UAE National Dress

Despite the abundance of Western clothing in the shopping malls of Dubai and United Arab Emirates (UAE), most Emiratis wear national dress while in the country.

For men and boys, traditional clothing comprises a kandora, ghutra, agal, and occasionally the bisht. Women and girls wear the abaya and shayla.

Emirati men in UAE national dress in Bur Dubai
Men in UAE national dress in Bur Dubai

In a country where the majority of the population are foreigners (around 90 per cent), Emiratis view it as important to be recognised as a citizen and local. The national dress here is not restricted to celebrations and special occasions.

The UAE national dress, in particular the abaya and shayla, also conform with Islamic modesty standards. Clothing such as the kandora and ghutra are practical, providing protection from the harsh sun, dust, and sand.

Most of the shopping malls in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other UAE cities have stores selling these garments. Another good place to buy them is the Old Souk (Textile Souk) in Bur Dubai.

Men and Boys

The UAE national dress for men and boys includes the kandora, ghutra, and agal.

Kandora

The kandora is a an ankle-length, long-sleeved cloak made of cotton.

White is the most common colour and reflects the sun’s rays well. Colours such as yellow, gold, blue, and brown are also worn, particularly in winter. Colours are often popularised by those worn by the sheikhs.

In the UAE the kandora has no collar and sports a long, braided tassel. The style differs from other Arab countries. For example in Saudi Arabia, men wear a kandora with two buttons. The Kuwaiti kandura has a collar with only one button.

Man from Saudi Arabia wearing kandora with collar and two buttons
Man wearing Saudi Arabian style kandora with collar and two buttons

Other common English spellings include khandura, kandurah, kandoora, and kandura.

Other names for the garment include dishdasha and thawb (also spelled thobe, thaub, thoeb etc.).

Ghutra

This cloth headpiece provides protection from the sun, dust, and sand. White is the most popular colour amongst Emirati men. White and red chequered ghutras are also popular, but more so in Saudi Arabia.

The ghutra is held in position by the agal.

Other common English spellings include ghutrah, guthra, ghatra, gutrah, and ghitra.

Other names for this headgear include shemagh and keffiyeh (kufiya).

Agal

The agal is an accessory worn to keep the ghutra in position. The cord is worn doubled around the head. It is usually black and is traditionally made of goat hair.

Many men, particularly the younger generation, find the agal uncomfortable and secure the ghutra by knotting it behind the head.

Other English spellings include iqal, egal, and igal.

Bisht

The bisht is a loose robe worn on top of the kandora. It is worn on special occasions such as weddings and festivals and as formalwear by politicians, officials, and religious scholars.

It is the Arab equivalent of a dinner jacket.

Female dummy wearing abaya and shayla. Male dummy wearing kandora, ghutra, agal, and bisht. Taken at Khan Murjan souk in Dubai.
Female dummy wearing abaya and shayla. Male dummy wearing kandora, ghutra, agal, and bisht. Taken at Khan Murjan souk in Dubai.

Women and Girls

The UAE national dress for women and girls comprises the abaya and shayla.

Abaya

Women in the UAE wear the abaya. This long cloak covers the body from the neck to the feet, and has sleeves extending to the wrists.

Traditional abayas are black and not the best choice of colour given the intense temperature and sunlight.

Modern day abayas come in a variety of colours, fabric, and cuts. They may be adorned with colourful embroideries around the collar and on the sleeves.

Many women wear Western clothing beneath their abayas. The classic black and dark colours help conceal the clothes worn underneath.

The abaya is worn with a shayla.

Abayas and shaylas for sale in Khan Murjan souk, Dubai
Abayas and shaylas for sale in Khan Murjan souk, Dubai

Shayla

This headscarf is worn by most Emirati women in the UAE. It can either cover all the hair or worn more loosely allowing the fringe to show.

Other common English spellings include shela, shaila, and shiela.

Hijab describes the act of covering up. The term can also refer to any head or body covering worn by Muslim women.

A niqab is a veil that covers the face, leaving the eyes uncovered. It is worn with a headscarf.

A burka (also spelt burkha, burqa, and burqua) covers the face and body. It has a mesh screen covering the eyes.

Although it is a common belief that the abaya and shayla combination has been an integral part of Emirati dress for centuries, it only became widespread in the 20th century. Prior to that, Emirati women wore the burka. Today, in the UAE, the burka is typically worn by older generation women.

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