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Dubai is one of the most glamorous cities in the world. A simple stroll outside shows a world that looks like a runway, with couture clothing and designer accessories abound. Many tourists who visit Dubai make it a point to do some shopping, whether it’s purchasing threads from a fast fashion outlet or buying a handmade adornment for their arm.
In the midst of all this glitz and glam, there remains the traditional clothing of the UAE, which many local people wear to this day. These garments are steeped in history and provide a keen insight into the culture of the region. In this post, we’ll give you an overview of the traditional clothes of the UAE.
The kandura (also referred to as a thobe) is a long-sleeved, ankle length garment. It resembles a loose-fitting robe or a long shirt. It is most commonly found in white (all the better to fight the sun’s rays!). Furthermore, it also comes in beige, yellow, lavender and blue, particularly in the winter season. Different countries in the Gulf have their own twist on this traditional dress. In the UAE, for example, the kandura has no collar and often has embroidery on the sleeves.
The ghutra is a cloth headdress that Emirati men wear. Traditionally, it served a dual purpose of protecting the desert dwellers from both the sun and the sandstorms. The conventional ghutra for Emirati men is white. However, the current fashions have been influenced by the traditions of neighboring Gulf states as well. Today, you’ll also see Emiratis wearing ghutras in a red and white chequered pattern, inspired by the style in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The ghutra is held in place by the agal, a black cord that wraps around the head.
The traditional dress of a UAE woman is the abaya. It is important to note that the abaya is not really a dress. Instead it can be more accurately compared to a thin, flowing cloak that covers the body. Underneath, women wear their clothes (and in fact, often choose western-inspired styles, like jeans). That is part of the reason that the abaya is black. It allows the wearer to don brightly colored hues underneath, without revealing their inner garments to the public eye. Traditional abayas are plain black. Many modern styles incorporate embellishments and embroidery on the dark fabric, which adds a contemporary twist to the look.
The Hijab is a veil worn by Muslim women. It usually covers their hair, ears and neck. Hijab is colloquially a catch-all term to describe the various styles of head coverings for Gulf women. Hijab actually refers to a specific form of head wrap. One of the most popular styles of head covering in the UAE is the shayla, which consists of a long, rectangular scarf that crosses over the shoulder.
EMIRATES WOMAN PICTURES – photo credit “Emirates Woman”
In the Gulf, a burqua is a type of facemask. This differs from the burqua in other parts of the world, which refers to a head-to-toe covering garment. The mask is designed to cover a part of the woman’s forehead and upper lip, in a manner that resembles a horizontal H shape. At first glance, these burquas look like they are made of metal, but they are in fact made of metallic cloth. Generally, burquas tend to worn by members of the older generation, with it not being as popular a style among the youth of the country.
If you are interested in purchasing any of the above items as a souvenir, we recommend visiting the Textile Souq, where you can find a lot of beautiful designs for great prices. Our Old Dubai Tour tour will give you a guide to this area and teach you the history behind the clothing of these ancient desert dwellers.
There tends to be a lot of confusion regarding what is appropriate for tourists to wear when visiting the UAE. In general, there is no need for tourists to cover their hair when visiting the UAE. Despite some sensational news headlines, the dress codes are quite relaxed as well. Authorities only ask people to cover up in cases of highly immodest outfits. You can still wear shorts or a skirt an inch above the knee, or tops that bare your arms. Just try to keep in mind the amount of overall skin you are showing. For example, if you are showing your legs, try to wear a more modest top.