Male salesclerks and lack of fitting rooms…

Saudi women in a store

Really the vibe of my posts will start to improve soon…I promise, en’shallah…we’re right now going through a bit of culture shock (which is normal when relocating to another country) and also I wanted to talk about several aspects of shopping “culture” here which I don’t really agree with…one is the outlandish abayaah prices…esp on the trendy ones in the malls and the others are…

1) How ALL  stores here are have MEN as their salespeople…yes sisters…EVEN shops selling, makeup, skincare products and underwear!

2) Lack of fitting rooms…because all the salesclerks are…men!!!

So about ONE…yup…every single store you go into here (cept for maybe some “female-only malls” in Jeddah or somewhere that I read about) the salesclerks are men!

Now, I’m a pretty traditional, conservative, religious Muslim women who normally, when shopping prefers to deal with female sales staff…even in the USA.  But here…basically every single store in every single Mall, suq or plaza has men working in them.

Now, imagine going into a Nayomi (like Victoria Secret) to stock up on some new pajamas or *gasp* undies and having to deal with a MALE salesperson!!! How embarrasing! How humiliating…especially if your very modest.  I would seriously rather pass out from shock than talk to a MAN about what size I wear! I wouldn’t even feel comfortable telling a salesmen in an abayaah store what size for an abayaah I want…I only feel comfortable saying “looser” or “tighter” or “shorter” or “longer”…definitely not…I need X-size.

EEKS! I KNOW I’m not the ONLY woman out there who feels this way. The one time I went into Nayomi, was to buy a pair of long PJ pants in a nice lightweight cotton and it was embarrassing having one of the salesclerks  come up to me and ask me about what I was looking for…right as I was examining some undergarments (for posterities sake, ya know), alhamdullah for Niqab, a big bisht abayaah and having my son with me as I both blushed, phreaked out and wanted to pass out all at the same time!!! What the heck… I really don’t want a man checking out what I’m purchasing!

The humiliating feeling that I felt is probably why every other lady I saw in there had her husband with her…one women wrote down what she wanted, gave it to her husband and scurried away!!! I ended up scurrying away…too scared to look further.

…and don’t get me start on walking into a Saphora and seeing young dudes, in suits trying to sell makeup. It’s unnatural!!!! C’mon…and they are very annoying too…they really bother you when you shop, pestering you about what you’re looking for, trying to get you to try a sample…etc etc.  They don’t even let you peruse in peace!

C’mon…if there HAS to be a creepy dude working in a womans store…at least he should stay behind the register unless his help is requested!!! I also scurried out of the Saphora and every other beauty store I wandered into! I couldn’t fathom any man even beginning to understand what I’m looking for…and I certainly wont flip up my niqab to show him my skin coloring to find a shade that suits me!!!

Saudi Arabia is supposed to be sooo traditional and conservative yet they have men working in shops which women frequent 99.9% of the time!!! why? CoIran which is deemed to be extremely conservative and religious does NOT allow men to work in stores which cater to women…every manteau shop, scarf shop and makeup shop Ive been in has always had female clerks…cept for maybe 1-2 very large ones where the male manager was there…but he generally didnt deal with female customers.

Even the other GCC countries have women working in womens shops… why not KSA?  I think they should have a female ONLY mall in every city with female clerks so those women who don’t feel comfortable buying undies under the curious eyes of non-mahram males can go to a female-friendly shop…PLUS, a lot of what women buy requires advice, testing, fittings or being sized for an item…you cant do that when a man is helping you!

You’d NEVER see a man working in a VC stateside or a man working in a Saphora…women wouldnt allow it!

Heres a BBC article I culled up about this; Saudi Lingerie in a twist

Onto 2…

So because men work in all the shops there are NO dressing rooms! in the overwhelming majority of stores! Now, some abayaah shops have a little nook in their storage room which a woman can dash into and make a quick try on, but even those aren’t that great or commonly found and one large “department store” sort of shop had a fitting room complete with a totally covered Saudi female attendant in uniform to assist female shoppers (I was soo surprised to see that!!!) Hence, that means most large malls have a “fitting room” inside their bathroom…so you purchase something, dash off to the bathroom, try them on and if they don’t fit…go back to the store…yeah tedious! Alhamdullah the stores in malls are good about this but the suq stores generally wont take back  stuff that doesnt fit. A Kuwaiti woman back home told me to always carry a measuring tape and use that for accuracy and it’s come in handy a half-dozen times sofar!

I’m sorry but thats kind of annoying…The larger stores should do like what RedTag does and having a small fitting area with a female attendent, but again…it goes back to my first complaint…there should be female only malls in every city so women can shop in a female-friendly environment!! Isn’t that more modes, more in line with Islam? Don’t  tell me that really religious Saudi guys really think it’s OK for their wives or sisters to buy undies under the curious gaze of random men?

*hmmm* Alhamdullah Bahrain is a short drive away as, as soon as we get a job and I start working (en’shallah) I’ll start doing all my shopping for femme-items on that side of the water.

As a side-note…the woman who runs American Bedu suggests in-home “ladies-garments parties”…like what goes on in the US where women sell yupperware or “intimate” items from their homes…actually I think thats a fantastic idea…I donno where, how or when that’ll start but definitely there is a HUGE market for that!!!


8 thoughts on “Male salesclerks and lack of fitting rooms…

  1. I was lucky in the UAE that I was able to find shops with women clerks. One was a family owned shop in which brother and his sisters worked. It was always a pleasure to go there. An upscale abaya shop in Abu Dhabi, that I went to because it has astonishing sales, had women clerks. It also started a women’s area like a comfortable sitting room with racks of abayas, dates and coffee and comfortable chairs, and fitting rooms. It was very nice. There was a also a small ababya shop in a small mall with wonderful niqab that was run only by women. However, the upscale shops, basically the ones I couldn’t afford anyway, were staffed only by good-looking young men. I did carry a tape and my garment measurements, but I had been doing that before most of the time anyway.

    It is possible that in KSA there are small local malls that have smaller and cheaper shops, but also air conditioning. I really enjoyed some of the small local malls in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. They weren’t fancy and the people there were almost all Muslim. I found some charming and expected things, and tons of affordable hijab and abaya.

    I can’t imagine buying underwear from a man! It wasn’t comfortable looking at abayas even though the men were always exquisitely polite and never stood closer than a couple of meters if there wasn’t a counter between us. I did eventually buy women’s dresses in shops with only men to try on at home.

  2. That is so frustrating! I can’t even imagine having to buy lingerie in the US from a male attendant. If there wasn’t a woman in the department, I’m pretty sure I would be uncomfortable enough to just leave. I think I would have a really tough time buying anything in that environment. I can see why you were glad to be wearing niqab!

  3. I couldn’t even imagine I did have a slightly relate-able situation that was similar to what you are going through. I live in the US, FYI…So a few months ago I wnt in to a Victoria’s Secret and there was a man working there!! To top that off he was muslim (Arab I think)….I know this because he gave my little boy who was in his stroller Salaams and shook his hand! I was shocked!! Now he did have a perfume tester and cards in his hand as was in that area. But I just couldn’t believe it! I know he was wondering why my jaw was open and I TOTALLY did not lower my gaze ( I was too suprised..Istaghfir’Allah). I haven’t been back there since ! I now go to the other mall. So sis as for your experience…I guess I have to image my experience X100!!

    I like the idea of ladies garmet parties……. 🙂

  4. salam… I heard that it is “Aib” or shameful in Saudi’s culture if their women work in service sector. For example, clerk, salesgirl, waitress, air stewardess, receptionist, etc. They view their wives and daughters like queens or princesses, so it’s unbecoming for “her royal highness” to work in those sectors. That’s why it’s hard to find a real Saudi girl (unless her origin is not from Saudi, but has Saudi nationality) to become air stewardess. Usually it is foreign women. However, they are less fussy if their women become doctors. This is the same in Yemen. It is rare to find women selling in shops (but last I heard there start to be some ladies salesgirls now), usually it is men. But it is accepted if their women become doctors or lecturers and “upper” class careers like that.

    But this mentality certainly post a problem to women who wana go shopping. Maybe they should start importing foreign women to be salesgirls in Saudi. But that will bring a different kind of problem in itself.

    I like the lingerie “business” party idea. I might have to steal that one, lol 😛

  5. Ahh I feel you pain sister, I used to go to saudi a lot and I hated shopping (very abnormal for me lol) because of the males in womens clothing shops. I even felt a bit uncomfortable in the gold shops trying on rings and stuff lol. Yes in jeddah there are very big malls only for women but I don’t think they have them anywhere else in saudi, could be wrong though.

    Another thing that realllly annoys me about it is that the unemployment percentage amoungst saudi women is in the 80s or 90s yet they still employ foriegn men to work in womens underwear shops! Very Islamic..


  6. hehe exactly how I felt first time I went there!! and the no fitting rooms is so annoying they actually suggest buying the items and trying it in the fitting rooms they have which is normally available in most shopping centres, usually combined with the praying room. I’ve tried that myself.
    but it’s still annoying coz if u dont like the item u gotta refund it, and what if u want to try different sizes :S
    I’ve gone to Bahrain through Saudi, it’s awesome how it’s so close by!! it’s only a bridge away from where I lived. when you go on the weekend like a friday you’ll notice most of the shoppers are saudis (mainly males) and most of the cars parked in the shopping centres are saudi.

  7. I’d feel so uncomfortable here being served by a male for lingerie. Even make-up though. What does he know about it?! And why should he know anything about it?! It’s not his domaine. Men should just see it on us women and find us pretty with it. No more!

    At a clothing store, only once, I was served by a man. It was not so bad because it’s only clothing, and he was so obviously homosexual. But if he seemed as straight as Arabs usually do, it would be uncomfortable. And it’s probably even more uncomfortable with an Arab than it would be with a straight Canadian man. I don’t know why I imagine them as more perverted… But they seem to have less respect for women. This was my experience with Egyptian men vs Canadian men.

  8. Assalam alaikum

    I totally agree with you. It very stupid and uncomfortable and islamically wrong that men work in shops selling products for women. I hope it changes one day. In the UAE there are mostly men working as tailors and in abaya shops :S

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