Saturday, 15 May 2010

Abaya Shopping in Riyadh

Buying an Abaya in Saudi Arabia 

No women in Saudi Arabia should be without an abaya. Today I decided I needed to go shopping for a new one.  This would be my very first abaya shopping experience.  The abaya I currently have Glenn bought in Dubai.  It's very light with a bit of trim on it and only three buttons which, I learned quite quickly, is not anything like Saudi abayas.

The reason I needed a new abaya was that, because it only has three buttons, I have to hold my abaya closed when I go walking.  Why?  The culture here in Riyadh has an issue with women showing almost any part of their body to men. 

Being new to the country I would like to respect their cultural practices....Actually I was totally freaked out about what I could and couldn't do because you hear how totally different things are here, and how you get your head chopped off for not towing the line....

So, back to my story....I wear jeans when I go out walking in the evening so I don't have my bare legs showing.  However, the acceptable practice is to have your abaya hide everything - even the jeans.  Women are supposed to be shapeless so as not to attract the attention of men and my abaya doesn't really do the job properly which is why I hold it closed when I go walking.

During the day I wear shorts which causes a few problems with Abaya No.1...

                                                                        Oooops it's time to go shopping for a new one.

There are abaya shops everywhere in Riyadh - finding an abaya isn't a problem.  Mr Noor, our trusted taxi driver, had a couple suggestions on locations for abaya shopping.  First was the malls where most western ladies prefer to shop such as Hayatt Mall or Granada Mall, though he said their abaya's might be expensive.  Second was the souqs where Saudi ladies like to shop such as Al Awayis Souq.  He said those will definitely be cheaper.  

We decided to take a look at a local shopping center just up the road because I'm not after anything expensive and because I didn't feel comfortable roaming around a local souq inappropriately dressed.  People here have no issues at all with staring at others.  Akaria Mall has a number of abaya shops.  After sifting through the racks of abaya's one thing became abundantly clear - whoever designed Saudi abaya's never had to wear them, and I'm guessing that means a bunch of blokes with very little fashion sense and even less consideration for female comfort.

Finding an abaya that will cover you as per the cultural or religious stipulations is easy here.  Finding one that keeps you cool in the Saudi heat is virtually impossible.  Men get to wear white thobes made of cotton.  Every single abaya on the shop racks in Saudi is made of  heat holding, sweat producing, synthetic.  Sure, there were some pieces with a bit of bling but honestly, a bit of bling does not make the garment more comfortable to wear in this particular environment.  And of course you can have any color you like, so long as it's black!

I eventually found a little abaya shop fun by a very friendly man from India.  His English was good too.  Mr India explained that the sizing on the abaya has to do with your height, not your girth.  He also had a little mirror hidden in back.  Apparently, those are frowned upon in abaya shops.
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall... 
What The Heck is Going On!
I discovered that trying an abaya on can be a tricky business.  To me, it makes sense that you disrobe out of the abaya you walked into the shop with and re-robe with your potential purchase to properly assess for fit around the girth, acceptable hang to the ground and general prettiness.  There are no change rooms in abaya shops but that made perfect sense to me.  After all, you wear clothes under an abaya, right?  It's simply a matter of taking one off and trying the other on.

Disrobing is totally frowned on in abaya shops, so I discovered at the horrified gasps and stony glares of Saudi women shoppers who stopped rifling through abaya racks while I was casually disrobing.  Who would have thought that seeing someone actually wears clothes beneath their abaya is a horrifying experience!

I guess if you're an experienced abaya purchaser you'd just know the darned thing fits you.  Or you could take it home, try it and return it later.  We inexperienced types, who feel we have to test the garment in store, are expected to put our potential purchase on top of our current abaya which, in my case, just serves to make me hot and makes me look rather large.  Suffice to say, after the first round of negative reactions from fellow women, the husband was engaged to hold my handbag and keep an eye out while I disrobed a time or two down back of the shop between the racks of hanging garments in front of the secret mirror.

Mr Indian gave us a price on an abaya that I decided would do and, though the husband was keen to purchase, I did a stalling act so we said "we'll think about it".

I'm not a good shopper at the best of times.  My preference is to shop for 30 minutes, visit a cafe for 45 minutes.  Basically I was sick of looking at abayas for 3 reasons - my time limit had been exceeded, there isn't that much of a selection - all black or all black with embroidered trim.  Buttoned to the ground or.... no that's all.  And if I get right down to it, although I knew that wearing an abaya is mandatory here, that doesn't mean I was totally sold on the idea.  Stalling was my little inner rebellion.  I was also hoping that, somewhere, there would be a shop full of abaya's made from more user friendly material.

Yay....Coffee :)

The idea of traipsing through numerous other abaya shops in search of that elusive perfect piece wasn't really turning me on.  What to Do Pounamu?  We had an 'aha' moment!  Go ask the locals where to get the best abayas.  Out in the mall were a group of Saudi women, complete with niqab, resting from their shopping.   A simple question got a wonderful result. "Excuse me, Do you speak English?"

Perfect English was spoken in response from beneath the niqab face coverings and the women were, contrary to what I'd been told before my arrival in this country, very friendly and quite chatty.  We got told that the little shop we just came out of was the best place in Riyadh to buy abaya because they are a reasonable price - between 130 - 150 SR (Saudi Riyals).  If you are paying more than that you are paying too much.  And, as far as the range of Saudi shop bought abaya goes, that place had a good selection.

 The ladies went on to critique the abaya I was wearing - obviously not bought in KSA and more expensive than those I was just perusing in store - right on both counts.  Apparently, if I want to purchase something along similar lines here I would have pay a tailor privately which can be a costly exercise.  Using one of the tailors that can be found along the local streets, I was told, would not be a good idea.  They have to make the abaya as per religious guidelines.  If caught doing otherwise they can get into strife. 

Akaria Mall Location

I'm glad I spoke with these ladies.  Apart from learning the best place to shop for to buy an abaya in Riyadh is in Akaria Mall, I also learnt that when I smile at women in traditional Saudi Arabian dress they are more than likely smiling back.

Ka Kite,

1 comment:

  1. Morena,
    Kiwi from Papakura arriving on 26th August. Wife in October. Am I better to buy an abaya on line or get one to send her?


Have a few thoughts on this post. I would love to hear them.

If You Liked This Post Share It With Friends

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...