How to dress for business success—the Middle East

How to dress for business success—the Middle East

Each country in the Middle East has its own diverse cultural background with many customs and traditions, all of which may influence appropriate business attire. It is important that you research the specific country you will be travelling to for more precise guidelines. Generally speaking, you should aim to dress conservatively. It is a good idea to never show your bare arms, shoulders, calves or thighs. Excessive jewelry is looked down upon for both men and women and high necklines and sleeves past the elbows are expected.

For business meetings a formal suit and tie is the most appropriate choice. Despite the hot weather, you should keep your jacket on indoors, unless your host removes his own jacket during negotiations.

It is advised to avoid traditional clothing, as it may be offensive to a foreigner. There are however a few items to familiarize yourself with. A thobe is a long-sleeved, loose, ankle-length cotton shirt worn by men. It is an excellent garment in the summer months. In Saudi Arabia, a tagiyah is a white cap worn tightly on the back of the head. A keffiyeh is a headscarf, typically folded over the tagiyah.

Women should dress very conservatively. For meetings and dinners, a formal suit is the most appropriate choice. Make-up should be kept minimal, and the arms, thighs, shoulders, and neck must be covered.

In Saudi Arabia, a thobe is traditionally worn by women as well.  The women’s version is a long-sleeved, loose garment with a decorated neckline. In general, maximum skin coverage is key in the Middle East, but for non-native women doing business in this region, a suit is perfectly acceptable.

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