Home Khaleeji Culture What is traditional dress of UAE and Dubai? The names & culture explained

What is traditional dress of UAE and Dubai? The names & culture explained

by Danni B
Emirati man and woman walking in the UAE wearing traditional clothes

As somewhere with a hot desert climate, the traditional dress in UAE (United Arab Emirates) combines its Islamic traditions, it’s relationship with the British empire and the practicality of the bedouin lifestyle to create Emirati clothing

These three key elements have helped shape what we see as the UAE national clothes today. In order to understand how and why, I’ll delve in deeper about the history of the region and the Emirati dress. Along with the Arabic clothes names and even where in Dubai you can get such clothes yourself!

So whether you’ve always wondered what the Dubai sheikh dress name is or what the traditional dress in Dubai is, I’ll go into everything below.

If you’re curious to learn more about the traditional culture of Dubai, I highly recommend this incredible 7 hour tour with henna painting, camel ride and desert safari by Get Your Guide

So let’s begin!

Want to learn more about Dubai and the UAE? Don’t forget to check out my other articles after you’ve finished this one

We answer all your questions about the UAE
Where is Dubai? Why is Dubai so rich? The ultimate Q & A!

What is the UAE traditional food?
The Dubai Dress Code; How to dress when visiting Dubai

What is the UAE national dress for men?

The traditional dress for Emirati men is made up of four key items:

  • The Kandura
  • The Ghutra
  • The Agal
  • The Bisht – only for special occasions

The Kandura is the main part of Emirati male clothing, consisting of what can be described as a very long white shirt. The Emirati style has a low collar with a long plaited string that hangs down from the middle. This is combined with a large piece of white cloth placed on the head and held in place by a black ring called an agal on the top

The Arab traditional clothing for men is actually pretty similar in the whole of the gulf with variations mostly involving the collar for Oman, Bahrain, Qatar & Kuwait also. Even for the rest of the Middle East in Iraq, Syria or Palestine. While not as similar, the Arabic dress for males is somewhat similar.

The Ghutra is the fabric that is placed on the head, traditionally in a white colour and folded into a triangle before being placed on the head. It can also be wrapped around the head in a turban style without the Agal. There is also a small cap worn to help keep everything in place called a gahfiya.

The Agal, sometimes spelt Igal or Egal, is the black band that holds everything in place and has a very interesting history! As it used to be used as a camel hobble at night. A camel hobble ties the front legs of the camel together.

The Bisht is a decorative long cloak that goes over the Kandura and is only typically worn by those of high status and for weddings. This is how you can tell who the groom is!

So why is the kandura white? You may think, surely herding camels and so forth wouldn’t be very practical in white. Prophet Muhammad encouraged all of his followers in the early days of Islam for the men to wear white and this tradition has stayed in the gulf till this day.

What do men wear under the kandura?

We know you’ve secretly always wanted to ask this question! So we’ll give you exactly what should be worn underneath.

Men will typically wear white boxers so that they aren’t seen through the white material, followed by either long white shorts or a piece of white fabric that is wrapped around the waist. This is to ensure their underwear isn’t visible.

On the top it’s common to either wear a plain white t-shirt or vest under the kandura. This stops the fabric from rubbing and chaffing and adds extra coverage. It also ensures the kandura looks nice and smooth over the body.

So now you know! Also if you’re a tourist planning to wear one, make sure to take care of these details! I’ve seen too many running around Dubai Mall making this fatal error!

What is the history of the Kandura?

So while the Ghutra and Agal have a very long history with bedouins and had a practical side the kandura is a little different. UAE men are descended from Bedouin Arabs.

The long fabric of the Ghutra was able to be wrapped around the face to protect them from the dust and sand. While the Agal had a dual use, as it would be used to bound the front legs of the camel together called a hobble while they slept at night in the desert.

The Kandura as you may have noticed is more similar to a tailored shirt. The style we see today is a modern invention inspired by the British empire and the shirts worn by those who came to the gulf region in the Victorian era. Thus the bedoin style was merged with British fashion to create the tailored style kandura today.

Is this also the Dubai tradtional dress?

Yes, the kandura is also the Dubai national dress and the national dress of UAE. Meaning it’s worn across the country in places like Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah as well as Dubai.

Dubai traditional clothing does not have a different collar or style to the other UAE dress. Colour differences you see in the Arabic kandura dress are mostly a fashion choice.

Variations of the Kandura

There are variations based on the seasons and slightly thicker fabrics are used during winter seasons along with different coloured Kandura, UAE is however still quite warm even in winter. So not all will choose to wear the thicker fabrics.

You’ll also see different colour variations, the yellow colour was made popular by the ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This colour wasn’t often seen before this.

Other popular colours can be shades of blue or grey but the most commonly worn is the white colour.

What is the UAE traditional for ladies?

For women, the UAE traditional dress is made up of three key items along with an optional third:

  • Abaya
  • Shayla
  • Jalibiya
  • Burqa’a or Battoulah

The abaya is a traditional long loose black cloak which goes over the clothes of a woman. It comes from Islamic principles which should hide the body shape of the woman to preserve her modesty. The Shayla is the black scarf which covers the hair and the Jalibiya is a colourful traditional UAE dress that is worn underneath. Finally, the Burqa’a in it’s traditional form is a gold mask, still worn by elderly Emirati women today

The shayla, also called hijab, is the piece of cloth that is wrapped around the head and covers the hair of the woman. It’s popular these days in the UAE for women to wear it quite loose and have a little bit of hair showing at the front.

The niqab is a piece of cloth that goes over the face and has a gap for the eyes. In the past it was very common for women to veil their faces in the gulf. However in more recent times, it is becoming less common.

We’re not sure where the colour black came from but it is a more modern invention as we can see historically yellow and red were popular colours in the Islamic era according to Islamic texts.

You can learn more about why women wear hijab in my previous article here

What do women wear under the Abaya?

So the UAE traditional clothes also include a colourful dress called a Jalabiya that has long sleeves and reaches the ankles or lower. The Emirati style has a decorated neck and this would be normally worn around the house.

Whenever the women wants to go out, she just takes the Abaya and shayla to cover over the jalabiya. It is commonly in the UAE bought as a pattern with the fabric and taken to a tailor to be made.

Now in modern times, many women choose to wear western style clothes underneath. Whether it’s comfy loose fitting trousers and a t-shirt or sometimes even pyjamas but shush don’t tell anyone.

Who wears the traditional dress of the UAE?

So typically the Kandura is worn by Emiratis but it is also popular for those who enjoy living in the country or who have lived there for a long time to wear it too. You may find other nationalities when it’s a special occasion such as a wedding, jummah prayers, UAE national day or ramadan that they wear it too.

The abaya and shayla is typically worn by women in the gulf region however many Muslim women regardless of their nationality will wear it here. It is still more associated with Khaleeji women in the style but again many women who have lived in the region for a long time will wear it too.

Can tourists wear a kandura?

Yes there isn’t an issue for tourists to wear the kandura and frequently you will see tourists running around in them in Dubai Mall and locals are happy to share their culture for those willing to learn.

Though of course be respectful in the clothes and remember there are Islamic values attached to those clothes. In fact many bars do not allow local dress and anyone who does wear local dress in such places is normally not an Emirati.

What is the old UAE traditional dress?

Photo by Vogue ME

The Emirati traditional dress is actually pretty different to the dress you see today, especially for women. The black colour is something which became more popular in the last 100 years.

In addition to this, women often wore a gold mask over their faces and you’ll see this mask featured in cartoons for the UAE along with other items. Some older UAE women dress like this today.

For men, they mostly dress the same but the kandura had a more loose style that wasn’t as tailored as the modern version today but white and light colours were still popular. Along with their long length.

What is the UAE national dress for girls?

For boys, the traditional outfits are super cute mini versions of the adult version. With a kandura and ghutra wrapped in the turban style.

For girls, it’s different and involves colourful dresses with traditional Emirati patterns. Often they’ll incorporate the UAE flag colours or mix white, black, red and gold.

There is a traditional form of embroidery and each gulf region has a style or pattern of embroidery that is typical for their region. So sometimes you’ll see dresses than incorporate this part of their cultural history too.

Where can I buy traditional clothes in Dubai?

There are lots of areas where you can buy traditional clothes and the shops are separated into male and female.

For men, you’ll see large glass windows with the kanduras on manikins. There are some shops in Dubai Mall but you’ll also find loads in Jumeirah and Umm Suqiem in Dubai as this is an area where locals tend to live. Here in these shops, you pick what fabric you like and the kandura is tailored to fit the man.

For women, most abayas are ready made and sold at various shops through out Dubai. Again you will find abaya shops in Dubai Mall and in places like Souq Madinat in Jumeirah. Make sure to haggle so you don’t get the tourist price!

If you’re wanting to get a good deal on an Abaya you can head to Abaya Mall in Mirdif or even Dragon Mart!

Is it okay to wear shorts in Dubai?

Yes, shorts are allowed in the UAE but it’s not typical for locals to wear shorts. For malls, the official dress code is shorts below the knee but the dress code is rarely enforced these days in Dubai with the exception of government offices.

Dubai men dress modest however this isn’t necessary for tourists visiting the UAE. To find out more about what it’s permissible to wear in Dubai, check out my article on the UAE dress code and what to wear as a tourist

I hope you’ve learnt some more about the traditions and the culture of the Emirates through the UAE clothing! If you decide to try on some of the local clothes, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram!

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