Saudi Arabia Culture: Clothing

Saudi Arabia Culture: Clothing Last updated on Sunday 25th April 2010

The religion and customs of Saudi Arabia dictate conservative dress for both men and women.

Foreigners are given some leeway in the matter of dress, but they are expected to follow local customs, particularly in public places. As a general rule, foreign men should wear long trousers and shirts that cover the upper torso. Foreign women should wear loose fitting skirts with hemlines well below the knee. Sleeves should be at least elbow length and the neckline modest.

The best fashion guideline is "conceal rather than reveal". Teenagers are also required to dress modestly in public places. Jeans should not be tight fitting and low necks and tank tops are not recommended. Shorts and bathing suits should not be worn in public.

Whatever their job or social status, Saudi men wear the traditional dress called a thobe. Wearing the thobe expresses equality and is also perfectly suited to the hot Saudi climate. During warm and hot weather, white thobes are worn by Saudi men and boys. During the cool weather, wool thobes in dark colours are not uncommon. At special times, men often wear a bisht or mishlah over the thobe. These are long white, brown or black cloaks trimmed in gold.

A man's headdress consists of three things: the tagia, a small white cap that keeps the ghutra from slipping off the head; the gutra itself, which is a large square of cloth; and the iqal, a doubled black cord that holds the ghutra in place. Some men may choose not to wear the iqal.

The ghutra is usually made of cotton and traditionally Saudis wear either a white one or a red and white checked one. The ghutra is worn folded into a triangle and centred on the head.

When a Saudi woman appears in public, she normally wears a voluminous black cloak called an ibayah, a scarf covering her hair and a full-face veil. There are varying opinions regarding the wearing of the abayah and the veil; however, Saudi women cover themselves in public and in the presence of men who are not close relatives.

Women's fashions do not stop with the ibayah though if you are a male, that is all you are likely to see. Beneath the black cloak, Saudi women enjoy fashionable clothing and take great pride in their appearance. They enjoy bright colours and lavish material. Non-Muslim women living in Saudi Arabia often wear the ibayah as a sign of respect for local customs.

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