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The UAE is a Muslim country, and so there are expectations of how visitors should dress. For visitors that stay in resorts and hotels, the dress code is whatever you want to wear, but in areas where there are more local people, dress conservatively. There are also slightly different standards depending on which Emirate you find yourself in, in Dubai, the dress code is much more relaxed than in Sharjah or Ajman, for example.
There are guidelines setting out the dress code, and there are signs at the entrances to malls and hotels reminding visitors of the rules, in particular the covering of shoulders and knees, which goes for both men and women. Women should cover their hair when visiting a mosque and everyone should cover their arms and legs before entering a place of worship. Beach clothes should only be worn at the beach or pool.
Even in Dubai, arguably the most relaxed Emirate, for both men and women, officially, it means covering the shoulders and the knees (and everything in between). Spaghetti straps will raise eyebrows, and in some places where the clientele is more local, you may get stopped by security and reminded to cover up.
You do not have to hide your figure, as you do in Iran, but tight-fitting clothing can still cause offense. That said, go to any of the popular weekend brunches, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you are in Europe during a heatwave. But then, these events are rarely attended by locals, nor Muslims.
All genders should keep sports clothes on the sports field, including cycling shorts (name me a culture where cycling shorts are NOT considered offensive!), but everyone understands that when you are walking home from the gym, you might be a little under-dressed.
At the hotel and resort beaches, but not all public beaches, women can wear bikinis, but going topless, even in private resorts, is not ok. Young children can wear whatever you want them to, but don't let them run around completely nude, for the sun alone, if nothing else.
While there is no law against this, try to avoid clothing with offensive slogans or symbols. Think carefully and conservatively about this one.
If what you've chosen to wear doesn't quite meet the dress code, expect to be turned away at the entrance to a mall or a public building. An easy way around this is to carry a large, loose shirt, or a scarf in your bag to cover up what needs covering up at short notice.
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