sites
At such places, you should be well covered and wear loose clothing. Wear either loose trousers or long skirt, or dress and loose top with sleeves. Also take a scarf, in case you need to cover your head, or drape over your shoulders.
For night out
The dress code for night out can be glamorous, so you can put your best dress on. Women can wear tight-fitted clothing, but if wearing a short-sleeve or sleeveless top, then you can carry a light jacket or pashmina or a scarf to cover your shoulders during the journey.
Is Dubai strict about dress code?
Dubai is generally relaxed and open-minded when it comes to clothing, given the diversity in population here. You can see people wearing all sorts of clothing from shorts, to sleeveless t-shirts to burqas. However, always remember, it is a Muslim country and you are a guest, and are expected to be respectful of the UAE culture. Therefore, it is best to remain covered from shoulder to at least the knees when visiting public places.
So, very tight or very low-cut clothing and strappy tops are best avoided, or women may be in for a warning at public places such as Dubai shopping malls and shopping centres. If caught wearing an offensive dress, it is best to apologize and fix your offence, rather than argue with concerned person and make matters worse.
Consequences of not following the dress code
On being caught in such a scenario, possibilities are one month imprisonment, followed by deportation. Although, the police may not walk around particularly looking for offensively dressed visitors, but, they will surely respond to complaints.