Saudi Arabia Culture Facts on Traditional Clothing

Gary Greer 4/9/2020
Arab Culture

Being the largest country in the Middle East, it almost goes without saying that Saudi Arabia has a diverse climate and geography. This diversity, along with the kingdom’s official religion of Islam, has had a great influence on many aspects of its culture. This includes its traditional clothing. Indeed, the national dress of Saudi Arabia’s people conforms to Islamic standards, local traditions, and climatic conditions. It is for this reason that Saudis still choose traditional clothing, and not the Western style of attire, until today. Saudi people are conservative in their choice of clothing, their family relationships, their religion and way of life in general. So, with all of this in mind, let’s take a look at Saudi traditional clothing.

Traditional Dress for Male Saudis

The traditional Saudi man wears an ankle-long shirt called a thawb, a long cloak called bisht, all topped off with a three-part headdress.

A thawb or thobe is a long, loose, white shirt with long sleeves. Cotton is the fabric of choice, especially during summer. In winter, they usually wear more colorful and heavier thawbs from wool.

Men also wear a cloak made of camel hair or wool called a bisht over the thawb. In the older days, people wear it as it doubled as a blanket, especially when traveling. Today you mostly see it at ceremonies and festive occasions.

Saudi headgear covers the head to ward off the hot sun. It consists of 3 parts: a white skullcap (kufiyyah), a large square of cotton (ghutra) and a stiff, braided, circular cord used to hold all of the parts in (igal).

Traditional Dress for Female Saudis

Saudi women always cover their body. Some leave only their face and wrists uncovered. Others leave only her eyes and wrists visible. They accomplish this by wearing a long dress, an outer cloak called an abaya, and a headscarf called a shayla.  

The abaya that women wear is always black and usually made from silk or any other synthetic material. It is worn over either a traditional or a modern style with the traditional dress usually made of a bright fabric and embellished with coins, sequins, patterns and other decorative elements. Contrary to popular belief Saudi women do often wear Western style dresses of various designs; however, they must wear an abaya over the top of it when they go out of their homes.

Saudi women also wear shayla – a scarf that covers their head and hair, and sometimes even their faces. You may see some women also wear black, light veils called boshiya to cover their faces and eyes. This stems from an old tradition when women wore veils millennia ago to protect their eyes and skin from the hot sun and sand of Arabia. It was not until later, during the Islamic era, that it became a symbol of modesty and chastity.

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