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You love to look good, and in The Mid­dle East, you can! The peo­ple of the Mid­dle East place a lot of impor­tance on good groom­ing and dress­ing well, so you can dress to impress dur­ing your time in this fas­ci­nat­ing part of the world. Take advan­tage of this oppor­tu­ni­ty to style up while observ­ing social eti­quette and man­ag­ing the extreme cli­mate. Dress con­ser­v­a­tive­ly and mod­est­ly in line with social norms, and take lay­ers for warm days and cool evenings. Most impor­tant­ly, fill your wardrobe with clothes made of light, breath­able fab­rics. Then have fun mix­ing and match­ing pieces to cre­ate impres­sive out­fits.

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- Modesty

Mod­esty and con­ser­v­a­tive dress are expect­ed in The Mid­dle East. The region is dom­i­nat­ed by reli­gious con­ser­vatism, espe­cial­ly Islam, and women espe­cial­ly are expect­ed to cov­er their bod­ies while in pub­lic.

- Head covering

In some coun­tries and at any reli­gious site, such as a mosque, women are expect­ed to wear some form of head cov­er­ing. The head­dress’s style and cov­er­age may dif­fer accord­ing to coun­try or region, but any woman vis­it­ing the region must pack a few pieces that can serve as head cov­er­ings. Always seek advice from local peo­ple, prefer­ably before arriv­ing, or upon arrival, as to exact­ly how women are expect­ed to cov­er up in that place.

- Scarves

Scarves are enor­mous­ly use­ful for women in The Mid­dle East. They can be worn as head cov­er­ings to observe social mores, and they can also be worn around the neck for style, or worn over oth­er parts of the body for sun pro­tec­tion. Scarves are not only ver­sa­tile, but they are light­weight and take up very lit­tle space in a bag. They are also read­i­ly avail­able at mar­kets and bou­tiques through­out the region, so they’re a great excuse for some retail ther­a­py. A few scarves of dif­fer­ent styles and colours should be one of the first items to be packed into your lug­gage, and even in your car­ry on if you are fly­ing.

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- Heat

The Mid­dle East is hot. Very hot. Dress­ing appro­pri­ate­ly will help you to man­age the extreme heat. Light and breezy fab­rics that do not cling to the skin, and are not trans­par­ent, such as cot­ton and linen, are always prefer­able, and if paired prop­er­ly, will always look good.

- Layers

While the region is famous­ly warm, you do need some warm clothes. Many big­ger cities and wealth­i­er areas, such as the UAE and oth­er Gulf states, sur­vive on air con­di­tion­ing, and you will find your­self inside many air-con­di­tioned spaces. Some of these are cold, very cold. So cold that it’s not uncom­mon to see kids play­ing ice hock­ey in the mid­dle of a shop­ping mall. Offices, class­rooms, the­atres and restau­rants might turn their air­con units to an arc­tic chill, so take a jack­et when vis­it­ing these places. Var­i­ous loca­tions do actu­al­ly have a win­ter. It’s not a north­ern hemi­sphere win­ter, but the tem­per­a­ture does drop notice­ably in the late after­noon and evening, so car­ry a few light jack­ets which can tran­si­tion from day to night. Lay­ers are also vital for walks along the prom­e­nade of an evening in some loca­tions, or overnight trips into the desert. If you’re offered the chance to spend a night or two in the desert, take it. You will rarely expe­ri­ence such still­ness and bright stars – remem­ber to take warm clothes.

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- Accessorise

Acces­sories always maketh the out­fit, even in the Mid­dle East. Add some sparkle to your ensem­ble with beau­ti­ful jew­ellery, and adopt the cus­tom of the local women who use acces­sories to add indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and unde­ni­able style to mod­est and iden­ti­cal out­fits. The region is famed for its jew­ellers, so head to local mar­kets to aug­ment your wardrobe.

- Follow the locals

In cos­mopoli­tan Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as Doha and Mus­cat, blend in with the locals in your finest out­fits. In tra­di­tion­al Amman, pay close atten­tion to dress­ing mod­est­ly when­ev­er in pub­lic, and in oth­er regions, observe the gen­er­al trends and match your out­fit accord­ing­ly. Dubai is one of the most mod­ern cities in the region, in fact, in the world, and it hosts a lot of expats and over­seas vis­i­tors. For this rea­son, there is more tol­er­ance of oth­er dress styles. Most local men will still wear a sparkling white kan­dura (how do they keep it so white?!), and the women are nor­mal­ly seen in a black abaya, but var­i­ous dress styles are accept­ed. In Dubai, mod­esty is still expect­ed, but pop­u­lar and appro­pri­ate out­fits include tai­lored trousers, smart blaz­ers, fit­ted shirts, and dress­es that do not show cleav­age for for­mal sit­u­a­tions. In more casu­al set­tings, opt for knee-length sum­mer dress­es, cool t‑shirts, long flow­ing dress­es and skirts. Mini skirts can be tricky, but if you plan to wear one, wear non-trans­par­ent leg­gings under­neath.

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- Evening wear

Some smart, spe­cif­ic choic­es for the evening include palaz­zo pants, maxi dress­es and flared jump­suits with sleeves, and these can be paired and enlivened with scarves, a cardi­gan or a smart jack­et.

- Conservative chic

In regions which are more social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive than Dubai, but are still very warm, reach for one of the fol­low­ing wardrobe choic­es. Wear sol­id and neu­tral colours that aren’t flim­sy or trans­par­ent. Don maxi skirts and long sleeve dress­es, long-sleeved shirts and tops and trousers. Anoth­er intel­li­gent and styl­ish choice is culottes or loose pants.

- What to avoid?

Women should avoid dis­play­ing their shoul­ders, thighs, stom­ach or back, and avoid too trans­par­ent fab­rics. They should also avoid wear­ing out­fits that cling to the body. Oth­er wardrobe mis­takes include ripped jeans or tops, and jeans that are too skin­ny, as well as sleeve­less dress­es and skirts that don’t reach the knee. One look that might be accept­able only in a place like Dubai is a long shirt and leg­gings. Maybe leave this choice for when you get home.

- In the club

Bars and night­clubs in the more open coun­tries are places where your wardrobe might feel more at home. They are nor­mal­ly patron­ized more heav­i­ly by vis­i­tors and expats, so a more West­ern-style dress code is adopt­ed. It is advis­able to pack at least one pair of glam­orous heels because some venues have a strict dress code.

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- By the water

Can I wear a biki­ni in The Mid­dle East? In some coun­tries, no. Nev­er. In loca­tions such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, a biki­ni may be accept­able at some beach­es or pools, espe­cial­ly those heav­i­ly fre­quent­ed by expats. Always check before you arrive, and don’t just assume it is accept­able because anoth­er expat is wear­ing a biki­ni. Maybe pack a more mod­est cos­tume as well as the biki­ni. As well as pro­tect­ing your mod­esty, it will also pro­tect your skin from the sun’s harm­ful rays. Sun­burn is nev­er a good look. A use­ful piece of swimwear is a rash vest (lycra swim top). This can pro­tect your mod­esty and your skin and cov­er any tat­toos that may be taboo. A rash vest is also use­ful for snorkelling, sail­ing or for pre­vent­ing chaffing under a life jack­et. For men, the rules are gen­er­al­ly eas­i­er to fol­low, and board shorts and bare chests are gen­er­al­ly accept­able at the pool’s beach. In gen­er­al, keep your beach­wear for the beach only and take a beach dress or kaf­tan for walk­ing to and from the beach or pool.

- Hats

Take a hat. The sun is extreme, and if you get caught out­side for an extend­ed time with­out a hat, you will feel ter­ri­ble. Take var­i­ous sizes and styles of hats to match the occa­sion, espe­cial­ly one that you can whip out at short notice. A small umbrel­la may also be use­ful, not for the rain but the sun. Com­ple­ment your hat with sun­glass­es to ward off the glare of the sun.

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- Get comfortable

Heels, san­dals and flip flops will accom­pa­ny you to The Mid­dle East, and com­fort­able walk­ing shoes should be too. In var­i­ous coun­tries and cities, you may find your­self tra­vers­ing via the pub­lic trans­port sys­tem, so be ready to be on your feet, and there are so many won­der­ful places to explore on foot.

- Get searching

If you have time before your vis­it, search your socials for local influ­encers and see what they wear in their home­town. Their cre­ativ­i­ty and gen­uine fash­ion sense have craft­ed a beau­ti­ful and styl­ish con­ser­v­a­tive chic.

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Final Thought

Dress to impress in the Mid­dle East. Fol­low the locals’ lead and take great pride in your groom­ing and put togeth­er a wardrobe full of desir­able pieces. It would be best if you always remem­bered to dress mod­est­ly accord­ing to social expec­ta­tions through­out the region and pack many items with light, breath­able fab­ric to cope with the heat. Don’t for­get to take a few warmer pieces for cool desert evenings, plus scarves and hats, and enjoy the process of putting togeth­er ensem­bles that will have you look­ing your best.
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