Dubai's Desperate Housewife

Trials and traumas of a full-time mum in Dubai

A word on decent dressing

with 16 comments

There’s been a lot of fuss in Dubai lately about what one should and shouldn’t be allowed to wear to shopping malls. It all started when a couple of local ladies were “disgusted” by the sight of Westerners out in public with “shorts that could pass as hot pants” and skirts that “don’t fully conceal undergarments”. They started a campaign on Twitter, demanding the government do something about it.

Presumably this is the kind of dressing Emiratis would like to see fined. I photographed this woman here last December – nice legs, but you won’t believe the looks she was getting from Emiratis and expats alike

And the government has taken them seriously. So seriously it’s said to be considering making it illegal to dress “inappropriately” in public in the UAE.

But of course “inappropriate” is quite subjective. How do you quantify “respectful dressing”? A woman could be covered from neck to ankle in clothes so tight they hide nothing, while another could be wearing baggy shorts that show a little leg above the knee, but be far more chaste.

Personally, I doubt it will ever become law, but what I wanted to write about today was how the whole debate has made me start to feel like a criminal when I’m out in the malls in an outfit of dubious decency.

Now I’m a reasonably respectful dresser at the best of times, not least because I’m a 41-year-old mother of two and not a pretty young slip of a girl with nothing to hide. My outfits are chosen on the value of what they can conceal, not what they reveal.

But since #UAEDresscode became an issue, I’ve become paranoid in the malls. Today, for example, I was in a loose-ish top and jeans – but the top, while covering my bra straps and coming up to my neck – was sleeveless and made of broderie anglaise, through which you could possibly see a little bit of lacy bra (if you looked closely).

Were my jeans too tight on my bum? When I bent down to put DS’s shoes back on, did I get bum cleavage? If there was a law, would that be a crime? Would the security guard stop me as I walked in? Were the Emirati ladies I passed whispering about my visible shoulder as I walked past? What about the men? Was one going to remonstrate with me?

See what I mean: Paranoid.

But while some things are clearly not acceptable, there’s a large grey area. I almost feel we need an online service where we can ask before going out, “showing 80 per cent arms but zero per cent leg, outfit 50 per cent tight – what’s my decency rating?”

What do you think?

Written by mrsdubai

June 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm

16 Responses

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  1. It’s too easy; cover your shoulders, cleveage, midrif and knees. It’s usually so cold in the malls that you need long pants and a cardie anyway. Remember, we are in the Middle East and I’m just thankful that I don’t have to wear the whole get-up!

    Karen Bastin

    June 20, 2012 at 7:47 am

  2. haven’t been thinking about that in that paranoid way… but I will from now))) Also wearing smth with open shoulders in the malls sometimes… gosh, haven’t been thinking how locals may see it.
    Anyways, think there unspoken list of territories where jeans and shorts are common as well as the territories where abaya is what u’ll see almost all the time


    June 20, 2012 at 11:02 am

  3. It’s ridiculous I’d say! They need to let people be. Why invite expats if they can’t adjust a little. Also, expats might not want to walk out in hot pants, there are faar too many labourers staring at one’s butt. I wouldn’t like that. But normal dressing. You walk into any store here and all you get are butt shorts and mini skirts! Why sell then? Or they expect us to layer? I can’t get my head around this country, been here all my life and even still.


    June 20, 2012 at 11:11 am

  4. Personal scanners at the entrance to the mall manned by sensible, urbane Emiratis of course: If the woman smiles, you go through. If the man’s tongue hangs out, back home to change.


    June 20, 2012 at 11:34 am

  5. OMG, I was cringing when I read this article. It is in my new book about this very same subject how I visited the Dubai mall with a London singer who dressed ‘inappropriately’ absolutely hilarious! We had to make a run for it.


    June 20, 2012 at 11:53 am

  6. I, for one, am usually decently dressed…


    June 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    • I am guessing by your name, Alexander, that it’s not likely we’ll see you in hot pants and a boob tube in the mall at the best of times. I think it’s easier for men, to be honest. Less grey area.


      June 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      • Yup, I’m just teasing… You really wouldn’t want to see me in hot pants and a boob tube.

        Sharjah actually has a ‘decency law’, which isn’t terribly effectively implemented. But if you’re dressed ‘inappropriately’ government services have the right to refuse to serve you.

        No low-cut tops, covered arms (shoulders if you’re being sensible) and legs covered certainly to below the knee was the environment we moved into 20 years ago and I must confess I’m often as shocked as the locals by the JBR uniforms you see in the malls. For men, in Sharjah, no short shorts (their wording!), bare chests or lunghis is the rule.


        June 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm

  7. Ooh Alexander in a boob tube and hot pants … we could raise money for charity with that


    June 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm

  8. I am a guy, let alone local, and still get all those looks and stares, I am just way over it at this point. If they’re gonna stare anyway, you might as well give them something to stare at.

    I also don’t think the Dress Code thing is getting any serious. They made a fuss about it, but it will fade away in a couple of weeks. However, I still think that girl you photographed is dressed inappropriately for a shopping mall in Dubai. I don’t really mind the short shorts and tank top, but that wedgie would definitely get everyone’s attention!

    His Fashion Blog

    June 24, 2012 at 5:48 am

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