Clothing laws by country

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Poster in Qatar calling on foreign women to dress modestly

Clothing laws vary considerably around the world. In general, in most countries, there are no laws which prescribe what clothing is required to be worn. However, the community standards of clothing are set indirectly by way of prosecution of those who wear something that is not socially approved. Those people who wear insufficient clothing can be prosecuted in many countries under various offences termed indecent exposure, public indecency or other descriptions. Generally, these offences do not themselves define what is and what is not acceptable clothing to constitute the offence, and leave it to a judge to determine in each case.

Most clothing laws concern which parts of the body must not be exposed to view; there are exceptions. Some countries have strict clothing laws, such as in some Islamic countries. Other countries are more tolerant of non-conventional attire and are relaxed about nudity. Many countries have different laws and customs for men and women, what may be allowed or perceived often varies by gender.[1]

Separate laws are usually in place to regulate obscenity, which includes certain depictions of people in various states of undress, and child pornography, which may include similar photographs of children.

In some countries, non-sexual toplessness or nudity is legal. However, private or public establishments can establish a dress code which requires visitors to wear prescribed clothing.

There are a variety of laws around the world which affect what people can and cannot wear. For example, some laws require a person in authority to wear the appropriate uniform. For example, a policeman on duty may be required to wear a uniform; and it can be illegal for the general public to wear a policeman's uniform. The same could apply to firefighters and other emergency personnel. In some countries, for example in Australia, the boy scouts uniform is also protected.

In most courts of law lawyers and judges are required by law or custom to wear court dress, which may entail robes or traditional wigs.

In many countries, regulations require workers to wear protective clothing, such as safety helmets, shoes, vests etc., as appropriate. The obligation is generally on employers to ensure that their workers wear the appropriate protective clothing. Similarly, health regulations may require those who handle food to wear hair covering, gloves and other clothing.

Governments can also influence standards of dress shown on television through its licensing powers.

In addition to nude beaches and similar exceptional locations, there are some public events in which nudity is tolerated more than usual, such as the naked bike rides held in several countries.

International laws and customs and culture[edit]

There are many specific circumstances where body parts have to be covered, often for safety or sanitary reasons.

In some Islamic countries, women must conceal almost their entire bodies (see hijab).


Ever since 1940, in the Title VI of the Penal Code, naming crimes against sexual dignity (until 2009 crimes against [social] conventions), the fourth chapter is dedicated to a crime named "public outrage [related] to modesty" (Portuguese: ultraje público ao pudor, pronounced: [uwˈtɾaʒi ˈpublikw aw puˈdoʁ]).

It is composed of two articles, Art. 233 "Obscene Act", "to practice an obscene act in a public place, or open or exposed to the public", punished with arrest of 3 months to 1 year or a fine; and Art. 234 "Obscene Written Piece or Object", to do, import, export, purchase or have in one's property, to ends of trade, distribution or public display, any written, drawn, painted, stamped or object piece of obscenity, punished with arrest of 6 months to 1 years or a fine.[2]

It is often used against people who expose their nude bodies in public environments that were not warranted a license to cater to the demographic interested in such practice (the first such place was the Praia do Abricó in Rio de Janeiro, in 1994), even if no sexual action took place, and it may include for example a double standard for the chest area of women and men in which only women are penalized. Such a thing took place in FEMEN protests in São Paulo, in 2012.[3]


Pervasive points of criticism to the legislation have included:[4]

  • They do not attack anyone's sexual dignity, instead causing outrage at best, but generally just slight discomfort or embarrassment, that can be easily avoided through not looking to such a scene.
  • The Art. 234 is aside obsolete, unconstitutional, for the 1988 post-military dictatorship Constitution having in its Fifth Chapter: "[the people] are free to the expression of intellectual, artistic, scientific and communicative activity, independently of censorship and license", reason to which, instead of making it suffer penal restriction, gives any distribution of media the right to be fully exerted.
  • The flourishing internet culture of Brazil, where such clearly banned media is freely shared in a public place, as well as its pornographic industry and sex shops.


Brazil has about 35 spaces open or mostly open to the public where it is possible to freely practice nudism, its sole public spaces being 8 beaches. They are not criminalized when the clothes-free area is private and away from a view from the street, or through legislation when the beaches are officiated by a municipal decree, for example. It has hosted the meeting of the International Federation of Naturism in 2008, and there is a growing interest in the practice.[5]


In Canada, s.173 of the Criminal Code[6] prohibits "indecent acts". There is no statutory definition in the Code of what constitutes an indecent act (other than that the exposure of the genitals for a sexual purpose to anyone under 14 years of age),[7] ¿16 years of age? [8]so that the decision of what state of undress is "indecent", and thereby unlawful, is left to judges to decide. Judges have held, for example, that nude sunbathing is not indecent.[9] Also, streaking is similarly not regarded as indecent.[10][11] Section 174 prohibits nudity if it offends "against public decency or order" and in view of the public. The courts have found that nude swimming is not offensive under this definition.[12]

Toplessness is also not an indecent act under s.173. In 1991, Gwen Jacob was arrested for walking in a street in Guelph, Ontario while topless. She was acquitted in 1996 by the Ontario Court of Appeal on the basis that the act of being topless is not in itself a sexual act or indecent.[13] The case has been referred to in subsequent cases for the proposition that the mere act of public nudity is not sexual or indecent or an offense.[14] Since then, the court ruling has been tested and upheld several times.


In Qatar, the penal code punishes and forbids the wearing of revealing or indecent clothes,[15] this dressing-code law is enforced by a government body called "Al-Adheed". In 2012, a Qatari NGO organized a campaign of "public decency" after they deemed the government to be too lax in monitoring the wearing of revealing clothes; defining the latter as "not covering shoulders and knees, tight or transparent clothes".[15] The campaign targets foreigners who constitute the majority of Qatar's population.[15]


In Singapore, nudity is illegal. Offenders will be charged under Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

South Africa[edit]

No specific clothing laws exist for the general public. Nudity is treated under indecent exposure. On 3 April 2015 the country's first official clothing optional beach, Mpenjati Beach near Trafalgar in Kwazulu-Natal, opened after the Hibiscus Coast Local Municipality approved the South African Nudist Association's (SANNA) application. Although nudity has gradually been tolerated on Sandy Bay in Cape Town after the National Party (NP) lost the election in 1994, and strict enforcement of its moral values no longer applied, it is not an official legally recognised public nude beach. Partial nudity is also tolerated on other beaches.

United Arab Emirates[edit]

The municipality of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates announced in 2008 that signs would be posted on beaches warning women against topless bathing and indecent exposure contrary to the cultural values of the UAE. There would be no fines for breaking this rule, just a warning and if necessary, ejection from the beach. This was said to be in response to residents' complaints about tourists sunbathing topless or nude and changing their clothes in public.[16]

There are also signs at malls and shopping centers indicating that shoulders and knees must be covered, and revealing clothes are not allowed. Violation of the rules will lead to warnings and recently, possibly arrest.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, public nudity is illegal.

In England and Wales, nudity is regulated by the Public Order Act, 1986, the Justices of the Peace Act, 1361, and the common law offense of indecent exposure.[17] Stephen Gough, who became known as the Naked Rambler, walked the length of Great Britain naked in 2003-2004. He tried to repeat his walk from 2006, but was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned, mostly in Scotland. As of 2013 he had spent six years in prison on several sentences, mainly for breach of the peace and also contempt of court (the law and definitions of offenses differ between Scotland on the one hand and England and Wales), without having completed his walk.[18]

United States[edit]

A variety of different offenses, such as "indecent exposure", "public lewdness", "public indecency", "disorderly conduct" and so on, may involve exposure of a specific body part (genitals, buttocks, anus, nipples on women), a specific intention or effect (being sexually suggestive, offending or annoying observers). In some cases, a member of the opposite sex must be present. In Florida, designated nudity areas are given an explicit exception. There are also some specific prohibitions against sexual acts, such as having sexual intercourse in public, or publicly caressing someone in a sexual way. In Indiana and Tennessee, there are specific prohibitions against showing a noticeably erect penis through clothing, or other sensitive areas through semi-transparent clothing. In some states, indecent conduct can also occur on private property, depending on the intent or effect of the act. In some cases there are exceptions for spouses, breastfeeding, and in New York, theatre performances. In most states, there is a governing state statute which defines the offense; in Maryland and Massachusetts, indecency is defined by case law.[19] Some local (county and municipal) governments also regulate personal exposure, as well as commercial activities such as strip clubs.

Case law in general governs the interpretation of the statutory definition, and in some cases allows for additional exceptions.[20][21]

In general, exposure of the head, upper chest, and limbs is legal, and considered socially acceptable except among certain religious communities.

Federal, state, and local regulations for certain occupations require various pieces of protective clothing for the safety of the wearer. Such items include hard hats, safety vests, life jackets, aprons, hairnets, and steel-toe boots.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century there was some controversy in some southern U.S. states over the wearing of trousers so low as to expose the underwear (sagging). The practice was banned in some places.

Some states and towns have loose, or no, regulations for requiring clothing. The city of San Francisco has a history of public nudity, including at public events such as Bay to Breakers. The town of Brattleboro, VT experienced a brief period during which there was public nudity, until a law was passed banning it.[22]


Country Attire laws Maximum penalty
France Chest and private parts must be covered except near bathing zones. Burqa banned. article 222-32: "Publicly visible sexual exhibition in public zones" punishable by 1 year of imprisonment and 15,000 fine.
Germany There are no explicit legal regulations on clothing in Germany. Nudity on private grounds is considered as legal even if visible from outside. The same applies for naked sunbathing as long as not otherwise stated by local laws. On the other hand naked jogging or naked cycling have been considered in certain circumstances as public nuisance by several courts.

Note: The german Penal Code determines "exhibitionism" (sec. 183) as an act of public exposure committed by a man for sexual arrousal and "causing a public disturbance" (sec. 183a) as a sexual activity in public. Therefore, non-sexual nudity is not considered as crime or misdemeanour.

Section 118 of the Act on Regulatory Offences: "(1) Whoever commits a grossly offensive act which is apt to disturb or endanger the public and to prejudice public order shall be deemed to have committed a regulatory offence.

(2) The regulatory offence may be sanctioned by a regulatory fine unless the act may be sanctioned pursuant to other provisions."
The regulatory fine is between 5 and 1.000 Euros (sec. 17 (2) of the act). More likely, the local or state police may politely demand to cover up without further sanction or a cautionary fine of 5 to 55 Euros if immediately obeyed (sec. 56 (1) of the act).

Sudan Females must wear dresses, socks and hijab. "indecent or immoral dress" punishable by 40 lashes, a fine, or both
Qatar Clothes must cover shoulders and be lower than knees. Soles of feet or shoes should not be shown. No public affection. Unspecified reprimand.
USA State laws vary, from no proactive ban on nudity, to bans on breastfeeding. Indecent exposure and lewd conduct is illegal and its definition is based on case law. Someone convicted of felony indecent exposure can be punished with: Incarceration, fines, probation, community service. Sexual offender registry in some states.


  1. ^ Kirby, Kathleen M. (1996). Indifferent boundaries: spatial concepts of human subjectivity. Guilford Press. p. Chapter 5. ISBN 0-89862-572-6. 
  2. ^ DJi -233 a 234- DL-002.848-1940 - Còdigo Penal - Ultraje Público ao Pudor (Portuguese)
  3. ^ Category: Ato Obsceno - Para Entender Direito - Folha Uol (Portuguese)
  4. ^ A propósito dos crimes de ultraje público ao pudor - Paulo Queiroz (Portuguese)
  5. ^ Conheça praias de nudismo e saiba como se comportar – Verão – Vida e Estilo – Terra (Portuguese)
  6. ^ Criminal Code of Canada, 1985, Part V, Sexual Offences
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ R. v. Beaupré, 1971, British Columbia Supreme Court. Held: "mere nude sunbathing is not of sufficient moral turpitude to support a charge for doing an indecent act."
  10. ^ R v Springer, 1975, Saskatchewan District Court
  11. ^ R v Niman, 1974, Ontario Provincial Court
  12. ^ R v Benolkin, 1977, Saskatchewan Court of the Queen's Bench. It was found that "this offence is not aimed at conduct such as swimming nude at an isolated beach, even where the accused misjudges the loneliness of the beach".
  13. ^ "Judgment C12668, R. vs. Jacob". Province of Ontario Court of Appeal. 1996-12-09. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  14. ^ District of Maple Ridge v. Meyer, 2000 BCSC 902 (CanLII). See esp. para [49] and [55].
  15. ^ a b c "Organizers are calling this campaign "One of Us" - not "No Nudity"". Doha News. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Dubai takes action on ‘indecent’ sunbathing - The National Newspaper
  17. ^ Naturism and The Law
  18. ^ The Naked Rambler: the man prepared to go to prison for nudity | Neil Forsyth |
  19. ^ Naturist State Laws
  20. ^ US District Courts
  21. ^ Nudist Court Cases
  22. ^ Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce

See also[edit]