Confessions of a Saudi Diva: FAQ’s about Saudi Dress Code

saudi dress code

saudi dress code

Planning is Essential

Today, I finally bought a planner. Diary book, year planner, calendar book…Whatever you like to call it, I just got my 2016 one today and I couldn’t be more content.

I don’t know about you, but I personally can’t live without a diary book. I remember that for a few years before moving to the UK, I decided to be more spiritual and I stopped using one. Then, once I attended orientation day at London College of Fashion, the course director asked us to get one. And since then, I’ve been back on the planning wave.

To me, planning your days is one step to reaching  your goals. I can’t see how anyone can achieve the things that they want when they don’t take measurable actions towards them. In addition to planning my work and admin tasks, I also like to plan my social and leisure activities. I believe that organizing your life extends to both social and business activities. That way, you are making the most of both your busy and free time.

Enough about planning and making to-do lists. Let’s move to today’s topic on Saudi dress code. The inspiration for writing this post now came to me after a Western expat lady who was visiting Dubai was curious to understand the reason that we sometimes choose to dress the way we do. She couldn’t fathom the logic behind having to dress in a certain way because of the demands of a specific culture.

Saudi Dress Code

To give you an idea of what I mean, let me go back in time to when I used to work in Saudi Aramco as a contractor employee. I was working in IT support in both departments that I joined. At the second job that I had, I was working at an IT help desk with mostly men co-workers.

As I explained in a previous post, inside the Aramco company facilities, women can wear normal clothes without donning an Abayah over their outfits. I also mentioned how the rule applies to both local (Saudi) and expat women. You can choose to wear a head scarf, Abayah, or regular clothes.

Being a Saudi woman, the society has certain expectations for you. There’s a specific and definite Saudi dress code image that defines your identity. That perception is that the minimum you should do is wear a Hijab that covers your hair properly. The ideal image is that you should wear a Niqab – also discussed in a previous post from this series.

Since I grew up in the city of Al Khobar, I was wearing a head scarf that didn’t cover my hair completely. By that, I mean that there was a little amount of hair showing above my forehead. That’s all. No hair was showing from the back, or from under the scarf. I must clarify that this is not the right way to wear the Islamic veil or Hijab. It’s a bit of a modern version. But there even more modern ones, so this is not too extreme.

Despite my slightly modern Hijab version, men who worked in the company were still judging me. I wasn’t a proper Hijabi woman to them. If I was being looked at in a negative way because of my ‘slightly loose’ head scarf style, you can imagine how I would be perceived if I chose not to wear the head scarf or Abayah completely!

Mind you, I was wearing the black Abayah and black scarf to work. Working at a help desk requires you to wear an ear piece to take calls from users. I must admit the task of wearing the ear piece and veil at the same time wasn’t an easy one! but somehow I managed.

Saudi Society Judges Women

I was actually one of the first female call center agents. I was probably the only one supporting Unix workstations. As Unix OS is a very complicated system and all of the help desk agents at the Unix side were men. Except for the Saudi Diva 🙂 back then, I wasn’t the Saudi Diva yet. But I guess I was always a Diva in disguise 🙂 It wasn’t an easy affair unleashing my creative and rebellious Diva side in a male-dominated society.

And that’s exactly how my new Western expat friend described it. After another Western friend of mine (who’s been here for a few years) and I explained to her a few things about the region. She stated: “Then it’s not related to religion. It’s about male dominance.”

I agree with her words. It’s not entirely about religion. It’s related strongly to culture, deep-rooted traditions and outdated values, and mainly a male-dominated society.

Another point worth noting as I go back to my Aramco working days, is that the women suffer with stereotypes. They labeled us as ‘Aramco girls’. It’s not a compliment, it’s not a desirable adjective, it’s not to say that they are independent or ambitious or career-driven. The label ‘Aramco girls’ translates into liberal and open-minded type of women. It’s a negative statement to identify females who worked at that company, regardless of which department they were in, or position they were holding.

I could go on forever on the endless ways that the Saudi society judges women. Whether it’s in the workplace, the home, or even at social gatherings. But I will leave that for another post.

An interesting thing that you should know is that despite the fact that I wore an Abayah to work every day, I always made sure to wear professional work clothes underneath it! Although no one could see my clothes at work, I liked to feel like a real career girl and to live the role to the fullest. I think it makes a difference to your well-being and to how that reflects on your work.

So next time you see a woman wearing a black Abayah in a work environment or business meeting, don’t let that fool you! She could be wearing an elegant suit or dress shirt with man trousers. Don’t ever undermine the power of a woman in an Abayah and head scarf.

You might wonder if wearing the Abayah for so long has made me want to wear more revealing clothes now. The truth is, the same way that the Saudi men at work would judge a woman with a loose head scarf, foreign men from my neighborhood in Dubai stare at the sight of any woman passing by – whether she was covered from head to toe or wearing a little dress.

So these days, I save my mini shorts for when I’m lounging at home – Saudi Diva style I suppose 🙂

Final Thoughts: Does your dress code define your identity?


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