Desert dress sense: A fashion opportunity

Last night I went to a Christmas party wearing my Ugg boots – a purchase I persuaded DH to buy from the knock-off markets of Shanghai.

Worn without socks - talking of which, I'd been here two years before buying a pair of socks

Their first outing since their arrival months ago, they are, of course, about as necessary as ice scrapers and anti-freeze are in the desert.

But my friend who held the party said there would be snow on the ground (and there was, in the form of fake snow sprinkles!) so it seemed too good a fashion opportunity to miss, even if by the end of the night my feet and half my legs had suffocated in their fur-lined encasings.

It goes without saying that fashion in the desert is biased towards the summer season: flips flops, shorts, maxi dresses and summer tops are year-round staples. Women own tops for fat days, tops for thin days. Short-sleeve tops that aren’t too revealing for the mall, T-shirts that hide underarm stubble, ‘look at my curvy body’ spaghetti tops and ‘I can be sensible’ light-weight tops that hide your bra straps for work.

And another essential in the land of eternal summer: bikinis – which have categories all of their own.

Needed in all colours
On the upside, all these items are easy to pack if you’re coming to Dubai on holiday, but when you live here – rather like eating cheese and tomato sarnies with no mayo for lunch every day – it’s easy to get bored of your summer wardrobe and long to wear a sleeve, boots, a winter coat, layers and a scarf for a change.

Hence my joy at wearing the Uggs last night, putting a sweater on to go to a cinema with chilly air-conditioning, and covering up in the cooler evenings. Ironically, the clothes stores here are full of wooly winter stock, which all looks so tempting but is really only of any use if you’re travelling to cooler climes.

This all leads me to a question I’ve been asked several times by people coming to visit us here: what is appropriate clothing in a Muslim country?

Most ‘normal’ clothing is tolerated in Dubai as long as it is not too outrageous – although to be respectful of the UAE culture, some people only wear tops that cover their shoulders to go shopping.

And you wouldn’t want to reveal your midriff or your ‘bits that are best left hidden’ in public as this would cause offence. You might have heard about the British shopper who was reportedly wearing see-through clothing at the mall and received a stern warning from an Arab lady. Angered by the ‘dress down’ – and to everyone’s amazement – the shopper stripped to her bikini. Needless to say, the police were called and she was arrested.

On the beach, bikinis are fine, topless or thongs are not. And while under-dressers (ie, people who jump into the sea in their y-fronts) risk ending up with a caution from the beach police, over-dressers are also being targeted. Over-dressers are fully clothed men who come to the beach not to swim or sunbathe, but for ‘other’ reasons. Labourers who work in Dubai, they’ve gained a reputation for staring at women in bikinis and apparently even photographing them with their mobiles and groping them underwater! (it’s never happened to me, I should add!)

Two veiled Emirati women in traditional Islamic dress cross paths with a Western woman wearing a revealing frock at the horse races in Dubai

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