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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 for 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.
- 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 that 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.