How Dubai residents dress these days and what it means

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Aden - Yasmin Abdel Azim - Comfort Chic is still trending in Dubai, say residents Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Pandemic pajamas, stay-in sweats and no make-up – if you thought the dressing down of the past three months is now passe with the easing of movement restrictions in Dubai, think again.

Comfort Chic is still trending. Call it more natural, back to the basics or just minimalism, the no frills look seems to be easier on the mask-and-glove go, besides – in many cases - a shrunken pocket too.

Dubai-based Uma Ghosh, wellness coach, holistic beauty expert and TV personality, says she went minimalistic a few years ago. Even so, she credits coronavirus with deepening her conviction.

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Uma Ghosh: Comfortable in her own skin Image Credit: Supplied

“The fact that we lived with just the basics over the last three months should tell us something. Coronavirus is a big enough reason why we should become more conscious of ourselves and our environment,” says the health buff.

Giving an example of how the pandemic prompted further changes in her lifestyle, she says, “Earlier, I would take professional help to blow-dry my hair. There was an emotional connect to it as I wouldn’t feel good otherwise. But when I was forced to do the blow-drying myself during the restrictions, I realised I could do it just as well. Going forward, I will definitely be more conscious of how much make-up I buy and use – because I know now that I don’t need so much. I have learnt to be comfortable in my own skin.”

Nowhere to go, no one to meet

Fashion, it is said, is a form of communication. But with nowhere to go and no one to meet in person during the stay-in period, many didn’t feel the need to dress up.

“Dressing up? Not at all,” says Dubai-based Italian influencer Felipe Gonzalez who has spent the last couple of months in informal wear. “I didn’t have to go anywhere – just the supermarket to buy groceries or down the building to pick up deliveries. There were no activities, no one to see …”

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Felipe Gonzalez: Happy to be in informals Image Credit: Supplied

True, e-working, e-learning and e-partying did require video interfaces, but dressing up for these sessions was not the same thing. As a Farsi resident in Dubai jokes, he once attended a party with friends on a Zoom call wearing a striking tie and dress shirt, in keeping with the get-together’s formal theme. But little did people realise that he had his pajamas and slippers on below. “It didn’t matter as it was not visible,” he says.

So do we dress up for others, or for ourselves?

Ask Caroline Labouchere, a British supermodel in Dubai, and she is clear: “I dress up for myself because it makes me feel good. Most of us dressed down during the lockdown because we were not in the right frame of mind when we were confined in our homes.”

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For supermodel Caroline Labouchere says she is proud to wear a crown of silver Image Credit: Supplied

For the 56-year-old, who hit the headlines after she became a model two years ago, comfort is the key to any narrative.

Labouchere, who likes to keep her hair grey, says, “The general perception is that it is too easy to disappear when you age and go grey. To me, grey is elegant and can be rocked by any age. You don’t have to be old to be grey and you certainly don’t have to feel old when you are grey. I am proud to wear a crown of silver. Like a queen.”

Canadian influencer Jess Hardie, who also spent her time at home in pajamas, says although people dress for themselves, they dress for others too. , “When we look good, we feel good,” she adds.

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Jess Hardie: 'Wen we look good, we feel good'. Image Credit: Supplied

The many personas we show up with

The way we dress reflects a certain persona, says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia Centre for Well-being in Dubai.

“We all have many personas, which is basically the different roles that we play. Personas fall within a public persona and a personal persona. Our brains are also very associative devices. Our home triggers a different set of persona/personality traits / behaviours than being at work or being out with friends. We talk differently, act differently and dress differently in all these different spheres.”

Dr Saliha Afridi
Dr Saliha Afridi says the way we dress reflects a certain persona Image Credit: Supplied

According to her, “What happened when COVID-19 hit was that we had to shift our lives completely to being indoors--we had to gym, school, work, hang out with friends, all within our homes. All boundaries and personas collapsed into one. This was obviously very destabilising because much of our identity is tied up in the different personas we show up with all day long.”

The enclothed cognition theory

There are other reasons as well. As Dr Afridi says, “Many working parents had too much to deal with and getting dressed up to go to work on the dining table was not as important. Others were really feeling low, disengaged and unable to cope with the loneliness and so getting dressed seemed too big a feat. And others only got dressed to impress others and now as they sit in their homes they do not feel the need to do that.”

Our clothes send a message to our unconscious brain about how we should show up. This is why sleep researchers will encourage sleeping in pajamas and top negotiators will encourage wearing a power suit to close the deal.

- Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist

The psychologist points to research that recommends that if we want to fully show up as something, we should dress the part. “The ‘enclothed cognition theory’ basically suggests that ‘clothes make the man/woman’ and if we want to show up fully and be productive, we should be wearing our work clothes. If we want to feel good about our day, getting dressed will be an important part of it. Because our clothes send a message to our unconscious brain about how we should show up. This is why sleep researchers will encourage sleeping in pajamas and top negotiators will encourage wearing a power suit to close the deal,” explains Dr Afridi.

From power suits to linen shirts, chinos

However, given the extraordinary times we are in, even the power suit seems to have given way to a less formal dress code.

Kamlesh Ramchandani, CEO of M2M House of Bespoke, which makes custom-made suits for men at its Jumeirah and DIFC outlets, said, “Many of our customers, who are in banking and real estate and wear formal suits on a regular basis, are now preferring linen suits or just linen jackets. They are going in for semi-casual, linen shirts and chinos that look good on the screen or even at internal face-to-face meetings. If they need a more formal look, they just get into the light-weight linen jackets.”

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Kamlesh Ramchandani: Catering to a new demand Image Credit: Supplied

Ramchandani expects this trend to continue for another three-four months.

Customers are price-conscious too

Faiza Malik, founder of Ensemble Fashion House on Al Wasl Road, agrees. “We expect things will pick up only by September – after the summer months.”

She says Ensemble remained closed for a couple of months and when it reopened and people did want to buy suits for Ramadan and Eid, they stayed away from fancy wear.

“Customers are now very price conscious. They are looking for cotton wear, something very simple. This will continue for some time as people don’t want to spend big and in any case, there are no weddings or occasions coming up,” said Malik, who stocks a wide range of designer Pakistani suits and also has a tailoring unit.

What about personal grooming?

With salons shut during the movement restrictions, residents were left to fend for themselves. While some managed to stay “presentable” by colouring their hair or nails by themselves, others became incognito.

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Lorraine Lazarus with a customer Image Credit: Supplied

Lorraine Lazarus, who runs East Elegance Salon in Al Barsha and Karama, says, “When people get a treatment done at the salon, it’s a nice way to relax. It’s their “me time” in a busy schedule. After the treatment, they feel good and their confidence is boosted. Whether it’s subtle or bold, the colour on their nails or the style of their haircut, it’s a nice way to show off their personality.”

‘I have accepted my lockdown face just as it is’

A first person account by Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor, Al Khaleej Today

Sometimes, when you’ve got a work video call scheduled, you have to dress for the occasion. Whether you choose to put a button down shirt on with your pyjama bottoms or put some make up on to look presentable in front of your co-workers, I have opted out of both dressing up and getting done up.

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Yousra Zaki has opted out of both dressing up and getting done up. Image Credit: Al Khaleej Today

When the lockdown started, I decided to completely skip outside clothes, make up and blow-drying my hair. It’s not like before the pandemic my face was full, but I certainly made an effort to dress well and look professional for my office and my social life.

As our Zoom meetings took place at the end of the work day every day of the week, I would show up to those meetings in a simple t shirt, no makeup, hair not done and my camera switched on.

Although sometimes I would catch myself looking at my face on my screen and wondering how much better I would look if I had just filled in my brows or put on a hint of mascara, but then I’d think: “Nah, first of all, they don’t care, second of all, I think I need to just appreciate my face as it is without make up.” Also staying indoors, without make up and sun exposure, has done wonders to my skin. I apply my morning skin care and just last all day without any pollution, sun or make up on top of it. I felt great.

Eventually, I started to get used to this face. When restrictions began to ease and I started leaving my house, I would forget to put make up on. I would forget to do something special and a part of me even forgot what it was like do dress up. I loved being in a t shirt or a tank.

Now, even if I go back to the office, I think I am going to stay as I am. Keep my face fresh and my clothes comfortable.

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