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Packing Tips and Dressing Guide for Your Trip to Dubai

What to Wear in Dubai for Every Circumstance

by Paola Bertoni
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When travelling to a Muslim country as a woman, it can be a concern to know what clothing is acceptable, particularly in the Middle East, where you can often see women in conservative clothes. While Dubai has gradually adopted the Western lifestyle, it has become more liberal regarding what to wear. By the way, knowing the appropriate dress code is essential to avoid misunderstandings. This article can provide helpful tips to ensure you pack the proper clothing.

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What to wear in Dubai

To respect Dubai’s local culture and traditions, just follow these simple guidelines. Western clothing is generally accepted everywhere. However, you should wear bikinis and revealing outfits only in beach clubs, swimming pools, and hotel beaches that Westerners frequent. On sightseeing tours, it’s best to avoid wearing miniskirts and shorts, as local women never wear them.

Plus, you should also consider the extreme temperatures in Dubai. The heat outside is often scorching, while indoor places like hotels, taxis, and shopping centres can be pretty cool or even cold due to air conditioning. For this reason, I recommend packing light, opaque clothing made of natural fabrics that will protect you from the sun without causing you to sweat too much. You should also bring a jumper or scarf to cover yourself with in enclosed places.

Paola Bertoni in Dubai's La Mer district, dressed with a striped T-shirts and wide palazzo trousers
In Dubai’s La Mer district, dressed with a striped T-shirts and wide palazzo trousers

Dress up and don’t look like a tourist

When choosing clothing for your trip to the United Arab Emirates, it’s helpful to think of Dubai as a Muslim Miami rather than a beach destination in Southeast Asia. In Dubai, people generally dress up rather than be comfy, no matter where they are.

If you want to embrace the Emirati style, avoid wearing touristy clothing, like harem pants, and carrying a camera around your neck. Instead, opt for the latest smartphone, a stylish handbag, and designer shoes. It’s worth noting that Balenciaga shoes are pretty popular in Dubai.

Emirati women typically wear the abaya, often worn over Western clothing. However, you’ll find many fashion styles in Dubai, as only 15% of the population is Emirati. Due to the high number of expats from all over the world, the clothing style in Dubai is quite diverse.

What to wear in Dubai for every circumstance

When browsing social media and blogs, you may see pictures of girls in Dubai dressed in various outfits ranging from hats and heels to floaty dresses. However, such clothing might not be the most comfortable option if you plan to go on a desert tour. To pack the perfect suitcase for your trip to Dubai, consider your itinerary and dress accordingly. Read on for tips on recommended clothing for each activity.

What to wear in Dubai when visiting a mall

In many shopping malls across Dubai, signs still ask visitors to wear conservative clothing. However, they are now less visible than they were on my first UAE trip years ago. Anyway, covering your shoulders and knees is a good idea because the air conditioning blows very cold in all the Emirates shopping malls.

Even if the cold temperature doesn’t bother you, keep in mind that you are in a Muslim country. Therefore, it’s advisable to avoid wearing shorts or revealing clothes that may be deemed inappropriate. During my visits to Arab countries, I’ve always found loose palazzo trousers, cotton shirts, and long dresses, paired with a jumper or scarf, to be very comfortable and appropriate.

Paola Bertoni at the Souk Madinat shopping centre in Dubai
Paola Bertoni at the Souk Madinat shopping centre in Dubai

What to wear in Dubai in restaurants and hotel bars

If you plan on going out to bars and clubs in luxury hotels, you can wear the same clothes as in any big European city. There is a certain leniency regarding the length of hemlines in these places. So, you can confidently wear shiny dresses and short, tight-fitting dresses that are not usually appropriate for going out in Dubai. Generally, these places are frequented in the evenings by Westerners.

How to dress in Dubai at a swimming pool or a private beach

As girls discover the Middle East, I often wonder how to dress for the beach and pool. I imagined that burkinis were the norm, but in reality, hotels and beach clubs frequented by tourists and expats welcome any swimming costume. In the beach clubs, I saw both Western girls in skimpy bikinis and Arab girls in conservative costumes.

To avoid sunburn, I chose to wear a one-piece surf swimsuit with a covered back and neckline. This alternative is great for those with fair skin, as the Dubai sun is intense.

However, if you plan to go to a public beach, remember that you are in a Muslim country, and women usually do not bathe there. You might even feel uncomfortable if you do. It’s better to flaunt your best swimwear at a luxurious expat beach club or in your hotel pool.

What to wear in Dubai for a desert trip

Although big dresses have become an Instagram classic, it’s best to prioritise functionality for the best experience during your desert excursion. The sand in the desert can reach very high temperatures, so wearing flip-flops might not be the best idea.

I recommend wearing loose trousers, a T-shirt, trainers for maximum comfort, and a scarf to protect yourself from the intense sun. The sun in the desert is so intense that you can feel it beating down on your skin. If you plan to visit Dubai in the winter and stop for dinner in the desert, be prepared for a drop in temperature compared to the daytime. Bring a sweatshirt or jumper with you to stay warm.

In desert climates, wearing several thin layers to protect yourself from the cold and the sun is better than wearing a tank top during the day and a sweatshirt at night. If you spend a night in a tent in the dunes, remember to bring soft, warm socks and pyjamas, depending on the expected temperature.

Paola Bertoni in the Sharja desert, UAE
In Sharja desert with cotton baggy trousers, T-shirt and scarf

What to wear in Dubai to visit a mosque

In Dubai, non-Muslims can only visit the Jumeirah Mosque. If you are a woman, dress modestly by covering your hair and every part of your body except your hands and face. If you do not have such clothing, you can rent an abaya and a sheila at the entrance, which are the tunic and veil typically worn by Emirati women.

Alternatively, you can wear a headscarf to cover your hair, a long-sleeved sweater, and a long skirt. Just remember that you will be required to take off your shoes at the entrance, so if this makes you uncomfortable, bring socks to wear during your visit.

Where to stay in Dubai

Often considered a luxury destination, Dubai offers hotels and flats for all budgets and is much cheaper than you think. Below are a few value-for-money establishments that have been tried out by me personally or by friends and fellow bloggers.

For a luxury family holiday, the Bluewaters Beach Hotel, with swimming pools, restaurants to suit all tastes and children’s areas, is a great choice. To spend less but still stay in top-notch facilities, the Hilton Dubai Al Habtoor City or the V Hotel Dubai are great choices, both overlooking the Dubai Water Canal with numerous in-house restaurants to choose from.

Finally, to see Dubai from a different perspective, I suggest you stay at the Al Seef Heritage Hotel Dubai, a unique property built in traditional Arabian style and located a short distance from the historic district and Al Fahidi Fort.

I hope this information has helped you prepare for your trip to Dubai and addressed any questions you may have had about appropriate dress in the UAE. Feel free to comment with your recommendations about what to wear in Dubai.

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