Dresses of Dubai - A Glimpse into Dubai's Traditional Attire

When it comes to the middle east, and especially the United Arab Emirates, people have a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the traditional dresses of Dubai. Other than followers of Islam, not a lot of people have enough information regarding the Arabic tradition of clothing, typical to the Muslim culture. The whole of UAE with the exception of Dubai is a conservative state where the attire is considered to be an important aspect of the religion. Since Dubai attracts a lot of tourists and is one of the most popular destinations for people all around the world, the dressing restrictions here are relatively lenient. Though western attire is acceptable, women are still expected to cover their skin. In short, you can understand the dressing sense in Dubai as long as you remember it is a developing place, but still a part of the Islamic Traditions.

In this article, we shall discuss the various clothing articles the locals wear, and what dresses are expected to be worn by the tourists for a smooth, error-free trip to the oasis in the beating heart of central Asia, Dubai.

Traditional Dresses in Dubai

1. Abaya 

Abaya women
This is the national dress of Dubai and UAE. It is a long elegant cloak which covers the maximum part of a woman’s body except for her face, feet and hands. Traditionally, it is black in colour. Some women also prefer to wear Niqaab and Gafaaz to cover their faces and hands respectively.

2. Burqa

Burqa or burka is an outer piece of clothing for women in Islamic culture. This attire is supposed to cover the entire body of a woman, mainly for the purpose of hiding the skin in public. It is usually worn over the daily attire as an extra piece of cloth and is removed by women when they get back home in the company of their families.

3. Kaffiyeh

It is a typical headscarf worn by men. It is also known as Ghutrah, or shemagh in some other Arabic countries. It is the national headdress in Dubai and other Arabian countries. The kaffiyeh is said to be mainly used to provide protection from the heat of the desert, but other instances also portray it as a symbolism for power and authority. The kaffiyeh is made out of square cloth, usually checkered and sometimes coloured and is draped over the head of a man living in the Arabian region.

4. Agal

It is a complementary dress of Dubai which comes along the kaffiyeh. It is a black band like cloth which is tied around the head and ties the kaffiyeh in place so that it doesn’t waiver off. It can be either a band like structure or pipe like fitting, usually black in colour. It is traditionally made out of goat hair. It is called by various names like Iqal, Egal or Igal.

5. Kandura

This is a piece of attire which is quite similar to an Abaya for women. This is worn by men and covers their entire body from head to toe, except the face, hands and feet. It is also known as Thawb or Thob and is an ankle length robe for men, usually white in colour, though, during winters, more colours are available. The length of the Kandura represents a man’s wealth and status in society. If the robe is till ankle length, the person will hold a major position in the society, the other ‘normal’ Arabians wear much shorter and less fancy Kanduras, to portray their modesty.

6. Gishwa 

It is a traditional piece of clothing for women in the UAE. Gishwa is a thin piece of cloth which covers the face of the woman, just so much that she is not recognisable but the face is visible.

7. Hijab

Hijab is the long veil worn by Muslim women in the Arabian regions. It covers the face, ears, neck and hair of a woman. Hijab has been colloquially used as a term for all kinds of headwear used by women, but in actuality, it refers to a particular kind of head wrap. One of the most popular kinds of hijab is the Shayla, which consists of a rectangular piece of cloth that crosses over the shoulder.

8. Ghafiyah 

The Ghafiyah can be said to be an almost similar hat as that which Muslims wear during their prayer. The only difference is that the Ghafiyah is highly embroidered and can hardly be seen as it is worn below the Kaffiyeh to protect the person from heat hitting directly on the head.

These are the major clothing items that a native in Dubai and areas around and in the UAE would wear. Now, the question arises, if this is the restrictions for a native of the place, how would a tourist in same conditions fare? Will there be some leniency? What should you wear if you’re planning a trip to the Middle East? Let’s Find out!

What to Wear in Dubai for Tourists

Dubai is the hub for development and growth in the middle east, so don’t be worried, there are not a whole lot of restrictions, but still, a few guidelines are in order so you don’t have to worry later on. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry, right?

Hotels, Restaurants and Malls 

Dubai Mall
Most hotels, restaurants and malls in Dubai will ask you to wear ‘modest' clothes, which means covering up your arms and legs, but even if you don’t, it wouldn’t be a problem until and unless you are staying at a very touristy place.

Keep in mind when you go to Dubai if it is the Ramadan season, as then the rules on how to dress in Dubai are enforced more strictly. When it comes to shopping, DO NOT WEAR your beach clothes like beach shorts or bikinis to the malls, as that is not tolerated otherwise as well.

Swimming Pools and Water Parks

Any type of a swimsuit is allowed on the beaches and pools in Dubai, be it a full-fledged western bikini, speedo or an Islamic-swimsuit. Everything is alright, except nudity. Don’t even try!

Traditional Markets, Mosques and Rural Areas

Traditional Market
When in traditional markets, you are much rather expected to be surrounded by locals, than westerners, so it is always a good option to cover up as much as you can and be as conservative as possible. Since a lot of natives still do not accept the non-Islamic dressing traditions. So to avoid the stares, dress modestly.

When it comes to mosques and rural areas, you should always leave behind the idea that you’d be able to wear anything close to sleeveless clothes or shorts. Always be fully covered when in such places, and especially when in a mosque, do not forget to cover your hair, and this applies for both men and women.

Desert Safari

Desert Safari
Here, you are allowed to wear whatever you wish as long as it is not a short skirt or mini shorts. What you wear for a desk safari also depends on when you visit, a tour of January might mean you carry more jackets since the sand gets really cold. Other than that, normal shorts, sleeveless clothes, shirts and t-shorts work just fine.

So go on, hop on that dune buggy and go nuts!

Solo Women Travellers

If you are travelling alone or with a group of girlfriends, it is better to wear something which is more on the modest side, rather than exposing, especially during the nights, as if you do otherwise, the stress from the locals are not very comforting.

People of the UAE are quite liberal when it comes to the kinds of dresses of Dubai. Although the trends are changing, for the time being, keep the above tips in mind, and be respectful of the local habits of the country and its people. Putting a little effort here and there will only result in a better experience for you. 

This post was published by Shivang Uniyal

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