Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative country that is governed by Sharia law. Saudi nationals strictly adhere to the dress code. The rules are slightly more relaxed for expats, especially within compounds, but they are expected to abide by the dress code in the public space. The traditional dress for Saudi men is the thobe, an ankle-length garment that is quite suitable for the desert climate of Saudi Arabia. It is usually white in color, but men wear darker colors too especially during winters. There is also a headdress that goes along with the thobe. Saudi women are expected to cover their everyday clothes in public with a loose-fitting, opaque cloak.In spite of this, the women give a lot of attention to their appearance and prefer fashionable clothing. The rules regarding dress code vary in strictness from one region to another. For instance, Jeddah is considered to be a less conservative place compared to Riyadh.
Expat men are not expected to wear the traditional attire. Long trousers and a shirt are acceptable attire in public spaces, while shorts and vests are not. However, as per the law, expat women are always expected to wear the abaya when out in public to cover their everyday clothes.
Shopping for clothes in Saudi Arabia
Shopping is a favorite activity among Saudis and the many shopping malls across the region are testament to this. In addition to staying up to date with the latest in fashion, shopping is also a way for them to spend time with family or socialize with friends. It is even a form of entertainment and the air-conditioned malls give much-needed respite from the hot climate.
Jeddah has over 90 shopping malls, many of which are located in close proximity to each other, on King Abdul Aziz Street. In Riyadh, the main roads also have rows of shopping malls. The Al Mamlaka shopping center in Riyadh has its third floor reserved exclusively for women. Many of these malls have shops and stores that can be found in western malls since most international clothing brands have a presence here. For a different kind of shopping experience, head to the souqs, the local outdoor markets. Here you can find more traditional clothing and accessories and at inexpensive rates. The scarves and jewelry in particular found at these markets are worth buying either to accent your wardrobe or to give as gifts when you return home.
Shopping malls often have sales, usually twice a year in March and September. These are well-advertised sales, so you are bound to notice them. The smaller clothes shops and boutiques generally have sales before the collections change.
Shopping mall etiquette
One thing to keep in mind is that in many malls in Saudi Arabia, women may have to first purchase the garment and then try it on in the restrooms, which have changing room sections. This is on account of the fact that most of the sales clerks are males. If the garment does not fit, you can return it. In the women’s only malls like ‘Ladies Kingdom’ at Riyadh’s Kingdom Centre Mall, the women are permitted to try on the clothes before buying. Since the last couple of years, the restrictions on single men entering malls have been relaxed. Shopping malls and markets are the only places where men and women can be seen together in public.
Independent shops are usually open from 9am to 1pm and 4.30pm to 7pm from Saturday to Thursday. The shopping malls are open from 8am to 12am from Saturday to Thursday and on Fridays, from 1pm to 12am. Some of the shops in the shopping centers and malls may close between 1pm to 4.30pm. The souqs also keep similar timings.
All shops, even those in malls, close for prayer five times a day. Customers may be allowed to keep browsing inside the shop if there is not enough time to leave, but they are not able to make any purchases. During the month of Ramadan, the shops remain closed during the entire day and only open in the evenings, from 8pm to 1am.
Bargaining and haggling is a common practice at souqs and local markets. But shopping malls and supermarkets sell their goods at fixed prices.