The REAL Dubai dress code for females + tips for men

by Danni B

Planning a trip to Dubai? Exciting! But hold on, what do you wear in this city of extravagance and opulence? Fear not, I’ve got you covered with the basics of what to wear and what happens if you don’t follow the rules.

Plus the one golden rule of Dubai that no one else will tell you!

So you’ll know exactly what to wear and how to fit in with the locals, from someone who’s just about gone everywhere and done everything in Dubai. I’ve seen it dramatically over the last 10 years, including the dress code!

I’ve seen all kinds of situations over the years and worn all kinds of different outfits. So fear not, I’ll give accurate information, not the standard “dress modestly” speech.

It’s mostly focused on the female dress code, however I’ve included information for both men and women.

So let’s clear up the confusion online about what to wear in Dubai and get you prepped up for the ultimate desert adventure!

Dubai Dress Code for Females Summary

Dubai doesn’t have an official dress code, however, most venues have individual dress codes, such as smart casual or smart elegant. Dubai is a very liberal Muslim country and a global luxury tourist destination. In nearly all situations, you would wear the same clothes as you would in any other warm tourist destination except for religious sites and government buildings where modest dress is enforced.

That’s bikinis or shorts on the beach, cute summer dresses when you go out and t-shirts with short sleeves for wandering around the city. You’ll see plenty of women wearing these exact clothes.

Is there a dress code in Dubai?

Dress code sign in Dubai Public Park with other rules for the park

Officially the UAE has no legal dress code, however there are rules in relation to public decency, which covers how people dress. This applies to the whole of the UAE, not just Dubai. Many venues set their dress code and have rules regarding what should be worn.

Those with a modest dress code mean shoulders covered and skirts or shorts to below the knee. Some places like Dubai’s malls and parks still have modest dress code signs, yet these days the rules are rarely enforced.

Many other articles say it’s best to dress modestly to respect the local culture but when you visit Dubai, you really won’t see many women dressing modestly except those who are practising Muslims. So definitely pack a mix of outfits for Dubai.

Look at some women’s modest clothes ideas 👖

Locations where a modest dress code is enforced:

Article 358 of the Penal Code states:

“Whoever openly commits an indecent and disgraceful act shall be punished by detention for a period of at least six months.”

This was changed in 2020 to a punishment of a fine for a first-time offender rather than jail time.

How the UAE penal code affects the dress code

Being indecent in terms of clothing refers to nudity and is strictly forbidden anywhere in the UAE. So be careful of any clothing that becomes see-through when getting wet.

Indecent can have a wide range of meanings and is anything that “damages the dignity or honour of another person.” While it would be extremely rare for someone to complain to the police, someone can make a complaint if something a person wore or did something classified as indecent.

More common cases where people get into trouble are swearing, insulting another person or flicking someone off when driving. This would be classed as an indecent act.

In terms of clothing, this would be very revealing clothing (to the point of pretty much being naked) or can also include a t-shirt with an offensive saying on it.

In Dubai, this law is more about being aware of where you are going and if your outfit is appropriate for the location.

The golden rule for dressing in Dubai

No this is not dress modestly, like many other travel bloggers tell you!

The number one rule for visiting Dubai is to dress up! Pack your best clothes, your blingiest outfits and if you have any designer items, pack them! Dubai is a city where more is more.

Even when in the mall, you will see women with full makeup as if they are going for a night out and lots of smart casual outfits.

Dubai is very fashionable and it seems like almost every woman has a designer handbag matched with designer heels.

So what should I wear in Dubai?

Woman putting on a hijab to cover her hair and wearing an abaya in Dubai

The answer is really simple, just wear what you’re comfortable in and is suitable for the activity you plan to do.

Dubai’s climate means it’s mostly sunny warm weather all year round so it’s best to pack loose-fitting and light clothes that allow your body to breathe.

Nearly everywhere has air-conditioned spaces, some restaurants or if you’re sitting outside at night in winter might feel a bit cold so it’s best to take a light jacket or shawl just in case.

Some activities do require different suitable clothing, these are covered in more detail below.

Guide to Dubai dress code meanings

Nearly every place you go has a dress code in Dubai, this is individual to each venue for what they allow. Security or hostesses at the front will deny entry if you don’t meet the dress code.

  • Swimwear allowed: Designated areas allow swimwear however be aware further away from the pool area or beach, you’ll need to cover up.
  • Casual: Vest tops, t-shirts and flip-flops are allowed excluding swimwear.
  • Smart Causal: Flip-flops aren’t allowed. For men, vests and shorts are not allowed. T-shirts should cover the shoulders. For women, it’s more liberal but the outfit should be more dressy than casual. Typical smart casual would be jeans or a skirt and a nice top. Smart sneakers (trainers) are allowed but sports shoes or running shoes may not be.
  • Smart Elegant: This means you should be wearing a dinner jacket if you’re a man and a party-style dress as a woman with high heels and smart shoes.
  • Formal: You would rarely see this except for an event but means black tie, cocktail or long formal dresses for women. High heels for women and smart shoes for men.
  • No local dress: Emirati clothes, this is a khandora for men or a black abaya for women, are not allowed. Bars or party-style venues typically say no local dress.
A couple on the left dressed smart casual and a couple of the right as smart elegant with the labels

What happens if you dress inappropriately in Dubai?

If someone approaches you about your outfit in Dubai, typically the security of a building, they will inform you what needs correcting about your outfit. This may result in either you being denied entry or asked to leave.

There can be fines and penalties for breaking the law if deemed indecent but it is extremely rare for someone to face legal consequences for their outfit.

The best thing to do is apologise and find somewhere to change your outfit.

My personal experience:
I had to change my outfit at a Dubai visa office. My office skirt was to the knee but not below it. The security guard denied me entry and pointed at my legs. Thankfully there was a cheap clothes shop nearby, where I bought a pair of leggings and returned 15 minutes later to be allowed entry.

What to wear in Dubai in December or Winter

Infographic showing the typical clothes worn during Dubai in winter, such as a t-shirt, shorts, bikini, sun hat, light dresses, light jeans, light jacket and shawl.

The typical climate in Dubai during winter is between 16 and 26 Celsius. The coldest month is January where it typically ranges between 14 to 24 degrees Celsius and February is similar to January. Making Dubai a nice warm destination for winter.

So based on these temperatures! What exactly should you wear in December in Dubai?

It’s best to pack a mixture of summer clothes with a few light jackets for the evening time. The temperature doesn’t drop suddenly at night, like you may have experienced in other countries. I also recommend packing swimwear, sun hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and some dressy outfits for the evening.

The light jackets also come in handy for malls where there is air conditioning. If you plan to go to the cinema, for example, it can sometimes be a little bit chilly!

What to wear in Dubai in Summer

The Dubai desert during Summer with the sun looking hazy

Similar to winter you’ll need to pack similar clothes, light breathable clothes, comfortable shoes, swimwear, a sun hat, sunglasses and a few dressy outfits for the evening time.

You will spend most of your time in air-conditioned spaces during the summer. So you can wear whatever outfit you like.

It is best to carry a few wet wipes, a little bit of make-up, a hairbrush and perfume to freshen up. Even getting out of the car for a few short minutes to your location can cause a hot sweaty mess! Thanks humidity.

Years ago the malls used to be almost freezing cold thanks to the air con but these days they’re less aggressive with the air con. It’s best to take a light jacket or shawl just in case you enter somewhere that is a little cooler or if by the sea with a colder breeze.

Maybe I’m just oversensitive these days thanks to my many years of living in the warmth.

What to wear in different places in Dubai

What to wear in Dubai Mall

Inside of Dubai Mall with lots of people walking around

So while there are signs as you enter the mall saying you must dress modestly, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen hot pants or very short dresses in Dubai Mall! Gone are the days when security would come up to you and tell you off for not dressing modestly!

Insider Tip for Dubai Malls – Don’t be afraid to get dressed up even for the mall. The mall is treated like somewhere to go out in Dubai rather than just shopping. You will see most locals and residents dressed nicely even for the mall.

What to wear to dinner in Dubai

Most restaurants in Dubai have a smart casual dress code. This means no vest tops for men, no flip-flops and no shorts! Which might surprise you for a beach holiday destination.

If you’re planning to spend all day outside, it’s best to either dress up or take a change of clothes just in case!

If you plan to visit a restaurant close to the Burj Khalifa after walking around Downtown all day, then you’ll need to dress up before going! Fine dining restaurants such as At.Mosphere in the Burj Khalifa are a smart elegant dress code which means dinner jackets and cocktail dresses.

What to wear in Dubai hotels

A beach resort in the UAE with pristine white beaches and lovely blue sea. White sun-loungers with tropical looking straw umbrelleas and palm trees

Dubai hotels are very similar to what you should wear on the beach. The swimming pools and beaches are fine for bikinis or other types of swimwear to be worn.

You will need to cover yourself when you head into the lobby and other parts of the hotel, a t-shirt and shorts are fine to cover up.

Some beach clubs or venues with swimming pools after sunset they request people to get dressed and you may get approached by security.

Most hotels in Dubai are giant complexes with bars, restaurants, entertainment and more. The dress code here is more liberal. You may see signs that state modest clothing but is rarely enforced.

Buy some cute swimwear ready for your Dubai holiday 🌅

Many years ago, women in Dubai used to take a modest dress or an Abaya to wear over their clubbing outfits. You’d take it off once you got to the hotel resort or venue but now women go out and get a taxi in their clubbing outfits. You’ll also see women in restaurants after the nightclubs close eating in their clubbing outfits.

What to wear to Sheikh Zayed Mosque & Other Mosques in Dubai

The courtyard area of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi with a blue sky and clouds and the white marble domes.

For both men and women, you must dress modestly to visit!

  • For women, this includes covering your hair and an outfit that covers your legs and arms fully.
  • For men, this is a top which covers the shoulders and shorts that are to the knee or lower.

If you forget to take a modest outfit to Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, then you can get an abaya for free from the visitor’s office. Give your ID and then return the abaya after you’ve finished visiting.

Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai, which also offers tours, has abayas and khandoras for tourists to wear as they enter the mosque. They also have a laundry basket to put them in after they’ve been worn.

Women's abayas on the left and Emirati khadoras with shamaghs on the right inside the prayer hall of Jumeirah Mosque ready for visitors to wear
Abayas and Khandoras available for free at Jumeirah Mosque

If you plan to explore Abu Dhabi after, it’s important to note Abu Dhabi has a higher local population compared to Dubai and it’s best to be more modest in Abu Dhabi.

Insider tip – The Abayas you hire are not very glamorous. If you want a fabulous IG photo, I recommend to buy an abaya and shayla set. Mondanisa offers high quality affordable Abayas delivered globally. I love their style plus they’re made in Turkey (yay human rights) and good quality while still affordable. Triple yay!

I’ve ordered from them many, many times!

Four different fashionable and affordable Abayas from Modanisa to buy and wear to when visiting a Mosque in Dubai or Abu Dhabi

For more on Mosque (Masjid in Arabic) etiquette check out my previous article about visiting a mosque for the first time!

What to wear in a Dubai government office or police station

For all Dubai government buildings and police stations, you must dress modestly or you will be denied entry to the building. This means shoulders are covered and skirts or shorts below the knee. Yes, it applies to men too.

I was personally denied entry when wearing an office dress that reached the knee but not below the knee. I had to quickly buy some leggings to put under the dress so I could gain entry.

You will need to visit government offices if you are processing your visa or if you want to extend a tourist visa rather doing a visa run.

What to wear in Dubai clubs and at night

A group of people, four women and one man, dressed up for a nightclub in Dubai

Most men and women go out wearing similar outfits to what they would wear back home. The dress code is determined by the venue, typically you’ll need to dress up.

Less formal venues tend to be more relaxed about dress codes. Higher-end clubs can be very selective and reject people not wearing enough designer gear or if they feel you don’t suit the venue. A little bit harsh!

When you go out, you’ll see cocktail dresses, party dresses, club wear and everything else that’s typical in a nightclub or bar back home.

Dubai Marina is known for its beach scene and more casual vibe. Most venues here have a more casual dress code. Conversely, the Downtown and Trade Center areas in the heart of the city are typically stricter.

Especially for women, you’ll need to dress up with heels. For men, if you’re spending a lot of money on a table then the dress code is usually more relaxed but smart casual is typical.

What to wear for Dubai Brunch

Four women with cocktails in their hands enjoying a Dubai Brunch and wearing cocktail dresses.

Like the rest of Dubai, people get dressed up when it comes to going for a Saturday Brunch. Women wear dresses and heels while men are in smart casual attire. Most of the restaurants have a smart casual door policy but people like to dress up.

A cute summer dress with wedges is something I’d wear to a brunch where there is an outdoor element or if it’s an indoor brunch in Downtown something more elegant like a playsuit.

Again it depends on the type of venue, somewhere like Lucky Voice is okay with jeans and heels. A brunch at St Regis, everyone is going to be a lot more dressed up. You could wear a cocktail dress and fit right in.

What to wear for a Dubai desert safari

Two women dressed for a desert safari and taking photos of the Dubai desert inside a 4 x 4 car

For a Dubai desert safari, dress comfortably and sensibly by choosing lightweight, breathable fabrics such as cotton. Opt for loose-fitting long sleeves and pants to protect your skin from the desert sun.

Closed but comfortable shoes are advisable to shield your feet from all the sand along with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses for sun protection. If it includes dune bashing or dune surfing, then you take a scarf or buy a shemagh (a famous Middle Eastern patterned cloth) which can be tied to protect your head and face. As your hat will likely go flying!

A small backpack is handy for essentials like water, sunscreen, and a camera.

Don’t forget to apply a high-SPF sunscreen!

With these choices, you’ll not only stay comfortable in the desert but be prepared for the diverse activities a desert safari can offer.

General Dubai Dress Code guidelines as a woman

In certain areas and attractions, it’s more common for Emiratis and people from the Gulf to go. In these areas, it is better to dress more modestly.

It is unlikely for you to get into trouble but I have seen a woman being told what she is wearing is not appropriate (a see-through dress in Dubai Mall) and that she should respect the country she is in.

These areas are; Jumeirah Beach Walk (JBR), Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim, Deira, Mall of Emirates, Al Barsha, City Walk, La Mer, Downtown, Dubai Mall & Global Village.

Other areas where you will probably get stared at if you don’t dress modestly:
Satwa, Garhoud, Spice & Gold Souqs, Bur Dubai & Deira.

I’d recommend if you’re planning to visit the more historical places to dress modestly such as the Gold & Spice Souqs. Not that you’ll get into trouble, just that you may get a lot of stares and more attention than you thought!

The most relaxed dress code areas are Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah, Madinat Jumeirah, JBR and JBR The Walk

JBR is also very popular for Gulf nationals but often it is those who are on holiday themselves and a large number of expatriates. So here it is more down to personal choice but you may want to be a bit more modest and you may get a bit more attention than you planned!

Frequently asked questions about the dress code in Dubai

Do tourists have to wear hijab in Dubai?

An older female tourist wearing a hijab or scarf over her hair while taking a photo in Dubai.

Wearing a hijab (or Shayla as it’s called in Dubai) is not mandatory anywhere in Dubai. There is only one exception to this rule and this is if you visit a Mosque such as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. This is the only place where hijab MUST be worn.

It’s best to take some modest outfits so enjoy the other side of Dubai’s culture.

Four different modest outfit ideas from Asos for those wishing to pack a few modest outfits for their vacation to Dubai

See more modest clothes ideas 👖

Can you wear swimwear in Dubai?

The simple answer is yes, you can wear swimwear in Dubai at the beach or pool! You don’t need to buy a burkini or modest swimwear. You can wear your bikini or swim shorts if you’re a man. Whether it’s a public beach, a hotel pool or a private villa beach. Swimwear is acceptable in those areas. However, once you enter areas away from the beach or pool you must put on clothes over your swimwear.

If you are at Kite Beach and you walk towards the promenade then you will need to put clothes on that cover your swimwear.

Workers on the local beaches will politely tell you to put something over your swimwear if you do walk into an area of shops or cafes close to the beach.

Hotel resorts there is more freedom. For instance, if you prefer wearing a smaller bikini to limit the tan lines then it would be recommended to go to private hotel beaches rather than public beaches.

If you go to the hotel lobby, the same rule applies that you should put clothes over your swimwear.

Buy some cute swimwear ready for your Dubai holiday 🌅

What do Emirati locals wear in Dubai?

Emirati man and woman walking in the UAE wearing traditional Emirati clothes

Emirati women, also known as “Locals” wear a traditional outfit, typically in black, called an Abaya. This is a thin outer coat, similar to a very long jacket that buttons up and covers the woman. The piece of fabric that covers the hair is called a Shayla.

Emirati men wear a long piece of white fabric called a Kandura with typically a white cloth on their heads held in place by a black band. This is called a Ghutra and the black band is an Igal. This is the traditional dress of the UAE, not just Dubai.

I’ve covered more about this in detail in my article “What is the traditional dress of the UAE?

Is it okay for tourists to wear local dress?

Yes, there isn’t any issue with tourists wearing a Kandura or Abaya. In fact, Emirati locals love sharing part of their culture and you will frequently see tourists wearing Emirati clothing after visiting a Khandura shop. Typically in Dubai Mall or around the Downtown area.

This is me wearing an Abaya and Shayla below:

Though be aware, there are some places you cannot wear the local dress! You will be denied entry from some bars and other party-style venues when wearing traditional dress. This is because the local dress should be respected.

I’ve had a personal experience of this where I was wearing a kaftan to a pool party and the venue didn’t like that it was black as they felt it was too similar to local clothing. They wanted me to go to the family pool area instead but my friends were all in the adults-only pool.

Final Thoughts on the Dubai Dress Code

So I hope that cleared up the Dubai dress code for you and what to wear or not wear as a woman or man when visiting Dubai!

Many tourists visit Dubai every year and Dubai is such a safe city for women so don’t let it being a Muslim country or worrying about dressing modestly put you off.

Despite what you read online, the modest dress code is rarely enforced in public places in Dubai and you’ll see many tourists not dressing modestly at all! Enjoy the beach and the sunny all-year-round weather in the clothes you usually wear.

Here are some more helpful articles about Dubai before you go:

What country in Dubai in? Plus other facts about Dubai you need to know before you go!
What is the climate of Dubai? Average temperatures, weather and more

What are the traditional clothes of the UAE? What do Emiratis wear?
The best restaurants with a view in Dubai you won’t want to miss!

Read more Visit Dubai Guides

*This article contains affiliate links, as an Amazon Associate and a member of other affiliate programs, I earn a commission when you click a link and a qualifying purchase is made. (See Disclosure for more details)

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Elina October 24, 2020 - 11:22 pm

Thank you for sharing the tips! I visited Dubai early this year and I was trying to find this type of information beforehand. It is always useful to know how not to attract unnecessary attention.

Marcella October 25, 2020 - 1:14 am

Lovely article with very honest and great information for first time travelers to the Emirates!

Noor October 25, 2020 - 4:21 pm

Fantastic article, even as someone who wears a hijab I often worry if I’m covered enough when visiting certain places in UAE, this breaks it down perfectly!


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