As Kuwait is an Islamic country, there's a degree of conservatism when it comes to clothes. Here's a guide to the local dress.
15 July 2013| Last updated on 18 June 2017
Kuwaiti men wear a dishdasha, a full-length robe with a centre opening. This traditional costume style has not changed in the past 14 centuries as it suites the climate. An Indian tailor introduced the front button fastening and buttoned cuffs on the collar in the 20th century. At times, the dishdasha makes the wearer look stylish. Generally, men do not accessorise and would only wear a watch.
Many Kuwaiti women wear their traditional dress, a full-length long-sleeved black abaya which covers their clothing underneath. The hair and neck is also traditionally covered with a hijab and some additionally wear a black veil or niqab which covers the entire face. However, the choice to wear the abaya and hijab fall to the woman and her family and many Kuwaiti women choose not to wear either. There is much more selection in Kuwaiti woman’s dress. On festive occasions, an embroidered dress called thobe is popular.
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Children wear a range of clothing. You could see groups of teenagers in dishdashas playing football, with the hems pulled upwards, then wrapped and tucked at the waist to free the legs for serious play. In festive occasions, young boys will wear the Kuwaiti headdress and young girls will wear bukniks over their multi-coloured daraa’s. A buknik is a headscarf trimmed with gold and sequins, fits around the face and covers the hair, chest and back.
What to wear as an expat
What you wear is a matter of personal choice and whilst expat women are not required to cover up with an abaya, a large amount of sensitivity should be considered so as not to attract unwarranted attention or to cause offence. Generally, covering the knees and shoulders when out in public is a must. Within the shopping malls, cinemas and restaurants, the air-conditioning can be extremely fierce, so it is a good idea to carry a scarf, shawl or cardigan! In the winter, warm clothing is recommended.
If you are inappropriately dressed, you may be approached and have something said to you by various people- a security guard, a colleague, a local lady, an expat, etc. You will be surprised how many people would be offended or will want to advise you. Whatever happens, stay calm and remain polite. Apologise and depending on where you are- either say you will go home, back to the hotel to change or if you are in a mall offer to pop into a shop to buy something to cover up. There is no point getting angry as you have caused offence somehow and the last thing you want is for the police to become involved in something that is easily fixed with an apology and a quick outfit adjustment.
The country's customs, laws and regulations adhere closely to Islamic practices and beliefs. Common sense and discretion should be exercised in your dress and behaviour. Men and women should dress conservatively. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.
Women should not wear tight, see-through or revealing clothing or short skirts. Both men and women should refrain from wearing shorts.
Men must wear pants and a shirt in public. It is not common practice for Western women to cover their head in Kuwait. Dresses and skirts are permitted, provided they cover the shoulders and knees.
1. Pashminas- these are great and handy cover-ups for all sorts of cirumstances. You should have one in your car for emergencies too. Perfect for a night out if you need to cover up in between venues too.
2. Capri pants- these are great as they are not full length, so your lower legs still keep cool.
3. Boleros- these are perfect to enable you to wear strappy tops and dresses and still keep your shoulders covered. Get ones with a cap or short sleeve, so you will still be cool and not have too much clothing weight added during the heat.
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4. Leggings- if you have a dress that is really a little bit too short and not covering your knees but you still want to wear it out and about, throw some lightweight leggings on underneath and voila, you are ready to go out.
5. Cardigans- these are great to cover shoulders too and the AC in malls and cinemas can get a bit arctic sometimes, so you will be glad of the benefit.
Exercise particular care in your behaviour with others, especially officials, to avoid offending local sensitivities. Verbal insults and obscene gestures may be considered a criminal act and, if found guilty, the accused could face deportation, fines and/or a prison sentence. People have been detained on allegations of showing disrespect toward others by making verbal insults and obscene gestures.
Avoid public displays of affection.