After a recent weekend trip to Dubai, I noticed just how confusing dressing up could be. In Kuwait, things are more conservative. Some women may be covered while others are not, but generally people dress respectfully and don’t show too much skin or wear things that are too short. In Dubai, it is extremely confusing! I walked around the mall and saw some people in miniskirts while the locals wore the traditional “Abaya”. I noticed some of the covered women giving the less covered women looks, but what can they really do in a city that has not become a melting pot of cultures and nationalities?
No matter where you are, when it comes to dressing up you must always take the local culture into account. Not just generalizations based on the country, it can boil down to the specific city. Dubai has become an extremely dynamic city with people from all over the world. As my friends and I were walking around the Mall of the Emirates, we joked that if we were blindfolded and thrown into this mall for the first time, we would never be able to guess what country we were in! I understand why some of the conservative ladies were giving the less covered foreigners stares, but they should also take where they are into context. If they were in a more localized city in the Emirates then they would have a greater right to do so. At the same time, it is difficult for an outsider to come into an Arab country and change the way they are used to dressing.
Generally, if you look like a foreigner you can get away with much more. If you look Arab, however, even a sleeveless top can generate many disapproving stares. Personally, I think that everyone should wear what they feel like wearing with respect to the culture and place they are going. If you are just going to a friend’s place then it should technically be ok to wear sleeveless, but even driving in a car can be uncomfortable if a jacket isn’t thrown on for the ride. We can live with this reality and be respectful to the culture because it is not extreme or unreasonable.
When I heard about a law that was proposed last month to impose the head cover for women in Kuwait, however, I was appalled. This is when you take “cultural dressing” to a whole new level and step on our freedom as Kuwaiti women, or any woman living in Kuwait. We understand that wearing sleeveless tops or shorts is inappropriate and would never do so in public, but a head cover is something personal and should never be imposed on somebody if they don’t wish to do it. I completely respect women that have it, but will never agree to being forced into wearing it. This is our home, and this is the line at which our freedom will no longer be ours.
I hope that our freedom will be protected, and have found that this general rule of thumb works: dress in what makes you feel comfortable as long as you are respecting the cultural norms. A foreigner might feel comfortable in cut-off shorts and a tank top, but that look is better reserved for a private beach club rather than the Avenues. It’s impolite to offend people, but at the same time, we shouldn’t feel that we must be overly conservative if it is not in our nature. May we always have the freedom of choice, have a stylish April everybody