“I’m travelling/moving to Oman, what should I wear?”
This is the question that I am asked most from all the emails I receive.
Many women, especially coming from the Western world, are nervous about how to dress and what to pack – don’t worry! Most of us have all had the same panic at some point – I have lived in Oman 3 years and only now do I feel more comfortable in my own style. At times it really has been trial and error.
There is no specific dress code handed out at the airport for new arrivals, though that would be a great idea, there are some simple steps to follow if you want to be respectful of local culture and tradition whilst still feeling cool, comfortable and ladylike. My aim is show you that dressing with respect (covering up for most of us) and dressing well doesn’t have to be frumpy and dated.
Foreigners are generally made to feel very welcome in Oman. Through the years the Omani people are becoming more Westernized in some ways but this is still a very traditional – and in many ways conservative – country. Old attitudes run deep. Most local women you will meet will adhere to the Islamic Dress Code. As guests we do not have to follow this dress code but we shouldn’t completely ignore it. Don’t be that ignorant Expat that we all cringe at and the locals hate, it’s not cute.
In a nutshell – Don’t flaunt yourself in public. Dress modestly – keep your chest, shoulders and legs (from the knee up) covered.
We see signs at the hypermarkets and malls advising us on how to dress for good reason. These are places packed with people with different attitudes and backgrounds, people from the Interior and remote areas don’t often see Western woman never mind share their love for teeny tiny shorts. You can be seriously offending some people and attracting all the wrong attention from others. Be realistic – Men will stare at you, that is just what they do, but don’t give them a reason to want more from you.
We live in the 6th hottest country in the world, there is a good fact for you. It can get incredibly hot and humid so the natural reaction is to strip off. Sadly when out and about in the town that just isn’t possible. You are sweaty. Yep we know, we are all feeling the heat too.
Strapless dresses, Spaghetti strap tops and Daisy Duke shorts are a big NO as they are showing off such big chunks of skin all at once and would definitely be considered indecent.
You need clothes that cover you enough but still loose and cool. Layers are important. That way you can cover up in public but then it’s easy to whip off a layer once you get into your own personal space of car or home. Jeans are not always comfortable in the heat so consider loose cotton trousers/pants, patterned leggings (that are not see through when you bend over), maxi & midi skirts. On top it is good to invest in some loose blouses, blazers etc.
On a general day for me I am running errands around town, working from coffee shops, nursery run and popping to get groceries etc., I find it easy to wear easy flowing clothes like maxi dresses, midi skirts, leggings, and then sometimes jeans. On the top I’ll usually have a tank top, because it’s easy, and then layer something on top of that. Usually a scarf, a light weight cardigan or a blazer. It can also add a pop of color to your outfit and make it more interesting.
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Scarves and pashminas will become your trusted friends! It’s always a good idea to keep a spare in the car or your hand bag in case you are caught out with situations – surely these things don’t just happen to me – like your car breaking down or the police stop you. It is such an easy way to cover yourself up and go about your business without any hassle and adding even more clothes.
This leopard maxi is double lined, no see through dilemmas, it is floaty to stay cool but still ladylike. The denim/jean jacket is a good layer worn for coverage and easy to take off when needed.
Okay, let me be straight with you. Bikinis, shorts, tank tops, summer dresses – Yes I still wear them and you will see by my other blog pictures that I am quite relaxed about it BUT I do try to wear these in the right places and the right company. (If you are new in Oman you will soon find the places where you feel more comfortable – Usually by the hotel pool and beaches where more Expats hang out).
Something I’ve realized now when buying clothes – You need your clothes to be a good quality to survive a summer season. You will probably only get one wear out of each item before it is drenched in sweat and needs to be washed again. This combined with the hard water quickly takes it’s toll on the material.
Who said dressing with respect had to be boring? Show your style with accessories rather than more skin. It can be trendy and demure without attracting all the wrong attention.
You will at times see people who are completely ignoring all advice and wearing whatever crazy clothes they want. Don’t copy their example. Just concentrate on yourself and stay classy and decent.
Hopefully this post can help some of you who are worried about how to dress appropriately and give you some outfit inspiration. Please feel free to share this post with any women you know that are travelling to Oman and the Middle East.
So get those bags packed and don’t stress yourself out too much, Oman is a wonderful place to be.
Heather Duncan is a Scottish expat living in Oman. She discusses clothing, culture, food, and other nuances to life in the Middle East at her page, The Duncan Adventures .