Having been unable to find the information before we went on holiday to Oman last year, and having friends who live there who weren’t overly specific in the way that I was looking for (TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT I SHOULD BE WEARING GUYS. FEED MY NEUROSES.), it seemed like a good idea to write the post I would have liked to read before hopping on a plane to the Middle East. So how should you dress if you’re a lady heading to the Middle East – specifically, Oman – on holiday and you want to be a) respectful, b) comfortable, and c) cute? Allow me to do what I can to shed some light on the situation. Obviously there isn’t an official “expat dress code” for Oman, but here are my suggestions!
A lot of it will come down to fabrics. When we were in Oman, the average daily temperature was around 100F/40C and cotton or denim aren’t really the go-to fabrics for such climes. Linen or loose knit cotton would have been ideal. Everywhere in Oman has very strong air conditioning, so do keep in mind that a lot of the time will be spent braving the heat just to get in a car with air conditioning, to drive to a place with air conditioning. This is how one gets away with wearing skinny jeans and a tank top with cardigan for a night out – but if you’re planning on wandering around markets or heading to the desert, I wouldn’t make that your go-to outfit.
While our trip was just a little over a week, this is my takeaway on what I’m glad I took, what I wish I’d taken, and what I’d recommend for anyone going on a little Omani holiday.
Things I’m glad I took
Floaty wide leg trousers. I had two pair, one in a cotton/linen blend with a fun print, and the other in a black satin. The satin ones got a bit sticky and wrinkly, but were still good – especially nice for evenings out. So floaty! They were, in fact, so lovely that I left them with my friend in Oman because she could get far more use out of them in day to day life. Highly recommend.
Lightweight scarf. For mosque visits, mostly. You’ll need to cover every bit of your hair, and it’ll be hot, so the lighter the scarf, the better (go for silk if you can, cotton is too heavy)! You can pick these up for very cheap anywhere in the Middle East anyway – and they make beautiful gifts for people back home, or a souvenir for yourself. Prepare to haggle in the markets to buy a few of your own in bulk.
This was a gorgeous scarf that I picked up in Istanbul. It was fine for mosque visits there, but probably not big enough for its needs in Oman. You can see the difference between the two scarves – the one above is big enough and opaque enough for head, neck and shoulders, and that’s what you need.
Not-too-tight jeans: Mostly good for going out for meals or a night out in the crazy air conditioning of a “western” or more relaxed restaurant or night club. The nightlife in Muscat is very open and forgiving, particularly if you are at a place that serves alcohol. Definitely wouldn’t be great for heading to the markets or being out in the day time though – much too uncomfortable. Much like I was in the picture below (despite how happy I look to be in the middle of a resort in the Omani desert).
Below the knee dresses. Another picture from Istanbul, but the dress still stands! Long sleeves, and even the slit is still below the knee. The darker color wasn’t great – go lighter whenever you can to beat the heat.
Loose t-shirts: You can get by with short sleeved shirts in a fair few places, but not with truly short sleeves – no cap sleeves or anything like that. Just to the top of the elbow is good, although mid upper arm is usually fine. Make sure they don’t hang too close to the armpit to avoid pitstains, and make sure they’re long enough that nothing shows if you bend over. In the t-shirt I’m wearing in the picture below, I still had to cover up when going in and out of the restaurant, but it was fine inside.
Bikini: Private hotels are just like their less-conservative counterparts around the world, and you can wear whatever you want, so don’t leave yours at home thinking it won’t be of use. You’ll be sorely disappointed when you get to the very chill hotel with an actual pool!
Losers of the trip
-Literally every cotton cardigan I brought. I wish I’d had a loose-knit cardigan that a) didn’t touch my armpits b) went to at least elbow-length (but no need to cover up to the wrist unless you’re at the mosque), and c) wasn’t in a dark color. (See the black and white cardigan in the mosque picture above – it covered everything but I was absolutely melting. I ripped it off the second we got back in the car with the air conditioning, panting like a dog.
-White. Cotton. Maxi dress. Too heavy, too hot, too see through. The worst of all worlds really. Would not bother with again.
Things I wish I’d brought
As mentioned, a 3/4 sleeve, loose-knit cardigan in a light color would have been ideal.
Long shorts. Especially if you plan on going out in the desert. I’m talking all the way to the knee here!
Capri pants. I hate them in my day to day life, but they would have suited so well!
Peasant tops – again, loose, floaty, 3/4 sleeved.
Have I missed anything? I know that the rules for dressing as a female in the Middle East and other conservative countires can vary dramatically depending on exactly where you find yourself (for more on that, read my post on what to pack for visiting Marrakech), but hopefully this serves as useful for any of you heading to Oman any time soon.