Saudi Arabia in vintage photo’s

One of the readers asked about showing old pictures of Saudi Arabia, so here are some vintage photos.
Now it is very easy to find old photos of Mecca, of the ”picture postcard” type, but I choose to show some images of people. These sets of photos show the human face of Saudi Arabia, Saudis are normal people just like everybody else. They have families, cook dinner, go on outings.
These photos are from before the social engineering project to force all women to wear abayas, so you see women in the 50s and 60’s wore a large variety of clothes in public, from full traditional covering to Western fashions.



A Saudi family in the 50’s.

old jeddah 50s

A Saudi feast!

old jeaddah 50's2

Saudi women  enjoying the seaside in Jeddah. This photo is also from the 50’s or 60’s.

Old jeddah 2

Saudi couple on an outing in the desert.


A garden in Jeddah

old jeddah 3

Saudi family in traditional dress in the 1930’s

old saudi family 1930s

When oil production really took off there was a large influx of expat families, Here you see women and children from Aramco visiting king Ibn Saud.

1947 Aramco Brats Visit King Ibn Saud

Old colour photograph, from the 70’s?

old 1




60 Responses

  1. When did the abaya/shayla/niqab thing start? Here in Oman it was about 15 years ago, as far as I know. But it came from Saudi and UAE. Maybe it was a fashion the Omanis copied but now it’s ingrained, especially here in Salalah.

  2. Wonderful pictures!

  3. Yes it’s interesting to see that abayas are such a recent thing. When I first came to Saudi in 1986, although the local women were wearing them I wasn’t expected to. It was only after the Gulf War of 1990 that pressure was put on us westerners to wear an abaya and cover our heads.

  4. Thank u for posting these. A totally different perspective to our usual view of Saudis:)

  5. These are wonderful. How similar those pics are to some from the west in the same time period.

  6. I like the warmth and happiness most of these photos exude :)

    And why is it that the traditional dress of the 30’s looks so much better than the traditional dress now?

  7. katcanfield, on May 17, 2013 at 8:41 am said: How similar those pics are to some from the west in the same time period.

    Here we go again … and again … and yet again …

  8. Moe, and your point is? The culture diverged to a different direction than it did here. That doesn’t make one better than another. I wish it had not gone to covering women in a black sack, but the modest dress is very refreshing. We used to dress like that here. I prefer modesty in clothing choices. But I also believe in individual choice. If that wasn’t where you were going, I apologize.

  9. I really love 50’s clothes, so elegant and feminine. A lot of fashions today are so ugly and un-elegant. And not attractive.

    I think though that choice is important. People should be free to wear what they like. It is a pity there are places where (especially women) are not allowed to wear what they like, or even what is temperature appropriate or practical. And we definitely should fight that and not allow anybody to tell anybody what to wear.

    I especially don’t think that men should be allowed to tell women what to wear. if they don’t like it they can look away.

  10. That is the way my husband remembers it from his childhood. He said his mom was always in the latest fashions and there was no segregation. He is so sad to see how it has changed and even though his brothers wanted him to return to Saudi to live he maintains he could never live in that culture. It makes him very sad.

  11. The people in these photos look so normal compared to what I see today.

  12. I love those Saudi photos. It is soooo similar to the ones we see from other parts of the world around the same time.

    But I can’t escape this question…if women are supposed to cover so completely to be pious and it is declared by the Quran as many argue it is why were those women back then not covering themselves so completely and did they feel they were not “muslim enough?” If the Quran hasn’t changed, why have the people? When I see photo like this it feels very clear to me that the complete covering and the attendant pressure that goes with it is a societal affectation rather than a religious one. Those people were as muslim in their hearts and minds as the ones today. Evidently they did not feel it absolutely a must..who really started the “cover completely” thing? Why was it deemed wrong not to cover? And why only women? I find these questions interesting.

  13. oby…because when extremists come to power the first thing they do is restrict the rights of women (including their ability to move about in the public sphere) and expand the rights of men (allowing for abuse in the name of god etc.)

    btw…I’m still waiting for that “question” you wanted to ask me as you mentioned on my blog.:)

  14. but it still does not prove that saudi’s particularly conservative areas liek Makkah or Madinah locals were not using abayas

  15. OBEY said : “who really started the “cover completely” thing?”

    Here is how’s it began

  16. Thank you so much for these pictures! I really appreciate this sharing.

    I showed this article to my (saudi) husband. It was really hard for him to believe (hum correction “it’s still”) that these people ARE saudi. He told me they must be living in KSA, even born there, but with a different background.

    In clear, not Saudi people or too recently part of the kingdom to be adapted. So still using the previous usages.

    Could you please make this point clear ?
    If I am asking this, it’s because I think it would be really interesting for my husband to realize that his people weren’t dressing like nowadays in the past. To realize the political side of this …

    Last point, I am dressing with abaya (or large clothes, western style. Even sport clothes when I am training but in a modest way) and hijab outside my home. I do prefer modesty for myself but totally believe in individual choices as well (as Katcanfield … Hey this is second time I quote you by the way? )

    So what I want to put on lights here, it’s the obligation on wearing full abaya/hijab/niqab now while it wasn’t the case before.

    Islam is all about intention. Quran said : “there is no compulsion on Islam” which means that you CANNOT oblige someone on religion. Whatever reason. Because if this person is obliged, not sincerely believing that she/he doing that for God, so what’s the point ? She/he will do this for nothing. Pointless. And the person who oblige will be punish for sure !

    Thanks again for this sharing. It makes my day?

  17. I agree that it is pointless to force people into any kind of behavior, the only thing which really matters is your personal intention. Islam has a word for this: niyah. To be forced into something means nothing, it only makes people used to behaving in a hypocritical manner, and it makes a society sick from the inside.

  18. Nadjoua…

    I think you have really brought up a very good point(if I am understanding you correctly). You are saying that people can’t be forced to do something. I would agree with your point. That is why I was saying why the change? The Quran has not changed…it is people’s interpretation of it that has. People in Saudi even if they wanted to, cannot go out uncovered because not only will they be facing ridicule for doing it, they are also going to be accused of not being religious enough and there is the fact that they must cover when outside. It would be scandalous. Many Saudi women when they come to other parts of the world where the abaya is not required take them off and wear normal (albeit modest I am sure) clothing. So to your point…if they are doing it for god they should wear it all the time not just when required. That to me brings up another point that bothers me a bit for the women. Wearing lots of coverings often is a way of saying that they are more pious…what about the women who are just as devoted to god but do not wear all the coverings? There is a sort of “silent” implication that those who cover more are “closer to god”. I think that is not right. As we see women back then were able to dress modestly and still be solid in their faith.

  19. nice photos

  20. Lovely pictures! I would love to see more (if other people have some – and I’m sure they do, it would be nice to post them before this history is actually lost).

  21. I have also seen family photos of that time but I was thinking they might have just been taken in private areas even though my husband told me that ‘western dress’ was the norm.

    People were forced to cover through intimidation, fear of physical injury and death, to protect family, through brainwashing. I suspect that all of those things were put into play in KSA and other Islamic countries that have such strict and ridiculous dress codes. Very sad.

  22. I second efirefly and maybe Wendy can contribute more on the subject via her husband. Highly interesting.

  23. Wendy, covering up (for women) was forced upon the Saudi population, by literal force and re-interpretation of religion. I saw a Belgian documentary once, they were in a village in Saudi Arabia, and in the museum there they saw paintings of women wearing the real traditional dress of the area, and they had little caps on their heads, no head scarfs. They talked to a middle aged man and he said that when he was young men from Riyad came to his village and they forced the women to wear abayas and headscarfs. Which is a great hardship for the women as they still have to go out and work in the fields, but now bothered by black cloth.

    To me this covering of women in black cloth prisons is really more a luxury urban thing. For women who hardly go out, and only from an airconditioned building into an airconditioned car.

    And of course it was a luxury affectation to start with. This complete veiling thing was only for elite Jewish women in the time of the prophet. Common women and slaves were not allowed to veil. Bedouin women did not veil. Mohammeds collection of women did not veil, except the Jewish ones. The Muslims later on just imitated the Jewish elite women.
    Probably to look as if they were elite too.
    And by now all women are forced into wearing black bags. And this unhealthy bizarre neurotic elitist behavior is spreading like an evil virus, piggy-backing on the back of religion… Here you can see how strangely the world can turn.

  24. AA:

    Do you have a link to the Belgian documentary?

  25. AA, didn’t I say that? Was it my use of the word ‘suspect’? I should have left that out then.

    Bigstick, what further info do you want? My husband left KSA as a teen and women were still being allowed to dress as they wished and segregation wasn’t enforced as it is today. When we were going for a visit a couple of years ago it was his first time back in many, many years. I did a lot of research and told him what it was going to be like. He couldn’t envision it and didn’t really believe me … until we got there. I was not in shock but he was – big time! He didn’t think it was going to be as severe as it is. Mostly it was the segregation that got him followed closely by the covering and especially the niqab.

  26. Does he have pictures of the locals when he was a child of the area that shows a more interactive non-segregated and less uniformed religious garb setting? You don’t have to provide family photos but just snapshots of the public areas.

    Thanks for the additional on the trip to Saudi very interesting.

  27. No he doesn’t. His dad has all the family pictures sadly. Maybe we can get some on our next trip to see the family.

  28. Sorry to hear that. Photos of places, times and people can be very comforting and still be able to relay great information about the society.

    I hope he can obtain his family photos on his next visit as they are treasures to be shared within your family.

  29. Wendy, I was agreeing with your comment. I like you comments.
    I would like to see your husband’s family pictures, I love old pictures, but {Bigstick) I do think there is a big difference in sharing your pictures with friends and putting them out on a huge site on the internet. So having them here is probably not going to happen.

  30. AA:

    I think Wendy and her husband could make that choice and even direct me to a place even Facebook; if chose she could have also inform me if she didn’t want them viewed on the photos of public places.

    However I know it galls you if you aka also known as the moderator can’t take snipes shot and taint everything I do with your flare of hostility and usual nastiness.

  31. I will not be posting pictures here. I do not have a facebook account and it’s doubtful I’ll ever have one … and … if I did have one it would be private. The pictures posted on this blog already clearly show how people dressed at home and on the street and I’ve verified that fact with my husband so I guess people can either believe or not believe them.

  32. Wendy:

    The comment was not directed at you. I think I was polite enough toward you and you provided a nice explanation.

    Thanks again.

    I directed the comment to AA because I am sick of her little tacky tactics whether as a moderator or under the AA banner.

  33. Okay then.:)

  34. Oooh, Bigstick… Are you upset? Poor Bigstick I did not know you were so sensitive. And I really do not know what I have said to make you throw a tantrum. Have a candy and stop crying.

  35. You do know and you taint what would be nice exchanges often. It gets old.

  36. And yes, I am one of the moderators. Please keep on topic and keep off the personal attacks and insults to me or any other commentator, otherwise you will be put into moderation, either by me or one of the other moderators.

  37. Well didn’t Mohammed marry a Roman Catholic nun? They dress just like nuns used to. This is just a way to control the people. It is not for any kind of religion at all. The religion is made up by the Romans in the first place to control the Arabs. the people allowed themselves to be controlled in this aspect and their life they have today is because they were not strong enough to fight against it. They have police that walk around or drive around to make sure every one looks the way they are supposed to look. I simply cannot imagine living in such a society. Why do women always have to be the prisoner of the man and stuck in the house? Just doesn’t make sense and I am sure glad there are strong Saudi women who are fighting for the rights of women.

  38. @Wendy: Saudi women, or others women with hijab/habaya/even niqab dress as they want at home. They are not catholic nuns who dress like that all the time. The purpose here is to be modest in front of men who are not from your siblings. So at home you are free to be like you wish.

    I think you surely know that. I just want to insist on that because of your sentence : “The pictures posted on this blog already clearly show how people dressed at home and on the street”. I think it wasn’t maybe clear enough for others people who are not used to muslim dressing code. So please don’t take it badly.

  39. @Bigstick1,

    I have reviewed the comments and the beginning of how this thread of attacks started. The comments were friendly until you decided to get insulted for no apparent reason.

    Your latest comment has been removed, since you do not have the discipline to stop on your own.

    Attacking moderators for moderating the blog will not be allowed. Making it into personal insults is also not allowed.

    Let’s focus on helping Carol in her time of need instead.

    This is moderator #2.

  40. Am I still in moderation?

    Yes, until you start respecting the role of moderators and stop the arguing against their rulings.

    It is not a debate…

    Moderator #2

  41. Nadjoua, I am very familiar with current day Saudi Arabia and how people dress at home. I have Saudi nationals as in-laws who I stay with in Saudi. I wasn’t taking anything badly except that I may have misinterpreted Bigstick’s comment that I should post family pictures. Sorry if you felt that way.

  42. Interesting how Bigstick gets moderated ……

    Moderating is not open for debate and argument. No one is claiming perfect justice in every situation. Nor that moderators are available 24X7 to solve issues. You had this same argument for a year now. Time to give it a rest.

    Moderator #2

  43. You know there might be an upside to moderation I could tell you off repeatedly without going into moderation. Point out all the issues with your responses to other people call foul repeatedly. Find new ways of telling you off.,……. yes this could turn out to be some much Fun. ?

    Yes this could shape up to becoming a great sport.

    I am letting this one comment through so you get this message:

    1) I put you into moderation not AA
    2) Your 50+ messages about moderation, making threats and name calling is spamming and trolling.
    3) It is a very simple thing to just send all your messages from now on to spam automatically. We have been kind to you and review your comments and let them out of moderation, if they do not contain arguments against moderators.

    You have a choice
    A) Quit with the flood of whining childish messages.
    B) Have all your comments go straight to spam and never looked at even for moderation. It will certainly be easier for us to just ignore everything you write.

    Your choice. The next time you write 1 word about moderation it will be taken as you choosing option B.

    Moderator #2

  44. So still in moderation or not.

    Yes, you will remain in moderation and only comments that abide by the blog rules will be released. You have showed lack of self control by continually arguing against moderators (50+ messages), some are full of insults and threats. The choice you are given is not to be put in spam permanently. i.e. if you choose option B, none of your comments will be looked at for release, because you’re spamming with so many messages we will not even take the time to read them. I hope I have been clear. This will be my last comment to you on the topic. I think we have been patient with you. Now you need to make an adult choice.

    Note also you are not being censored. You have already used your right of free speech to post about this in other blogs.

    Moderator #2

    Update, I was very clear with you on your options. You choose option B in your last comment that is in spam now. Good by Bigstick1.

  45. You are mistaken…it has been much longer than a year. I left this blog for nearly a year due to its poor moderating…no problem to do so again. Funny enough a blog needs its readers and commenters…not the other way around.?

  46. Please stay on topic. The topic is vintage pictures from Saudi Arabia.
    The best way to support the blog and give Carol pleasure is to have interesting conversations and comments and to keep off personal attacks and ancient grudges.

    Moderator #1

  47. @Wendy. Do not worry Wendy, it’s all fine. I was sure you was aware about that:) regarding your husband and in-laws family.
    As I said, I just wanted to insist on that point because I believe some people do not know about it and will be maybe thinking women cannot dress as they wish at home. So I wanted to make it clear just in case. But my remark wasn’t to correct you, just to add a remark.
    Thanks for your answer Wendy

  48. Nadjoua, you are right. People should know that at home anything goes. People dress just like everyone else. Jeans, t-shirts, nice shorts, fancy or casual.

  49. I am saddened how such a nice post can grow so negative quickly, and how a moderator can behave just as badly. A ‘tit for tat’ so to speak. I do agree with bigstick…for once. Anyway, how can this behavour be allowed on Carol’s blog? Considering the battle she is in now with her health, I think that people should really check their attitude and how they respond. Sad…really, really sad. I am sure this will now go into moderation and stay there, but if it does, please take this advice…Exit yourself from negative interations, do not feed into them. If you can not, then maybe do not tarnish the reputation of this blog and exit yourself as a moderator. My heart is very heavy now as I have been a visitor of this blog now for years. I truly hope with all of my heart that Carol will recover, she will be missed very much.

  50. @Stephanie,

    – It was not Bigstick1 that suggested we focus on Carol’s situation. That was actually me the moderator.
    – Bigstick1 was not moderated because of opinions. He was moderated because he would not accept directions from moderators. He started flooding the site with over 50 comments with arguments and under different id’s. Some of of these messages were long copy and paste text from the site with only one purpose, to spam the site. Some even resorted to name calling.
    – Through all of this we read his posts and let his reasonable comments through. However, he would not stop the behavior even when given multiple warnings.
    – Bigstick1 also has his own blog. He can argue his case there if he wishes to.

    I hope you understand that moderating is a simple process. Moderators give instructions to move conversation to a positive space. Commentators should do their part in accepting the direction gracefully and move on to better discussions.

    Moderator #2

  51. Interesting article and images. The entire middle east region was experiencing a progressive attitude towards women liberation, until the 80’s.
    – In Iran women worked in all fields and could dress in anyway they chose. Contrast that with today where they have to cover or get harassed by religious police.
    – Kuwait was very progressive with performing art movements and women were dropping traditional covering for more modern style dress.
    – In Egypt Hijabi’s were a small minority in the big cities. Nigabis were almost not seen unless they were Saudi tourists. Contrast that with today, where the majority are covering and Nigabis are very common. A woman not wearing Hijab today will experience sexual harassment comments and even physical groping, just by walking the street.
    – Saudi was rapidly progressing to a more casual attitude about women liberation, similar to Kuwait. Especially in progressive cities like Jeddah, Dammam and Khobar.

    The 80’s brought the Mulah’s of Iran to power and the Sahwah Islamiah (Islamic resurgent) movements in the Arabic world. The result is a backward trend in women liberation issues.

  52. @nassima, Nice video.

  53. It was an interesting video. We all need to fight against corrupted power… both men and women.

  54. These are better than many of the old photos I had found over the years. Those were mostly showing local dress and not western clothing. Still, I had never heard the term “social engineering” applied before. I had falsely assumed there was a more gradual change.
    I would love to find some primary source material about this change and if it was heavy handed or just strongly suggested.

  55. My husband who is Saudi always told me how much less restrictive life was while he was growing up. He is sad, too, about all the restrictions imposed now. He likes how everything was much more relaxed.

  56. I was born in Mecca in 1978 in a time where the “Islamic” rules or as they call it was growing rapidly. We went into a storm or extremism in the city of Mecca and Jeddah imposed with Wahabi’s restricted religious teaching coming from the capital Riyadh where it is originated. Men and women were separated even within the same family. My mom stopped meeting my uncles as they said it is prohibited. The brother in law for a woman is like a ” death” as they used to teach. I was prevented from seeing my female cousin at age of 14 when my mom declared; she is becoming an adult lady and I wont be able to hang out with her or see her without the veil. It was like a news of her death to me!!

    I suffered a lot from religion and thanks god things improved recently when many families discovered that what had happened was a horror of the cold war when so many people were encouraged to support the religious war of Muslim Afghanistan against Russia ” or as they call it”. It seemed without saying it’s okay in those days to be a religious extremist. You are serving a purpose!!

    All of that was not there before the early 70s. The life was totally different. My grand mother was a very fashionable lady and not less elegant from those photos shown above. People were more free to be themselves. Families, friends and next door people were all in a more tolerant environment till some political events occurred which guided a move to create a strong only one ideology to defeat any expected political threats.

    It is a shame and deeply sad to know that our lives, believes and culture are manipulated for the sake of politics. We are not bad people as many westerners think. We have kind hearts, beautiful art and nice culture. It seems like one of those days!!

  57. Thanks for sharing your story! It is similar to what I’ve heard from my husband about how free things were at one time in Saudi. Hopefully those days will come again.

  58. Ali, no truer words. If more westerners would learn ‘why’ the events that have made some extremist like they are, perhaps we could stop persecuting the entire religion and people from that part of the world. You are a wonderful people with a wonderful history. Be proud. I hope some day it returns for you all.

  59. Reblogged this on Thoughts of Kat Canfield and commented:
    With the events of the world today, why would a writer try to combine two cultures when one culture contains extreme elements? I am a student of history, the history of the Saudi or Arab people is fascinating. I hoped Only Love Twice could help others bridge the gap to understanding wonderful people on both sides.

  60. I would think that there are tens of thousands of Saudis that wish it was still the way it was before the Country went religiously insane. I can’t really think it would be pleasurable to live in an Islamic theocracy.

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