Before I share more about my trip to Saudi Arabia, I think it’s worth highlighting the clothing requirements. What most people know about visiting places like Saudi Arabia is that women need to cover their head. However, I am happy to share that it was more interesting than just that.
In advance of my trip, I scoured the internet for rules and regulations on women’s attire. What should I wear? Do I have to cover my head, and if so when and where? Can my hair show at all? Do I have to cover my face? These were the questions running through my mind. Unfortunately and to my great surprise, there was very little detail available. Additionally, much of what I could find was contradictory.
My past travels have taught me that it is always better to be safe than sorry, so I opted to go for more coverage. While my internet search wasn’t so great in terms of clothing rules, it was very helpful with online shopping options. I found a great online store called Modanisa. It is based out of Turkey and boasts extremely affordable options in proper clothing. I ordered a variety of items for less than 100 Euros. My order consisted of 3 long dresses, 2 abayas, 2 hijabs and 1 turban.
Throughout the ordering process, I came to learn the different terms and types of clothing items that were available. I knew I needed to cover my head, shoulders and legs, but I had no idea how many options there actually were. What I am listing below is based on how the Modanisa website characterized the items.
Abaya – this is the all-covering outer garment that I would wear over my other clothes when stepping outside. It had a zipper running the entire length of garment, and I ordered 2 of these in black just to ensure I blended in as much as possible.
Hijab – this is the head covering that does not include covering the face or eyes (that is called a Niquab). However, it does often include some sort of scarf-like appendage. I purchased the “ready hijabs” from Modanisa, mostly because they were idiot proof. These easily wrapped around my head and neck or tied directly under my chin like a bonnet.
Turban – this is a less restrictive head covering. It does not include the scarf-like elements, so while my neck was exposed, my hair was still mostly covered. I actually appreciated how comfortable, easy to use, and fashionable the turban looked.
Long Dresses – the dresses fully covered all necessary areas and easily fit underneath the abaya. They were very comfortable as well!
Continuing on, my time in Saudi Arabia was relatively short. I spent most of my visit inside the hotels and in fairness, what is acceptable within a hotel is different from what might be acceptable in public. I was told to remove my hijab and abaya while inside, but I kept them on most of the time out of respect.
As much as I was fearful of the setting and the dress code, I ended up feeling exceptionally at ease in my surroundings. What helped most was always being in the presence of other Saudi women. They not only helped me blend in and answered my clothing questions, but they also became my very fast friends.
For any female traveling to Saudi Arabia, I recommend taking the safe approach. Always wear more, knowing that these items can easily be removed or adjusted as needed. Note that on those especially hot days, the abaya is your friend. You can probably get away with shorts and a t-shirt underneath, with the public being none the wiser.
More on Saudi Arabia to follow soon!