Clothing laws by country

Clothing laws by country

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 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] Cross-dressing is in some areas specifically illegal, especially a man wearing women's clothing.[citation needed]

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 not illegal. 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 impact on 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 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.


International laws and customs

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).


In Canada, s.173 of the Criminal Code[2] 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), 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.[3] Also, streaking is similarly not regarded as indecent.[4][5] 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.[6]

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. [7] 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.[8] Since then, the court ruling has been tested and upheld several times.

North Korea

The South Korean activist group Good Friends has issued a report claiming that women caught wearing trousers risk hours of forced labor or fines of 700 won.[9] Previously in 1986 a decree issued by Kim Jong-Il called on women to wear traditional Korean attire as it was a source of national pride.[9]

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates government will post signs on their beaches saying that nudity is prohibited. There would be no fines for breaking this rule, just a warning and if necessary ejection from the beach. The rule went into effect after locals complained about tourists sunbathing topless or completely nude and changing their clothes in public, so must respect the customs and traditions of the State. [10]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, public nudity is legal on some beaches.[11]

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. [12]

United States

In the United States, clothing-related laws are set by state and local governments. A variety of different offenses, such as "indecent exposure", "public lewdness", "public indecency", "disorderly conduct" and so on, may require 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. [13] 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.[14][15]

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 or the public. Such items include hard hats, safety vests, life jackets, aprons, hairnets, and steel-toe boots.

In the 2000s, there was some controversy in some southern U.S. states over the wearing of pants (trousers) so low as to expose the underwear (sagging), and unsuccessful attempts to ban the practice.

Some states and towns have no or loose regulation for requiring clothing. See :Brattleboro#Public_nudity.


  1. ^ Kirby, Kathleen M. (1996). Indifferent boundaries: spatial concepts of human subjectivity. Guilford Press. Chapter 5. ISBN 0898625726.,+public+nudity+is+legal+on+most+beaches&client=firefox-a&sig=V7H14IRSmkRcpbDn5row-aTiHBM#PPA124,M1. 
  2. ^ Criminal Code of Canada, 1985, Part V, Sexual Offences
  3. ^ 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."
  4. ^ R v Springer, 1975, Saskatchewan District Court
  5. ^ R v Niman, 1974, Ontario Provincial Court
  6. ^ 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".
  7. ^ Judgment C12668, R. vs. Jacob. Province of Ontario Court of Appeal. 1996-12-09. Retrieved 2009-02-16 
  8. ^ District of Maple Ridge v. Meyer, 2000 BCSC 902 (CanLII). See esp. para [49] and [55].
  9. ^ a b "N Korea's latest: No trousers for women". Times of India. 25 July 2009. Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  10. ^ Dubai takes action on ‘indecent’ sunbathing - The National Newspaper
  11. ^ Cooper, Emmanuel. Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography. Routledge. p. 89. ISBN 0415032792.,+public+nudity+is+legal+on+most+beaches&client=firefox-a&sig=_xc-OMDxv90i5vls0axXwzf3Pok. 
  12. ^ Naturism and The Law
  13. ^ Naturist State Laws
  14. ^ US District Courts
  15. ^ Nudist Court Cases

See also

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