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July 14, 2012  | by: Latonya Darrisaw

A sign posted at the Mall of the Emirates

Apparently, dress codes aren’t just for the office and school anymore. And if two Emirati women had their say, a dress code would be enforced in the malls of their hometown, Abu Dhabi. A popular tourist attraction and one of the largest cities of the United Arab Emirates, many foreigners are bringing their Western traditions and attire to Abu Dhabi, sparking the controversial UAE Dress Code campaign on Twitter by Hanan al-Rayyes and Asma al-Muheiri.

While the dress code was implemented after the two repeatedly saw tourists wearing scantily clad clothing such as tiny shorts and other exposed trends, the campaign was launched in hopes that shoppers would respect a culture known for its sensitive style. For example, many of the Emirati women wear an abaya, which is a full-length garment that usually covers everything except the face.

That’s a far cry from what al-Rayyes observed as “girls wearing shorts so short they looked like hot pants.” With almost 3,900 followers on Twitter, al-Rayyes and al-Muheiri are asking those same “tweeps” for their ideas to combat the problem. They hope to develop a brochure containing an official set of rules for appropriate dress that mall officials or security could pass it out to shoppers.

Women walking at the Jumeirah Beach Residence Walk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Photo courtesy of Associated Press)

“We are not asking others to cover up like us. We are giving them freedom based on their beliefs and religion,” al-Muhairi told the Huffington Post. “We are not judging and saying this shows she has other interests. We never want to judge. Do whatever you want and wear what you want but with limits. Just respect the public here.”

But even stateside, malls usually have a dress code like “No shirt, No shoes, No service” posted on entrance doors. So, the campaign isn’t exactly without merit. The Emirati society is certainly not the first to try to adopt a dress code that serves as a deterrent to anything that goes against what the culture stands for. As the hemlines get shorter and more skin is exposed, more countries are trying or have already implemented dress codes for foreigners.

Iranian women (Photo courtesy of AFP)

For example, in Morocco, the country’s dress code asks foreigners to cover their body between the knees and elbows and to wear long shorts or skirts at least to the knee.  Moroccan women traditionally wear derras, hood-like scarves covering the hair to be tied under the chin, and they also wear a djellaba or a long-sleeved, ankle-length dress. In Iran, shorts are not acceptable for men and women should refrain from exposing their bare arms and legs.

But as al-Muhairi and al-Rayyes complained, these rules are often not enforced. In the U.S., individuality and personal style are encouraged, but tourists should keep in mind that modesty is key in other countries that have traditional attire. And it’s important to wear appropriate clothing that respects local tradition and customs.


What do you think of the UAE Dress Code? Does it target tourists negatively and create a divide between them and the natives of the United Arab Emirates? Or should every country adopt a dress code for foreigners adhering to their cultural and religious beliefs?

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