Many foreigners who arrive in Bahrain are amazed at how well-dressed Bahrainis can be. Even if just going to the supermarket where men can be found in their crisp, freshly ironed, white dishdashas and gutras. Women are equally immaculately dressed in their abayas. These are beautifully embroidered in beautiful patterns around the neckline, along their sleeves, and their heads and faces generally uncovered.
Being an Islamic nation, Bahrain culture and heritage generally dictates that everyone dress conservatively within the country. However, Bahrain also has one of the most lenient dress codes in the Middle East. With that being said, there are still a few general guidelines people should keep in mind regarding dress code. The general rule being to dress modestly in public. Very tight or transparent clothing are prohibited. We’ll get to more of that a bit later, but let’s first look at what the people from the “Pearl of the Gulf” traditionally wear.
The traditional dress of Bahrain men includes is the Bahrain thobe. This is a long, tunic-like garment that is usually white but also is comes in various shades of beige during summer. You can see thicker or darker shades during winter. For the headdress, men wear a gutra. This can be either entirely white or a red and white scarf which is with thick, black, chorded rope placed on top of the scarf called an agal.
The traditional dress of Bahrain female Muslims includes the abaya. It is a long loose-fitting black gown that covers women from their necks to the floor with long sleeves that cover their arms up to the wrists. Although usually just plain black, you’ll often see abayas with various lacework and other flourishes decorating the edges. Some women also prefer to wear the hijab. The hardcover is often black, but just as often colorful. For special events, women wear jalabiya Bahrain-style brightly colored and intricately embroidered dresses.
If you’re a woman visiting a mosque, wear loose clothes that cover your hair, arms and legs. Men are not allowed to wear shorts. Both men and women and sleeveless tops are forbidden and clean attire with mild unobtrusive perfume or cologne is preferred. Also, shoes are not allowed to be worn inside the premises by both men and women.
Traditional areas include the souq (public market), villages, central markets and other public places like these. At the markets, it’s generally a bit less formal, so you can wear a skirt that falls below the knees. However, long skirts and pants are preferable. No spaghetti straps or cleavage showing is allowed. Likewise, men should not wear shorts as long trousers are preferred. Additionally, it is suggested that neither men nor women wear white or their best clothes to the markets. They can get a bit dusty and dirty.
Again, shorts are not permitted, but dress casually. Ladies, if you prefer to wear skirts, once again, make sure they fall below the knees. As in the West, there are formal restaurants where ladies can wear extravagant gowns and men can wear black ties, so check it out first and see what the locals are wearing and make sure you’re dressed appropriately.
Shorts and swimming trunks are perfectly fine, but gentlemen, please no Speedos! If you’re at a private beach, normal swimwear is acceptable, but never, ever is wearing your birthday suit okay. For public beaches, wear what you would wear at the mall or at other public places in Bahrain such as the mall.
If you are invited over to a Bahraini family’s house, unless it is an informal garden party or a pool party, do not wear shorts and dress up a little. Basically what you wear depends on how conservative the family is. A good rule of thumb is, though Bahrainis are pretty tolerant of other forms of dress, it’s better to go overdressed than underdressed.
At least for the first few meetings, both men and women should be conservatively dressed
So, what happens if you break the dress code? Well, there are no “modesty” police making sure your skirts are exactly one inch below your knees or anything like that; in fact, there are no real laws to break for anybody to inspect anyway.
Nonetheless, if inappropriately dressed, you’ll probably be approached and spoken to by a security guard or a local. Remember, you are a guest in their country, so it is wise to remain polite, and apologize or accept their point. If the situation escalates into an argument, the police may be called and, well, who wants that kind of trouble when you’re just trying to enjoy Bahrain for the beautiful country it is? Basically, if you’re dressed modestly and are not wearing clothing that is too revealing, then it’s all good for you and everyone else.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bahraini culture (or Arab culture, in general), or if you’re interested to learn Arabic language skills in the Modern Standard Arabic and other Arabic dialects, why not also check out the Kaleela Arabic learning app? As you may already know, researchers have proven that the best way to learn Arabic is through Arabic learning apps. So, start learning Modern Standard Arabic now by downloading the Kaleela Arabic learning app to your IOS or Android device today.