Yes, I did do it!
Okay not in a mall but in the ladies suq, this evening! I figured I’d do a bit of a test, dress in a totally different style and one that I feel quite comfortable in and see the reactions I got. One reason why I started to wear niqab here is because it’s the norm and I felt that it would sort of protect me from nasty creepy dudes and I’d blend in a bit better. But, I’ve since learned that unfortunately women wearing niqab tend to be labeled as Saudi (whether or not they are) and that connotation carries a bit of baggage. First it’s assumed you’re Saudi hence some Saudi guys pay way too much attention to you! Similar how if your in UAE in an abayah Emirate guys will follow you around (according to Aalia and Pixie), it’s assumed you speak Arabic and I have had on several occasions Saudi guys working in shops chew me out for NOT being fluent in Arabic! (yeah like it’s gonna happen in a few months!) and ofcourse I found that once it was learned I was NOT Saudi the next question or assumption would be that my husband MUST be Saudi. Well, he’s not…so then some Saudi’s would think I was “playing dress up”. The fact that abayaat are worn by Muslim women around the world and that the khaleeji “look” is very very trendy right now and that a lot of women love the Saudi abayaat and shaylah styles (including me)…it really didnt matter because most of the Muslim expat women continued to look like OBVIOUS expats. The Syrian women in their jilbabs and the Egyptian women in their multi-layered scarves or long khimaars and niqabs. Most don’t do the full out Saudi style.
I really do adore the Saudi style of abayah and shaylah and how they wear them but since that episode in that one shop with one such creeper I and my husband feel like it’s better to tone it down and LOOK like an expat. So tonight after talking it over with the hubby I wore a long tunic from Shukr (similar to a black knee length manteau), baggy jeans, flats, black maghneh and my black crepe chador. I was iffy about the chador and could have worn my black overhead abayaah but decided I’d “try” it out too.
Frankly…the reaction I got was minimal and not bad at all. For once I felt a bit more safe and secure. Whether it was because my outfit wasn’t catching the attention of every Saudi guy walking by (which btw, I never did the full on bling look anyway, my style was always quite conservative) nor did I have guys stare me in the eyes (maybe wondering whats behind the niqab)…nor was it assumed I spoke Arabic and actually I found the guys in the shops automatically offered up better prices and seemed a bit nicer…they’d list the price and then say…well for YOU X riyals (and knock like 1/3rd off or so). I think the chador was a bit “odd” though and I had a lot of Saudi women looking me up and down and I even had this Pakistani sales clerk try his Farsi out on me. LOL. I had a rather “pasdar” look going on which probably stuck out and it didn’t help that I prefer to wear my chador wrapped and tucked around my waist under one arm, well, thats a look you’d never see here (although I have seen Bahraini women do a similar thing with their overhead batwing abayaat)
But, in all seriousness, the lack of skeezy attention from nasty men was rather nice. I think I’ll make an effort to wear that style more often. When me husband saw me as I was leaving the house for the suq he said “wow, you look so lovely!”…I think the change in my style was a bit refreshing for him.
Now, some side notes.
Firstly, I was able to really explore further in the area (as my son was with his dad, at home) and found a LOT of fabric shops selling nice fabrics and the prices were not too bad. I found some nice thin abayah crepe that would work wonderfully for an outside chador. I also found a few tailors who will make them.
I also saw some nice polyester-blend fabrics in colors! I am planning to buy a few meters of some of the fabric and having a simple abayah made in manteau style (a few inches shorter and with side slits) and the price would be 1/3 the cost of colored abayaat ready made in the shops! And thats including cost of fabric and tailoring!!!
I then went into some shops to check out their overhead abayaat (as my batwing one is getting threadbare). Here in KSA the overhead abayaat trend is for one that is slim to the body with sleeves (not like the traditional batwing style) and that style is quite similar to the newer chador trend in Iran which looks surprisingly similar called chador-e mellati (aka chador-e daneshjooyee or chador-e lubnanee). Like in the pictures below, while I like the look a part of me prefers the full butt-covering coverage of the traditional batwing style of overhead abayaah, maybe I’ll try a newer style out during my next trip to Iran. But, I digress, the overheads I saw were all really nice and the prices were quite inexpensive (compared to prices Ive seen quoted on several online shops)-hence, if anyone wants one of these kinds of overheads, just let me know, all I’d need is body size and height or abayaah length prefered and voila.