I have been living as an Ex-pat in Saudi Arabia a little over two years now. I have to admit, I have not had the privilege of getting to know many Saudi women, and those I have met have spent considerable time living in the West. Accordingly, the things I speak of here are merely the result of my personal observations of women I see in public spaces. I do not include any photos out of respect to the women I describe. When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia in January, 2019, it is my understanding that there was still a legal requirement for women to wear an abaya (a cloak-like outer garment). At that time, women had recently become free to choose whether or not to cover their hair or face, but still had to wear the abaya. Now, two years later, it is my understanding that the abaya is no longer legally required. As a result, I now occasionally see a woman, Western or Arab, without an abaya, but it is still quite rare. A certain percentage of women (perhaps 10-15%) I observe do not cover their hair or face. However, the vast majority of women in public are still fully covered. It is in this context I make the following appreciative observations of fashion statements that I have fully embraced as a fellow resident of Saudi Arabia.
Make those Eyes Pop! I have large, dark brown eyes and I have always tried to accentuate them. However, in the conservative Mid-West of the U.S. where I grew up, eye make-up was viewed with disapproval. Over time, I became a bit more bold with my eye makeup, but still felt a bit naughty if I wore too much of it. However, I was thrilled to observe that such thinking does not apply here in Saudi. Even the most conservatively-dressed women are wearing generous amounts of dark black eye-liner (or even kohl) and luxurious multiple coats of mascara! I love it! Most women seem to not wear eye shadow, or if they do it is very natural. But the liner and mascara are all that is needed. The very first thing I notice about a Saudi sister is her eyes.
A Bright Designer Handbag Makes the Outfit When you are dressed pretty much like every other woman on the street, your handbag can really make you stand out. Saudi women (like many women everywhere) love a good designer handbag. But I have noticed that the Saudi ladies are not afraid to embrace the bag that will really express your personality. A bright red, hot pink, neon turquoise, or animal print handbag really pops against the backdrop of a black abaya. Also, a bag with bows, ribbons, chains, or even artificial (I presume) jewels makes even more of a statement. Seeing a woman with a particularly unique handbag always makes me smile – don’t be shy; you do you!
The More Bracelets the Better I adore bracelets, especially bangles! I have several of them. Before coming to Saudi, I felt I could only wear one, or maybe two, at a time. My Saudi sisters apparently feel no such restraint. I frequently see a woman sporting multiple bracelets on each arm, peeking out of her abaya sleeves as she reaches for something off the store shelf or lifting a child to her hip. Sometimes the bracelets run all the way to her elbow. While she walks, her adornments make a pleasant tinging noise as they contact one another. I, too, now have taken to wearing multiple bracelets on each arm when I go out and about. Expensive, designer watches are also popular, but I can’t afford to join in that trend; I have to be happy with my Apple Watch.
Designer Sneakers ARE Dress Shoes This trend is my very favorite! I despise wearing heels. They are uncomfortable, they are unstable, they slow me down. In the U.S., particularly in the professional work environment, heels are still the norm and pretty much expected. But in Saudi Arabia, in any environment, be it the workplace, airport, shopping mall, or fancy restaurant, almost every abaya has sneakers peeking out beneath it. To be clear, these are not the sneakers you wear for your daily walk, or to the gym. These are expensive, designer sneakers, like Gucci, Chanel, or Tory Burch. It is very important that the logo be prominent and glitzy colors like gold, silver, or leopard print and favored. However, these shoes are comfortable! I have invested in a few pair and find going out so much more enjoyable than when teetering along in high heels. I can navigate uneven streets and sidewalks with ease, don’t mind if I have to walk a fair distance, and have no problem keeping pace with my husband. Best fashion trend EVER!