I’m ascending The Dubai Mall’s escalator after a whip around Waitrose when, BOOM, I’m face to face with a pair of crimson knickers that are brazenly peeking out from a mini skirt so short it could work part-time as a shoelace impersonator. It’s not a pleasant experience: my body gives a small, involuntary retch. This is a place of shopping, not a sweaty nightclub. I’m upset, and I can’t even begin to think how Emirati women must feel when affronted with such a sight. Their currency of skin is much stronger, especially during the Holy Month.
Having said that, I’m also a little confused on how to dress myself: official standards are changeable. A friend of mine was stopped by security guards at Mall of the Emirates last week for showing a flash of flesh above the knee, despite the fact she was wearing a cardigan, and all the while Kim Kardashian-wannabes wander around the shops unabashedly exposing cheek (and unfortunately not that on their face).
The ambiguity of dress codes in Dubai has come under the spotlight recently, in part due to the story about a Briton ‘stripping’ down to her bikini at The Dubai Mall, having been ‘confronted’ for wearing a top that was deemed too low cut. The true order of events here will most likely remain unknown, (I think the sensation was part fabrication from British tabloids), but it does prove there’s tension in the air that we need to dissolve.
After ‘pant-gate’ I do a quick Google search of ‘Dubai + dress code’, and see the Department of Tourism’s take on it: ‘Compared with certain parts of the Middle East, Dubai has a very relaxed dress code. However, care should be taken not to give offence by wearing clothing that may be considered revealing.’ Vague, yes: but do you want measurements? I think we know when we’re crossing the line, and I’d like the woman from the mall to look me in the eye and tell me the belt she attempted to disguise as a skirt wasn’t ‘revealing’.
I’d have burned bras if a generation older, and I’m not asking frillies flasher to cover up totally (neither are the authorities). I am, however, asking her to consider what those inches of flesh mean to others: remember that not far from here women are stopped for exposing forearm. An ounce more respect and a foot more material would go a long way in improving expat-local relationships.