Our culture columnist fields reader questions about practical considerations for the warm weather in light of recent debate about dressing appropriately in the Emirates.
Ask Ali: On transparent clothes and swimwear
Dear Ali: Sometimes during the hot months I wear a slightly see-through cardigan (light white cotton) to cover my arms if I'm wearing a sleeveless dress, because the fabric is lighter. Is this acceptable? MG, Abu Dhabi
Dear MG: Thank you very much for this question and for the consideration.
A UAE dress code seems to be the hot topic these days and I think it is a good thing that this discussion takes place in public and people voice their opinions. I believe the majority is trying to reach a common ground and understanding.
First of all, besides the decency code of Sharjah, there is no law regulating public dress. The "knees and shoulders to be covered" recommendation is meant to be a guideline for ladies, what is from a cultural point of view seen as acceptable. And if we can agree on that, then in my opinion covered means "not to be seen". From this point of view, a "see-though material" is not something to cover. I know there are different materials of different colors and different levels of transparency and it is really difficult to generalise. One of the reasons local ladies of the Gulf choose black for their abayas is the fact that even a light material is not transparent, though the same material in a different color might be.
Your see-through cardigan might look nice and some people might accept it as a gesture of respect that you wear it, but others might see it as inappropriate, since you don't really cover your shoulders with it. It is really a matter of looking into a mirror before going out in public and using common sense to judge.
Dear Ali: Should I worry about wearing a bathing suit at the beach or a hotel pool? Is there more appropriate swimwear that I should look at? AL, Abu Dhabi
Dear AL: Thank you for your consideration. Developing tourism and making our amazing sandy beaches available to visitors from all over the world is an essential part of the UAE's vision. And of course we are aware that in other cultures it is acceptable and completely normal to have beaches that are used by both male and female visitors and that the people wear a bit less. And this is perfectly fine with us - nobody has an problem with beachwear at a pool or a beach, as long as beachwear stays at the beach. So you will be fine.
But even beachwear has its limits. I would recommend a critical look at the suit and make a common sense judgment as to wether it is suitable for the UAE; beaches or not. Going topless or wearing string tangas are definite no-nos.
Dear Ali: Is there a good way to stay cool in this heat while still covering up? TF, Abu Dhabi
Dear TF: People who live in hot regions know that what is good against cold is also good against heat. That might sound a bit paradoxical, but it is true. You want to try it? Drink a small glass of steaming tea when it's really hot outside. After a few seconds you will get a flash of sweat. But wait a few more moments and your sweat will cool your skin and you will feel refreshed. Then try a cold soda - it will cool you for a moment but give you a stomachache later. The same goes for the long sleeves and for covering the head. This is not only considered more modest, but it also protects you from direct exposure to the UV rays of the sun. And if you have ever faced a sandstorm with bare arms, you might have experienced that feeling of a million needles on your skin - not really pleasant.
It makes sense to do what the natives do, since this has proved useful for centuries: wear a natural material, such as cotton, which allows your skin to breathe and can absorb sweat. The fitting of your garments is the second trick - loose fittings allow a layer of air between your garment and your skin that keeps you cooler.