What to wear in Dubai

clothing up Burj Khalifa

Before I left for holiday in Dubai, I spent some time worrying what to pack. I just didn’t know what to wear in Dubai. The weather was forecast to be 38 degrees celsius each day, but the modesty laws in the United Arab Emirates mean that you shouldn’t be walking around in public showing too much flesh… at least in some places.

The law

The UAE has laws against public indecency and this includes dressing respectfully. This is most often interpreted as having shoulders covered and clothing no shorter than just above the knee (covered thighs). The laws apply to men and women, though traditional western male clothes usually meet the requirements of having shoulders and thighs covered. However, it can be a little trickier for women when considering the heat. Usually in hot countries I’d wear short shorts and vest top over my bikini. This would generally not be appropriate in public spaces, such as malls, in the UAE.

What to wear in Dubai hotels

85% of Dubai residents are not Emirati and of course, the country wants to encourage tourism. Therefore the dress code does not apply to hotels and private beaches. Bikinis and swim shorts can be worn just fine. Likewise, short and sleeveless dresses can be worn for dinner. Some restaurants may have a dress code, just as they would in Europe. One a la carte meal we had in our Dubai hotel on the palm began with Lee having to change into full length trousers, but I was fine in a sleeveless dress! So the dress code in hotels feels no different to other countries.


The dress code does not apply in tourist hotels and resorts. Wearing bikini’s, swim shorts, sleeveless tops and short shorts is fine.

Public and private beaches – theres a difference!

If visiting a public beach, the dress code still applies. Women are expected to cover up and earlier this year some beaches in Dubai were made ‘women and families only‘. So, if you’re visiting Dubai to top up your tan its best to stick to the hotel pool and private beach areas.

Our hotel on the Palm Jumeriah, Rixos the Palm, had lovely beach areas and as they’re the private beach of the hotel, the dress code did not apply. You can read about my experience of the hotel here.

Downtown Dubai and out and about

When visiting downtown Dubai, its best to cover up. This is the area that you’re most likely to come across local Emirati’s and they may take offence if you’re dressed inappropriately. Given the heat, its best to wear light and loose fitting clothing.

Some examples of what would be appropriate to wear are:

– maxi dresses with a shawl/wrap around the shoulders if sleeveless

– jeans, linen trousers or cropped slacks

– a loose fitting shirt over a sleeveless top

For example, when I visited downtown Dubai and went up the Burj Khalifa, I wore white jeans with a cami top and lose fitting, light shirt over the top. This kept me covered but cool.

clothing up Burj Khalifa

What to wear in Dubai? Its all about respect!

Whilst you’re unlikely to be stopped if dressed inappropriately in a mall, locals may take offence. I think its important when visiting other countries to respect their culture and certainly not cause offence. Therefore covering up shows your respect for the place you’re visiting.

You can also show respect by taking account of other local customs. Generally, local women will cover up in the traditional abaya, a long sleeved, lose fitting, floor length dress and a head covering. Women will usually be accompanied by a male relative and it customary to address the male, rather than the woman if interacting.

Being educated on the local customs and making appropriate small changes when out and about in Dubai will make your trip a worry-free and happy one.

Top Tips

Dress respectfully in public places, such as downtown Dubai, malls and public beaches

Cover your shoulders and wear bottoms that go down to at least the knee

Consider Ramadan – the dress code is more likely to be enforced during Ramadan, when dressing conservatively is expected.

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