What Do Tourist Wear in Saudi Arabia?
As a tourist visiting Saudi Arabia it is important you do some research on what you are allowed to wear while in the Kingdom. One of the important fact to note is that not all cities are equally strict on dress code. While you have to follow all the dress rules to a T in Riyadh; Jeddah and Dammam are a bit more relaxed in their laws and a bit more westernised. So you are expected to do some specific research on the city you are going before you depart. This would make life much easy, rather than having to explain yourself out of trouble. But generally, the rule of thumb is that you dress modestly regardless where you are.
For women, when going out in public it is expected that you wear an abaya over your normal clothes. This is so as to conceal your body shape. The headscarves, which is also known as hijab, is optional, depending on where you are. But as a foreigner, it is safer if you head out wearing a headscarf, or at least, carry one with you, just in case. There are however no restrictions on the type of shoes you wear.
When visiting Saudi Arabia your clothes must not reveal any skin. It must cover up to your wrists, ankles and ensure that your chest is not visible. Your clothes must not be tight such that it shows off your curves. The material of your clothes must not be see-through and shouldn’t stick to your skin. Your makeup must be simplistic with no bright colours. If your jewellery has symbols representing other religions then it must be tucked away.
If you are a male tourist then you don’t have as much restriction on your dressing as compared to women. Men are not required or mandated to wear the traditional dress that Saudi men wear. But just like for women, men are expected to dress modestly at all times. When in public, it is important that your legs and shoulders are covered. It is also advisable that guys stay away from skinny jeans and shorts.
In a workplace wearing business suit with shirt and tie is appropriate for men. For informal workplace, neat pants, formal shirt and tie are okay. You also have to be modest with your jewellery. Other than your wedding ring and wristwatch, it is advisable that men avoid wearing jewellery.
What Is an Abaya in Saudi?
Read our Ultimate Abaya Guide – Everything You Ever Wanted To Know for a complete guide on the abaya. Ever since Saudi Arabia crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman said that abaya is not mandatory in the Kingdom as long as the woman’s attire is decent and respectful, there has been a tremendous paradigm shift of the abaya fashion.
One such shift is the growing popularity of colourful sports abayas. Similar to zippered jumpsuits, these abayas covers the entire body but yet gives mobility which allows for sporting activities. This is very different from the old baggy version with designs which makes it easy for wearers to trip on the hem.
The abaya has seen a lot of evolution in the Kingdom, with new patterns, embellishments, and fabrics. One of the latest is the eye-catching ensemble of soccer-themed abayas, which comes in the colour of local teams, allowing female football fans to identify with their chosen teams.
Typically, abayas come in only black colour, but following the statement by Muslim cleric Shaikh Ahmad Bin Qassim Al Ghamdi, where he revealed that the cloak is only meant to maintain a modest look and doesn’t necessarily have to be black, it is expected that abayas would begin to come in different other colours.
Do You Have to Wear an Abaya in Saudi Arabia?
For many years the laws of Saudi Arabia mandated that women must wear the traditional black abaya. Women who break this law are arrested by religious or moral police. Things are however starting to change as the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, plans to transform the country through his government’s Vision 2030 programme.
Following the Crown Prince’s statement that wearing the abaya was not compulsory as long as their attire is decent and respectful, women are beginning to appear in less traditional styles of abayas. In an interview with CBS, Prince Mohammed stated that “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of the sharia, that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. It, however, does not specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear”.
The statement of the Crown Prince is part of a move to give more freedom to Saudi women, who have been victims of gender segregation rules for many years.
It is no longer compulsory to wear an abaya in Saudi Arabia, the rule of thumb however is to dress modestly. Tight-fitting clothes or clothes exposing private skin is not allowed.
How Do They Dress in Saudi Arabia?
When you travel into Saudi Arabia, one of the first things that you would notice is how much of the body is covered, both for men and women. If you are coming from a culture where it is acceptable or even expected for you to display your body, then this form of dressing in the Kingdom will come as a huge shock to you. But in order to be accepted and welcomed, you are obliged to respect the country’s custom and abide by it.
Saudi men are known for their thobe. This is a long, ankle-length, flowing robe type garment. The colour and nature of the material usually vary depending on the weather. When it is warm, you can expect the thobe to be white or light coloured cotton, and when it is cooler, darker coloured wool is the choice. When going for special occasions such as weddings, men wear a bisht or mislah over their thobe. This is also the garb that the imam wears on Friday sermon. The Bisht may be beige, brown, black, grey or cream in colour. It is decorated with golden embroidery and closes with the help of two strings with golden tassels.
The headdress is vital to Saudi men. What makes it more important is the blazing sun and multiple sandstorms. There are different types of headdresses. The Shemagh is a scarf with a red and white checkered pattern. The quality of the yarn used to make this scarf will determine its price. The Taqiyah is a white embroidered cap which allows one to fasten the Shemagh so the headscarf won’t slide. The Iqal is a clothing accessory that is in form of dual hoops. It is made of synthetic yarns and helps to keep the Ghutra in place.
What Should a Woman Wear in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi women take tremendous pride in the way they appear and they enjoy fashionable clothing. Typically, the law of the land stipulates that they should cover their everyday wear with a loosely fitting cloak which would conceal their body. The strictness of the dress code varies according to the region. While Riyadh is seen as very strict, Jeddah is less conservative. Below are some of the dresses worn by women in Saudi;
- Abaya: An abaya is a long cloak which covers the entire body. It sometimes comes with a veil which covers the head and hair but leaves the face open and visible.
- Burqa: The burqa is the most restrictive of Islamic dressing. It is a complete covering which covers a woman head to toe, including her hands and entire face, such that even the eyes are not visible.
- Niqab: It is not unusual for people to confuse the burqa and the niqab, but there is an obvious difference between the two. While the burqa covers the face completely and does not allow the eyes to be seen, the niqab leaves a small slit open for the eyes and is generally a simple face veil attachment.
- Hijab: This is the traditional headscarf which is worn by Muslim women all over the world.
- Chador: Often confused for the hijab, the chador covers the shoulders and chest like a drape.
If you were living in a compound specifically for Westerners, then you don’t need to adhere to the dress code as long as you are within the compound.
Do I Have to Wear a Hijab in Saudi Arabia?
According to the Saudi Crown Prince, women in Saudi Arabia do not have to wear a head cover or the black abaya as long as their dressing is decent and respectful. The crown prince made this statement during an interview with US broadcaster CBS. This is part of the reform the young prince Mohammed Bin Salman plans to introduce to the Kingdom. Prior to the prince’s statement, it was compulsory for every woman when appearing in public to don a headcover and black abaya.
As of yet, the abaya is still strictly worn and it is deemed distasteful to the Arab culture for female Muslims or non-muslims to walk in public without wearing an abaya or hijab.
With his ascent to power, the Kingdom has witness expansion in women’s right including the right to drive cars and to attend mixed public sporting events. These moves have been controversial across the globe with scholars, however, others have taken this as proof of a progressive trend towards modernization in a deeply conservative Muslim kingdom. It is yet unclear if the statement by the Prince truly represents a change in the enforcement of women’s dress code in the kingdom.
In the past few years, Saudi women have started wearing more colourful abayas, such as light blue and pink, in contrast to the traditional black. It would take many years and a cultural change before females in Saudi Arabia decide to stop wearing the hijab and abaya in public.
What Should I Pack for Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia hosts millions of people each year, a majority are pilgrims visiting the Kingdom for Islamic Pilgrimage. When packing for a trip to Saudi Arabia you must bear in mind the extreme climate and must not forget that it is a conservative country, hence your clothing must meet some standards expected in public spaces. Below are some of the things you must pack when planning a trip to the Kingdom;
Sunscreen, Hats, Sunglasses:
Saudi Arabia is in the desert, so you must pack like someone preparing to spend time in the typical desert. This will include sunscreens that are high in SPF for when it gets very hot during the day. Also, you may need a hat and at least one pair of sunglasses. Just like in your typical desert, the temperature dips considerably at night so it won’t be a bad idea to include a few jackets, gloves and a hat for when the sun goes down.
Map and travel guide:
Just as it is expected when you travel to any foreign country, you must go with a map and travel guide. It is smart on your part to study, weeks or months ahead, the map of Saudi Arabia, with particular emphasis on the area which you plan to stay. You should take note of the surrounding streets, towns, and villages. It won’t be fun if you get lost in Saudi Arabia. A travel guidebook will give you a good idea on the best hotels, restaurants, and other highest-rated tourist attractions.
You should expect to do a lot of walking when you visit Saudi Arabia. Although the country’s largest cities have an efficient transportation system, most of the tourist attractions can only be reached on foot. Packing a pair of comfortable athletic shoes will ensure that you spend time exploring the country without having painful blisters.
Other stuff which is equally important includes local currency, laptop (for contacting home or surfing the web), towel, casual and semi-formal wear for various social activities, toiletries, medications with prescriptions, camera, jewellery, and various abaya for the women.
What Type of Shoes Can You Wear in Saudi?
There are no restrictions when it comes to what type of shoes you can wear when you are in Saudi. But considering the weather and your reason for visit (if you are a tourist or on pilgrimage), it is expected that you wear something comfortable. If you are a pilgrim or you are visiting the kingdom as a tourist, it is expected that you pack along comfortable shoes. This is because tourist centres are not easily accessible via the transportation system. This means you would have to do a lot of walking. A comfortable walking shoe will help you cover the distance without you having painful blisters.
If you are a female visiting the Kingdom on business purposes and would be in a lot of formal gatherings, then it is apt if you wear high heels with your abaya.
For general purposes, flats are the most appropriate footwear you can wear in the kingdom. Sandals, which are located called N3ala, is an extra accessory of the Saudi traditional dress. It is worn by all citizens in the Saudi Kingdom so it is pretty hard not to notice them and also considering the sunny weather, the sandals easily catch attention. It can be made of either plastic or leather, and its price will vary depending on the material that is used for its production.
Do I Have to Wear the Niqab in Saudi?
No, it is absolutely not compulsory for women to wear the niqab in Saudi Arabia. The niqab which is a more restrictive form of dressing and covers the face but leaves a slit for the eyes is not compulsory for all women. The wearing of the niqab and the burqa is actually a subject of intense debate in the Muslim world regarding if it is the required mode of dressing for Muslimahs. Many have argued that the burqa and niqab are an extreme form of dressing which connotes a fanatical side of Islam and is not mandated in the Quran. The latest statement by the Crown Prince does not just give women the freedom to wear what they want to wear (as long as it is decent and respectful) but does not mandate them to wear the headscarf, let alone the niqab.
“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Shariah, that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear”. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
If you are a non-muslim female travelling to Saudi Arabia, it is still regarded the norm to wear an abaya and headscarf in public or in a place of business. The majority of females in Saudi Arabia wish to continue the cultural and religious dressing worn for centuries. Females travelling on a business trip to Saudi Arabia should follow the customs and dress codes and continue to wear the black abaya and hijab. If in doubt, or you have a question to ask, send us a quick email and we will respond back asap!