Madi Alexander is a a student at Oklahoma City University and an official API Student Blogger. Madi is studying abroad with API this spring in Doha, Qatar.
My friends frequently ask questions about my wardrobe here in Qatar. There tend to be some misconceptions regarding what the general population wears. For instance, I am repeatedly asked if I must wear a headscarf or even a burqa. The answer is no.
There are, however, some important things to remember regarding clothing when traveling or living in the Middle East. Here are a few tips for anyone visiting or studying in the Middle East:
How to Dress like a Qatari
Most Qatari men and men of other Arab nationalities wear a thobe, a long white dress, and a ghutrah, a traditional Arab scarf. Ghutrahs can be white or a red-checkered pattern. The women frequently wear an abaya and a shayla over regular clothing. An abaya is a long, loose dress that has long sleeves and covers the ankles. Abayas and shaylas are usually black with a decorative pattern.
Ladies, your outfit wouldn’t be complete without a designer purse, the highest of high heels, and a pair of designer sunglasses. And for the gentlemen, don’t forget to wear your designer watch and your Ray-Bans.
How to Dress like a Student in Qatar
Regarding the headscarf, women here are not forced to cover. It is a personal choice. I am not required to cover my hair. Qatar is a very modern country and does not force any women to cover their entire body. However, since it is still an Islamic country, women are expected to cover their knees, shoulders, and chest.
There are two things I take into account in Qatar: modesty and the weather. I usually wear pants and a short sleeve shirt to school. The classrooms are heavily air-conditioned and get chilly sometimes, so pants are a good idea. I also try to avoid wearing t-shirts, since students tend to dress nicer here than in the U.S. No one wears pajamas and sweatpants to class.
I’m free to wear whatever I want, as long as it is modest. I haven’t found that dressing appropriately is a problem, nor does it cause discomfort. At the beach, women are expected to wear shorts and t-shirt. Even if you could wear a bikini, you wouldn’t want to do so because that would attract the wrong kind of attention.
What Not to Wear
Anything that exposes your knees, shoulders, or chest. This especially applies to the women. Wearing capri pants is acceptable and short sleeves are fine. Since Qatar is an Islamic country, the people tend to dress more conservatively than in America. Wearing shorts or a tank top will draw unwanted attention to you and that’s not something anyone wants. The men should wear longer cargo shorts that at least reach the knees. Also, wearing clothing that screams “I’M AMERICAN!” probably isn’t the wisest idea. Qatar is very modern and incredibly secure, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
As always, be sure to do your own research about the country you’ll be visiting or studying in, as the clothing expectation differs among countries. It is important to respect the local traditions and customs. Hopefully these tips have provided a bit of insight into the culture in Qatar and have better prepared you for a visit to this region!