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What to Wear in Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Arabia recently opened their borders to tourism and everyone who has visited is hooked! If you are someone who enjoys off the beaten path tourism, then Saudi Arabia is the perfect fit. As a Muslim woman familiar with ideas around modesty, I’m here to give you the real tea around what you should actually wear in Saudi Arabia.

What do Women in Saudi Arabia Wear?

Clothing is Saudi Arabia is largely based on religious guidelines and social norms. Country of origin, age, religiosity level, location, and free will all impact what someone wears in Saudi Arabia. Modesty is very important in the cultural framework of most Saudis.

In public spaces, most women in Saudi Arabia cover their legs, arms, cleavage, and hair. They usually wear a black abaya, hijab, and niqab (face covering). Hijab, niqab, and abaya are no longer legally required and are not expected of western women.

Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing a lot of changes so you may see a large range of modest fashion depending on where you are and who you’re around.

Location Matters

What to Wear in Makkah or Madinah?

Makkah and Madinah are considered holy cities to Muslims. Makkah is where Muslims come to perform the religious pilgrimages, umrah and hajj. Non-Muslims are not allowed to visit Makkah. If you are a muslim, modest clothing and hijab are mandatory in Makkah and expected in Madinah. Makeup and perfume are not allowed to be worn in Makkah.

What to Wear in Jeddah or Riyadh

In Jeddah or Riyadh, you can wear any style of modest clothing. Long sleeve maxi dresses and loose pants and tops are fine. You may get a few looks if you wear short sleeves but not in spaces that have a lot of tourists.

What to Wear in AlUla

AlUla is mostly full of tourists so the modesty rules are very lax. You do not have to wear an abaya or hijab here.  There are lots of mixed-gender pools, festivals, and parties.

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What do Women Wear inWomen-Only Spaces in Saudi Arabia??

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In women only spaces, anything goes. Hijab and niqab are not required. Most wear their party clothes under their abaya. If you get invited to a wedding or party with a woman-only section, you may be asked to put away your phone to ensure that photos aren’t taken. Always dress to the nines or you will be outdressed.

Do Women in Saudi Arabia Have to Wear Hijab?

Years ago, wearing hijab was a requirement but Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud has made a lot of changes in the way women navigate throughout Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, modesty is still a requirement. One should cover their arms, legs, and cleavage when entering a government building.

In some social circles or families, there is some social pressure to wear the hijab. While this doesn’t apply to westerners, do not be surprised if an older Saudi individual makes a comment about your clothing choices if you are not dressing modestly. Especially if they think that you are a local.

Examples of What You Shouldn’t Wear in Saudi Arabia

Visual representation of the dress code in Saudi Arabia. Women are not allowed to wear clothes above the knee, with cleavage,or tight fitting.

I would advise staying away from wearing swimsuits, tops, or coverups anywhere other than the special beaches/ beach clubs that allow it. Some beaches allow bikinis but most do not. Modest bathing suits can be found at shops like Lyra Swimwear   or Vielkini.

Short skirts, crop-tops, and anything tight-fitting is bound to bring you negative attention. Anything with a political or offensive message is also prohibited.

Examples of What to Wear in Saudi Arabia

asian woman wearing a black abaya and black hijab in a sandy location
Photo by Rhyan Stark

Dress Code for Women in Saudi Arabia Overview

The easiest way to adhere to modesty expectations in Saudi Arabia is to wear an loose fitting abaya over your clothes. Abayas come in many different colors, materials, and designs. If not wearing an abaya then most women wear loose fitting dresses or a long blouse that goes past their butt. Most western women who live in Saudi Arabia choose to wear abayas because of the comfort and sun protection it brings. Hijab is not necessary but if you have blond hair or a big afro, covering it up may attract less attention.

Do People Really Care About What You Wear in Saudi Arabia?

This is a very tricky conversation, but I think having transparent conversations is important. Yes, people do notice and care about your clothing choices. Adhering to the Saudi dress code communicates to those around you that you respect their religion and culture. In recent years, some have even complained about the dress choices of expats and tourists. To more religious folks, failing to adhere to modest fashion reflects poorly of you and your character.  Some may see you as trying to westernize their country. Others may even perceive you as wanting male attention. And others, mainly younger people or more liberal Muslims, may not care at all. In my experience, it’s best to stick to dressing on the conservative side.

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