KSA is a conservative society. For this reason and out of respect for yourself and others, dress modestly when in public. It’s made easy here as ladies are required to wear an outer covering called an Abaya. Men must cover their knees and wear sleeves.
Men—-I’ve not heard of a thawb and a ghutra head covering. What are they and am I expected to wear them?
- Thawb: (pronounced Thobe) An ankle-length, long-sleeved, gownlike garment worn chiefly by men of the Arabian Peninsula.
- Ghutra: red/white or white square cloth normally folded into a triangle with the black igal. Usually ‘Takeyah’ (also called ‘Kufyah’), worn on the head underneath the ghutra.
Not many foreigners wear Saudi traditional dress. Some adapt to wearing the Thobe as you’ll get more respect on the street. However the headdress is usually only a Saudi thing.
Ladies—-I’ve not heard of an abaya, hijab, jilbab or niqab. What are they and what will make me fit into society?
- Abaya: A full length outer garment worn by some Muslim women.
- Hijab: A head covering worn in public by some Muslim women.
- Niqab: covering for the face showing only eyes, shading eyes or completely covering as a thin veil.
- Jilbab: a full-length outer garment, traditionally covering the head and hands, worn in public by some Muslim women
The below video is excellent in giving you an idea of different kinds of niqabs.
Black robe of Beauty. When I first got here I was a bit apprehensive about wearing a dark covering over my regular clothing. The idea was so foreign to me. If you feel this way too, don’t be alarmed. It’s natural for new things to feel odd before we get used to them. I decided how I would think of my abaya. I decided Black robe of Beauty.
The neat thing about walking the streets here, is that there is a congruence in style…all people look the same. The men wear a white or cream thobe in the summer, which can change to dark grey, brown or black in the winter. They also wear a ghutra over their heads. Not everyone wears a head covering. You may see Saudi men skipping the thobe, however that is not the norm.
Ladies are fashionably dressed in black. With new mandates coming from the royal family, Saudi ladies can wear navy blue, wine, brown and grey colors. The newest look I’ve seen in the malls are Saudi ladies wearing pink hijabs, black abaya and black niqab. You will mainly see niqabs being worn, but more there are hijab wearing ladies without face covering.
All foreigners can wear most any color abaya and with print, embroidery, etc.
Clothing in any culture evolves from needs both of society and environment. When you have a uniform look on the street, everyone looks dressed up. You can’t tell the age, if someone has a disability, deformity or say cancer.
For both men and women skin is protected from the sun’s strength and the harsh dry winds. You may say, well wait a minute I will be sweating buckets under all this! Perhaps, but really you go from air conditioned home to air conditioned car to air conditioned mall, etc. Most people aren’t walking around on the roads, especially because Saudi drivers are not the best! We tend to think exposing the skin in the summer will help cool us off. This is heat to the next level, and even humidity here on the eastern side. No amount of skimpy clothing is gonna help you. There’s a reason the folks here dress the way they do, even before A/C.