Can I Wear a Long Coat instead of a Black Abaya in Saudi Arabia?

In Saudi Arabia the culture and traditions mandate that a woman cover herself from her neck to her toes in a long flowing robe-like garment called an abaya.  Due to the cultural traditions this garment has been a long flowing opaque black garment.  The primary purpose of the abaya is for the woman to have her body covered and present an appearance of modesty.  .  However over recent years changes are gradually coming to the abayas.  Instead of the solitary black one is starting to see more colors interspersed on the design of the abaya.  These colors can be differing swatches of fabric or in the form of sequins or trimming.  The colorful patches may be on the sleeves, the collar, down the front or even down the back or along the hem.  The most recent style which I am aware of and being sported in Jeddah (I’ve not seen this in Riyadh at all yet) is what I will call the “open abaya.”  This is a black abaya but rather than snapping or buttoning down the front, it is left open.  And the inside of the abaya is lined with contrasting fabric which could be anything from a leopard print pattern to a solid color such as red.  The sleeves of the abaya are usually trimmed with this contrasting fabric as well.  A woman could close the abaya with a belt if she chose but many Jeddahites are actually wearing them open just as they were designed allowing what they are wearing underneath to be easily seen.  So in my view, this is an indication of changes being taken in regards to the culture and traditions on wearing of the abaya.


A question I commonly receive by female visitors or newcomers to Saudi Arabia is whether she can wear a long coat instead of a black abaya in Saudi Arabia.  To date, one does not see woman going out wearing either a long coat or an abaya in different colors than black.  So my advise is if a long coat is loose, covers from the neck to the toes and is a dark color (black or grey) then I don’t believe a woman would have a problem.  There would likely be less scrutiny on how an abaya or a long coat is worn in open Jeddah but Riyadh is a much more conservative environment and where the muttawa take intense pleasure in finding woman who do not meet their criteria of piousness and modesty.


For some of my earlier posts about abayas and styles, please see:

22 Responses

  1. I think an abaya is more lightweight than a coat. There are some pretty stylish abayas out there for people who don’t want to wear it for religious reasons. I think a long trench like coat in Saudi would be too hot.

  2. I agree with UmmAdam that the long coat would be too hot to wear in Saudi.

    Carol, does this mean that the women from like Syria and Jordan, who normally wear the coat-like-looking Jilbab wear the abaya in Saudi because it is more of a custom to wear the black abaya? Here in the UAE, even though it is very hot here the women from the Sham area wear these kinds of Jilbabs.

  3. We get all styles in Khobar but that lined open one has yet to reach us. I did check out a Bahrani womans lined one with such a fabulous bright fabric and trims and sequins on the outside. WOW stunningly beautiful and I’m going to find the woman who is doing them here.

    Abyas don’t bother me much and I generally don’t wear them outside of Saudi or Bahrain. And who could ask for more when you need to make a quick run outside and your in your pjs.. throw the abya on and no one knows 🙂

  4. Personally I hated wearing the abaya…always felt cumbersome and wrapped up. Was either tripping on it or trying to not get it caught in the car door or whatever…hated it….but I do think they can be beautiful with some of the more intricate designs I see now days here in Bahrain.

    As far as the muttawa or whomever absolutely believes the only way a woman can be modest is to wear the abaya…I would dearly love for them to offer to wear it one day in the full heat of summer…of course with the “must have” hijab wrapped round the head…then see if a little mercy has a chance to crack that hard heart of theirs…Im just saying….who decided black was THE color of modesty?

  5. what about “ghotra, shomagh” that men wear in the KSA? They are veiled too 🙂 what about “mishlah/besht” 🙂 just rambling 🙂 any inputs?

  6. I have a long coat that I wear in the cooler months as it can get pretty nippy here in Riyadh! I have also gone against the grain a few times and have been out in beige or navy abaya and have never been challenged despite walking right past the mutawwa.

    The beige abaya I bought at Dira souq near the Grand Mosque and the navy one in Beddon Essm so they are both from Saudi!

  7. By the way, a few months ago I saw a variety of coloured abayas in Beddon Essm; they were all plain and in navy, purple, light blue and lilac!

  8. “ghotra, shomagh”?

    when I was asked in the states about both, and what they were good for. I would answer with “what is a Tie for?”

    that usually ends the conversation right there.

    I think “arabya”s are a cultural thing as well as religious. The two are mixed, even by us. the religious part tells the women to cover, regardless of what fabric. The culture part tells them to use the Solid Black Abaya, with no decorations.

    I think women that wear those new abayas (the ones that dont close up front) are wearing it for the cultural conformity (wearing what’s in style is conformity), and not for religious reasons. Its not my place to judge, but shouldn’t symbols of modesty, stay a symbol of modesty? Just wondering, I don’t necessarily agree.

    thobe and shma3′ are also getting a face lift.”Lomar” thobes are getting more popular. I have also read an article about a fashion show in the red sea mall, in jeddah, that will be happening tonight I think. the show will also focus on Black men’s wear, which a contrast from the dominant white.

    change vs tradition. eternal struggle seems like.

  9. You do see more dark men’s wear in winter though don’t you Abdullah? Men tend to wear their white thobes in summer and in winter they switch to black, grey, brown…

  10. “I think women that wear those new abayas (the ones that dont close up front) are wearing it for the cultural conformity (wearing what’s in style is conformity), and not for religious reasons. Its not my place to judge, but shouldn’t symbols of modesty, stay a symbol of modesty?”

    I would have to disagree with your assessment. I think that in a way stylistic conformity can also be equated with modesty to a certain extent. Who gets stared at more… one who doesn’t conform to stylistic standards or one who does? If a woman walks around in jeans and a long, loose tunic with hijab in KSA, she will technically be very modest but at the same time not very modest because she is not conforming to culture, ie: every one around her is wearing an abaya so there will be lots of stares, comments, etc

    A woman walking around in a black abaya ala khaleeji style in the US will be very religiously modest but not really due to her lack of stylistic conformity, hence all the staring, comments, etc (which is kind of an undesired effect if your goal is modesty).

  11. Tulip, lol! my post today is about how wearing abaya in the west will make you stand out in public!

    I think some abayas would make excellent summercoats, or even opera coats if you get a decorated one 😀

  12. I would like to let you all know that American Bedu is not ignoring any of your comments. She’s just having an internet withdrawal at the moment, and it is expected to last till Saturday, November 1. Since most of her posts are written in advance, she’s asked a friend to upload them for her.
    For updated information on American Bedu, you can check the following:

  13. When I tell people I’m moving to Saudi Arabia, the 2nd question (after what are you going to do over there?) is, “do you have to cover up”? And, then I give them the spiel, “not when I’m on the compound, but once I leave I have to wear the Abaya, but not cover my hair”.

    I will be residing in the Eastern Province, which I hear isn’t as strict as Riyadh, however, I will wear the abaya, and carry a scarf just in case…but I will tell you…when I started shopping for one online…I felt “weird”. That is the only way to describe it; it was both a feeling of, “this won’t be so bad” and “a feeling of oppression”. I don’t know how I will feel when I actually put it on; I suspect I will feel a slight resentment that I should have to wear it at all. But, I do believe in “when in Rome”. And I also…I don’t want any problems…because my mouth may get me in trouble.

    Tradition refers to the adherence to practices handed down from generations past. People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things (T.S. Elliott).

    Have a Great Day!!

  14. You beat me to it Nader – I was thinking of writing such a comment in all the new blog posts so everyone would know Carol is not actually checking her blog right now!

  15. I know I’m making comparisons but i think that Iran is more relaxed when it comes to fashion despite news articles about their morality police telling women off for their “indecency”.

    What I noticed that Iranian women are slowly starting not to wear black chadors and it will be time before Saudi women start wearing something that’s modest yet fashionable.

    But like what Carol and Umm Adam said, Riyadh is morally conservative and that wearing coats/trench coats (how fashionable! :P) is not really appropriate for Riyadh’s weather.

  16. Firdaus, if someone wears an abaya for any other reason than to obey Allah’s command – then they can be as fashionable as they want. But as for the believing women then they should not cover their adornments in an adorning garment. it defeats the purpose.

  17. I am enjoying all the comments and the points of views.

    I do not see many women in Riyadh wearing anything but the black abaya in Riyadh.

    Yeah…when I’ve complained about the abaya and the coverings my husband would say the same thing… “look at me…I’m wearing underwear, t-shirt, long pants, long thobe plus a head cover too.”

    The cultural traditions are very ingrained here and I think it will take a while before women feel truly comfortable wearing new and different abaya styles. Although that being said, I am pleased to say everytime I have gone out now in my new Aafke “Frou Frou Fashions” abaya I ALWAYS receive compliments and am asked where did I get my abaya…from both unknown expat and Saudi women!

    I also in the colder winter months will either wear a jacket over my abaya or will wear my farwa instead. For those who do not know what a farwa is, do a search on my blog and you’ll find an earlier post all about the farwa!

  18. There’s a story to the ”frou-frou-fashion” label!

  19. please do tell!!!!

  20. yes u have to wear but belive me ,at soon u wont mind wearing feels really secure,i used to hate it and in karachi most of times i was in western clothes but now i m changed person.and btw now even fancy abaya is banned in riyadh:p and for more infi abt riyadh u may contact me through email”)

  21. welcome nono and thanks for your comment. While one may read or hear about fancy abayas being banned in Riyadh all one has to do is go to any shopping mall or grocery store and see that is not the case! I continue to see many exquisite, fancy and colorful abayas on women – both Saudi and expat.

  22. […] conservative Riyadh.  Although in Jeddah there are women making a fashion statement in wearing a style of abaya which is open in the front and exposes the outfit […]

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