What to wear in Oman

Winter is coming, and so are the visitors! I don’t know why I didn’t do this before, since all visitors have questions about what to wear in Oman.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about clothing in the Middle East, so I’ll start with this: you will not get in trouble for dressing a certain way unless it is grossly inappropriate. Ladies do not need to wear an abaya (a long baggy shapeless cloak, essentially) or cover their heads. Omanis are truly some of the nicest people on the planet, and they will not be mean or rude to you because of how you dress. You may get stared at mercilessly by some expat men, but Omanis will not treat you poorly.

However, this is a more conservative culture than, for instance, the US or Europe, and it’s nice to be respectful of cultural norms. And that oftentimes means showing less skin than you’re used to.

Here is a table showing what to wear based on location and/or activity, in order from least to most conservative:

The minimum that you can  wear when you’re (at)… Men Women
Fancy hotel swimming pools or on a private boat Banana hammock Bikini
Deserted public beaches with no other people within eye sight Swim shorts (shirt optional) Swimsuit
Exercising outside (i.e. going for a run) Shorts and a top Shorts and a tank top
Wadi hiking* Shorts, quick-dry t-shirt and shoes you can hike and swim in Shorts, quick-dry t-shirt and shoes you can hike and swim in (not a bikini)
Nice restaurants in Muscat Pants, close-toed shoes, shirt (no shorts and no sandals) Whatever you would wear to a nice restaurant anywhere else in the world (FINALLY! More rules for the men than the women!)
Public beaches where there are other people Swim shorts (shirt optional) Capris and a quick-dry t-shirt over a swimsuit
Out and about in greater Muscat Pants, t-shirt Cover your legs below the knee and your shoulders
Traveling outside of Muscat Pants, t-shirt Pants, cover your shoulders and elbows
Opera house Suit and tie A dress or skirt + top that goes past your knees and covers your shoulders (using a scarf to cover your shoulders also works)
Mosques Pants, t-shirt. Make sure to cover all tattoos. Cover your ankles, arms, and head

*I know several people that have split their shorts when hiking a wadi. Wear bottoms made of durable fabric that won’t rip when it catches on a rock or when you’re sliding down a boulder on your butt.

There are caveats and exceptions to almost all of these, except the opera house and mosques, but I think that if you stick to this table you’ll be set up for success. Muscat is less conservative than, for instance, Nizwa. Sometimes I’ll wear loose capris and a tank top in Muscat, but in Nizwa I always wear pants and a top that covers my elbows, even when it’s hot.

Also, ladies, please, for the love of god, don’t trounce around in a bikini unless you are at a deserted beach or a snazzy hotel swimming pool. Seriously. Do not wear a bikini at the beach in Shatti Al Qurum. This is not Dubai. Personally, even when I’m at a deserted beach, I still don’t wear a bikini because you never know who will show up and that can be uncomfortable. It’s like stumbling across topless sunbathers in the US. You’d just be like, “Woah, WTF?” I wore a bikini once when I probably shouldn’t have, and it was super awkward. I only made that mistake one time.

Oh, and footwear. I could not survive here without my flipflops and Chacos. If I’m not going to work, I almost always wear my flipflops. Whenever I got to a beach or a wadi, I always wear Chacos. Lots of the beaches have sea urchins or poisonous fish you wouldn’t want to step on, and I don’t like to go in the water without shoes on. Chacos (or Keens or Tevas or any other shoe that you can swim and hike in) have been invaluable here. Although I’m getting some close-toed Chacos after nearly ripping a toenail out on a rock on our last wadi hike.

If you have any questions or comments, let me know! I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but it’s impossible to address every situation. Special shout out to the friends that read over the chart and provided input beforehand! If in doubt, wear loose-fitting pants and a t-shirt.

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