UAE Traditional Clothing – Past and Present
Traditional clothing of a certain ethnic group is usually predetermined by the climate typical for this region and the kind of activity people were involved in. Traditional clothing had to be comfortable and suit the needs of those wearing it. However, in some countries of the world, traditional clothes also reflect religious beliefs. Since the UAE has a subtropical climate, traditional clothes cover the bigger part of the body which is an element of the Bedouin culture heritage.
Abaya is the traditional female clothes. It looks like a kind of a loose dress (traditionally completely black) and is often decorated with beautiful embroidery, colorful patterns or other kinds of artwork. Some women also wear a hijab (a head-scarf that covers the head and the neck) or niqab (also covers the face).
Men wear the dishdash also known as dishdasha, gandoora or tawb with a headscarf called the keffiyeh. Men’s clothing is entirely white apart from the aghal – a thing used to tie keffiyehs around your head.
European clothes are seldom worn by the locals. However, they can be worn under traditional clothing. However, the situation is different when Emirati are travelling abroad – they respect cultural differences and prefer not to attract too much attention by their traditional wear. Thus, when overseas they typically wear European clothing.
Since the Emirati show their respect towards other cultures, they expect you to do the same when you are visiting the UAE. It does not mean, however, that you wear traditional clothes. There have even been talks about the implementation of the certain public dress codes and there are numerous signs in the shopping centers indicating what not to wear. These guidelines are not obligatory yet but they intend to maintain a certain level of respectability in public places and protect the national identity of the country from the outside influences.
The best strategy to stick to is to wear whatever you want to in places that are considered to be tourist areas (such as beaches and the surrounding of the hotel unless the hotel has a dress code), but change to something more conservative when you go to the city. To be on the safe side, it is better to wear something long and covering the bigger part of your body. Use natural fabrics and light colors to feel more comfortable in the heat. This will show your respect towards the local culture and it will be appreciated.