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These travel writer-approved picks are starting at $15 and work in any season.
When people ask me how I’m finding Dubai, my answer — for about nine months out of the year — is: hot. Dubai is a place where sandstorms sweep in from the desert, blanketing the cloud-grazing skyline in dust and swallowing up its sparkle. It’s a place where winter weather means highs of 79 degrees Fahrenheit and umbrellas are used to shield against the sun instead of rain. Many expats rave about how living here feels like being on vacation every day, though as a New Yorker who splits time between Dubai and Paris, I find the constant sun to be a bit Truman Show-esque in its year-round shine. I’ve also found myself adjusting my wardrobe to follow suit.
I should start by pointing out that, unless otherwise specified, there is no right or wrong way to dress in Dubai. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) population is made up of over 200 nationalities, and that diversity is reflected in Dubai’s eclectic sartorial scene. One of my favorite activities is wandering around the outskirts of the mall and admiring the attire of passersby: women dressed in embellished abayas that fly out behind them like capes as they rush to lunch with friends (designer bags in tow); groups of friends and family members donning traditional garb from countries like Sudan and Pakistan; European visitors breaking out the bright shades and patterns that they had retired for the duration of the cold weather season back home.
In touristy destinations like hotels or malls, you can wear whatever you would elsewhere. This goes for beaches as well (barring nudity). However, if you’re visiting more traditional locales such as a souk, or an area or emirate outside the city of Dubai, dressing more conservatively should be taken into consideration. In religious areas, it’s required. The UAE is a Muslim country, so being aware and respectful of cultural differences in this regard is important.
Even when I’m not in the UAE, I tend to gravitate toward the drama of a voluminous silhouette, a longer hemline, or a cascading fabric. I like a little glitter — that subtle touch of something over the top, and Dubai presents ample opportunity to experiment with these outfit elements, whether it's for a fine dining spot à la Daniel Boulud or covering the opening of an art exhibit in the bustling financial district. Add to that protecting myself from prolonged UV exposure while also wanting to let my skin breathe in the desert heat, and it’s fair to say that my daily wardrobe has undergone an evolution of sorts.
Making a Dubai packing list? Here are the closet essentials that I wear on repeat, along with some wallet-friendly options that will help you get the Dubai look for less. In fact, most of these stylish picks are available at Amazon, which is currently hosting an early Prime Day-level sale ahead of the Prime Big Deal Days event — so you can expect to find a lot of deals in this curated list.
An extra sparkle can make everyday footwear feel fancy. Open-toed sandals in a metallic material, or featuring a rhinestone strass patch — like this pair from Ganni — can give your outfit that added oomph that people think of when they think of Dubai.
But, if you're looking for something a little more walkable, you can find plenty of glitter-adorned styles at Amazon. For example, there are the Cushionaire Women's Vera Slide Sandals, which are equipped with memory foam footbeds and grippy outsoles, and priced at $35. You can also opt for the Birkenstock-inspired H2K Women's Glitter Double Buckle Sandals; they're known for their comfortable fit and they're only $32.
Classic White Sneakers
In a retail world that's oversaturated with sneaker options, I can't quite explain the soft spot that I have for Reebok. Perhaps it's the '90s nostalgia that gets me, or the little Union Jack tag that serves as a mini homage to the years that I lived in London. What's for sure is that the classic shape and design of this white pair complements the full scope of my casualwear, and they're comfortable to boot.
Plus, ever since a partnership between Reebok and New Guards Group (which operates buzzy labels like Palm Angels and Off-White) was announced last year, the brand is poised to become the next big thing in luxury — a word that's become synonymous with Dubai. You can also pack on the glam with your sneakers by opting for something like the almost-sold-out Steve Madden Women's Charlie Sneakers that come in 13 striking patterns and colors, as well as the Tretorn Women's Nylite Plus Sneakers (the white-leopard combo, which is on sale for $45, is the ideal pair for neutral fans looking to spice up their everyday wardrobe). And, for a lot of extra bling plus ample support, the Betsey Johnson Women's Sidny Sneakers are right for the job.
On days where work brings me to the Dubai Design District — a purpose-built community for fashion and culture enterprises — or to the Dubai International Financial Centre, I like the polished look of a suit, but in a looser fit. Baggier styles give my body some much-appreciated ventilation while preventing the fabric from sticking to my inevitably sweaty skin. They also look great paired with heels, sneakers, or even flat loafers (my favorite are from Bobbies) for a real back-to-business vibe.
Faiza Bouguessa is a local designer whose familiarity with the challenges of desert dressing is apparent in her fashion-forward-yet-thoughtfully designed blazers and pants. Madewell offers a more affordable take on the trend with the Wide-Leg Cargo Pants, which are an extra 40 percent off for Madewell Insiders. Other affordably elegant styles include the Gokatosau Loose Fit High-Waisted Wide-Leg Pants and the Tronjori Wide-Leg Palazzo Trousers — both of which are available at Amazon for less than $40.
If there’s anything that I’m loving more than the breezy blazer-work pants ensemble at the moment, it’s relaxed-fit, retro-inspired denim. Baggier styles can be dressed up with open-toed heels or chunky clogs, or you can keep things simple in a sleek pair of sneakers. While I am still holding onto my skinny jeans for a rainy day — which we only have about a dozen of per year in Dubai — they’ve been sequestered to the back of my closet in favor of my AG Clove Pin Tuck jeans for the foreseeable future.
You also can’t go wrong with a similar look by Levi’s for about half the price. They're available in 12 different washes to suit a variety of personal styles, and you can get them on sale starting at $48.
Long-Sleeve Tiered Mini Dress
For the ultimate one-and-done outfit, you can’t beat the dreamy appeal of a tiered mini dress. Roomy enough to wear while lounging around the house but easy to transform into a more elevated look with the addition of a few accessories, this dress style is as fun as it is versatile. It’s the kind of garment that moves with you so you can practically float your way from one destination to the next, and I like pairing my go-to Magali Pascal tiered dress with knee-high boots on cooler nights. Extra points for the sleeves, which offer extra coverage without suffocating your limbs.
If you're looking for a similar vibe in more color options, then you'll love The Drop Ruffle-Neck Tiered Mini Dress; it comes in 10 colors and patterns that can fit seamlessly into any travel wardrobes. This tiered, tunic-style dress from Amazon-favorite brand Amoretu is another solid choice, and it's on sale for $33.
There’s been a lot of talk about the going-out top since Y2K style made its big comeback in recent seasons, but when I’m in Dubai, I’m all about the going-out dress. Think something form-fitting in a bold hue, perhaps with cut-outs at the waist or an eye-catching asymmetrical hem.
I’ve got my eye on this slinky jersey number by A.L.C., which is available ay Amazon, and I've spotted a few less-expensive alternatives on the site, too — starting with this Astr the Label Bridget Dress that's under $150. Other stunning finds include the Newshows V-Neck Slit Maxi Dress, PrettyGarden Smocked Tank Tiered Dress, and Merokeety V-Neck Short Sleeve Floral Lace Maxi Dress, which are less than $60.
No going-out ensemble is complete without a statement accessory, and I’ve let my style imagination run wild when it comes to purses. From brightly colored to bedazzled and everything in between, I have amassed quite the collection of beguiling bags, even adding something fluffy by Cult Gaia to the mix.
But you've really hit the purse jackpot when your go-to accessory is fashionable and functional. Need a new travel purse? Check out The Sak's Cora Leather Crossbody Bag, which is up to 57 percent off and features a stunning, embroidered floral pattern. There's also the Reyna Novelty Triple Compartment Shoulder Bag from Calvin Klein; it's available in a variety of striking colors and won't cost you more than $83.
Silky Slip Skirt
For a skirt that can take you from day to night, from the warm weather of a Dubai winter to the get-me-out-of-here heat of its summers, a neutral-colored midi style made from a lightweight silky material is a reliable choice. It looks as great styled with a T-shirt and sneakers as it does with a matching blouse and smart-looking flats for a more professional setting (I can’t resist a good monochrome moment!).
Need help finding the perfect silky midi skirt? There's an amazing deal happening on The Drop Women's Maya Silky Slip Skirt, an Amazon-favorite piece that's up to 64 percent off and comes in 24 different colors and patterns.
Simple Black Tank Top
One closet essential that I didn’t know I needed for Dubai was a ribbed black tank top. I pair mine with the aforementioned baggy jeans and work pants, I layer it under blazers and sheer fabrics, and I take it with me everywhere when I travel — even if I’m only going to the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Amazon Essentials has a range of basic layering tanks with thousands of glowing reviews — any one of them should do the trick. Not only are they favorites for their soft fabric and wear-anywhere versatility, but you can get a set of two for $18. Talk about a bargain buy!
Extra (Lightweight) Layer
I always have a light cardigan or jacket on-hand in case I find myself in a situation where the air conditioning is extreme (this is very likely), or in an environment where it’s more appropriate to cover up (less likely). My go-to is an oversized-but-structured linen shirt like this one by American-Lebanese designer Dana Mortada, who founded her brand Dál the Label after working in the Dubai fashion scene for eight years.
Gap offers something similar on Amazon for under $35. The Women's Linen Easy Shirt strikes the perfect balance between shape and relaxed in terms of fit, and it's made with a lightweight linen fabric that won't make you get too toasty. Shoppers also love the Hotouch Women's Cotton Button Down Shirt, which is known for its impressive, wrinkle-resistant material and expansive color range.
Fashionable (and Functional!) Hat
I’ve always aspired to be a hat person, but it wasn’t until I came to Dubai that I actually became one. A hat is an essential addition to any UV protection arsenal, providing shade for the scalp, face, and neck while also keeping your hair moisturized and healthy. I usually wear a cotton bucket hat from Holzweiler for everyday errands (it’s easy to fold up and put away in my purse too), but also opt for something with a wider brim for when I know I’ll be spending more time under the sun — like on a desert excursion or at the beach.
In the market for a fabulous wide brim hat? Amazon shoppers are loving The Drop's Maldives Sun Hat that's $30, as well as the easy-to-pack Furtalk Sun Straw Hat. But, if you're a fan of sportier styles, your skin will be in good hands under the Classic Bucket Hat from Claudent, which has a UPF 50+ rating and is super sleek.
Sunglasses have the potential to be such a distinctive style statement that they can define a person's (or a character’s) entire aesthetic. There’s Audrey Hepburn’s iconic cat-eyes as Holly Golightly, for example, or Tom Cruise’s Wayfarers in Risky Business. Anna Wintour has famously described her preferred pair as an extra layer of privacy, and it’s worth pointing out that darker styles of this kind also offer a layer of protection, especially in larger silhouettes.
My favorite sunnies are a second-hand, vintage Bottega Veneta pair, but for outings requiring something more durable, I like a brand like Sojos; it has high-quality and high-coverage styles that are on-trend and coated to filter out sunshine. Check out the Oversized Square Cat-Eye Polarized Sunglasses that are on sale for $15 at Amazon.
Because I often wear my hair slicked back in a bun to keep it off my neck and to avoid frizz, this means that my outfits will sometimes start at the earlobes. Adorning them with something chunky and colorful is a low-lift solution to spicing up an otherwise simple look.
Lately, I've been sporting vibrant statement-making earrings like these unique water drop-shaped ones from Amazon-favorite brand Apsvo. They add the perfect pop of color to any outfit, and you can get them for just $15. If you're constantly on-the-go, you'll find that their enamel-coated, gold-plated copper material combined with their dense construction makes them durable and easy to pack for travel.
Now that I live near the ocean, I’ve started investing in swimwear that not only looks and feels great, but will also last me long after my days of residing near the seaside. For that reason, I’m a big fan of swimsuits that can also work as tops by tossing on a long skirt or a pair of jeans. One-pieces work best when executing this multi-style strategy, especially in a wearable fit and fabric that won’t be uncomfortable if worn beyond the shore.
This Onia maillot checks all those boxes and features a floral pattern that works beautifully for off-the-beach attire. Of course, a swimsuit this stunning is bound to sell out. If it's out of stock during your next Amazon visit, make sure to take a gander at the ruched Cupshe V-Neck One-Piece, the La Blanca Island Goddess One-Piece (that's on sale for $53), and the Cupshe Square Neck Cutout Back One-Piece; they're all available in a variety of beautiful prints and hues that will spice up any suitcase.
I still haven’t gotten used to the car-centric lifestyle here, and something that I miss about being in Paris or New York is the walkability and the connectivity of public transport. In Dubai, if I want to go somewhere outside the vicinity of where I live downtown, I’m probably driving myself there. And while this is not my preferred way of getting around, I was quick to identify an advantage: footwear. With less of a risk of rolling an ankle while racing down a flight of subway stairs or navigating the tricky cobblestones of the Latin Quarter or the West Village, the pumps and platforms in my closet are no longer considered a safety hazard. I pair most evening looks with heels, and in true Dubai fashion — the shinier, the better.
Right now, I’m loving Nomasei’s crystal-embellished Taxi sandals, which are essentially a disco party for your feet. You can shop similar styles for less at Amazon, like these dazzling block heel sandals from Dream Pairs that are on sale for $44.
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