Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Women to Finally Sell Lingerie in Saudi-Arabia?

Scene from a lingerie store in Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia.
Woman enters shop fully covered in her black abaya.
An Arab male salesclerk approaches with a smile while closely eyeing her body up and down. "Hello ma'm can I help? You need push-up bra?"
-No thank you.
"We have new sexy panties you want to try ma'm?" 
-No thank you, please leave me alone.
Salesman follows her around store within close proximity of about 2 meters. Woman picks up a bra in her size. Salesman takes a long evaluating look at her breasts.
"We don't have your cup size ma'm. That is not your size."
-I think I know my size, thank you.
Woman tries to act as disinterested as possible to make him disappear.
The salesman doesn't take the hint and continues to follow her eagerly bringing a lacy push-up bra in bright purple color for her to see.
"This push-up bra is very excellent quality and we have your size ma'm". 
-No, no, no! And I don't like the color.
"What color you like?"
Woman ignores him and proceeds to cashier. There are no fitting rooms because they are banned, so she must buy the lingerie without trying them on.
"No return or exchange ma'm. Are you sure it's your size, we also have the panties in size XL."
Does my arse look that big in this abaya, the woman thinks to herself while also feeling utterly humiliated.
-This will be fine.
The woman leaves the store blushing and makes a note to self never to purchase underwear in Saudi-Arabia again. Unless it's in the ladies only section of Kingdom shopping mall.

When will this madness and humiliation end?

Soon, if we are to believe that the Kings ruling in June earlier this year to start employing women in Saudi-Arabia's lingerie stores will actually be implemented. According to this news article there have already been measures taken by some large lingerie chains for the switch-over to female staff. A store in the more relaxed city of Jeddah is rumored to have employed women.

Until very recently, women were banned from working in public places like grocery stores because of gender mixing issues. The women that began working at Saudi-Arabia's Panda food chain as cashiers created an uproar of protests from the public and religious authorities. Read about some of the reactions:http://blueabaya.blogspot.com/2010/08/boycott-fatwa-madness-by-supporting.html

Currently if women in the Kingdom wish to purchase the lingerie from saleswomen and have the option of actually trying the clothing on in fitting rooms, they need to go to the female-only sections of shopping malls. It will be interesting to see if the lingerie shops will install fitting rooms along with the change to female only staff. That just might be pushing the limit though.

Closed off from public view, ladies only clothing shops have fitting rooms inside. Will the lingerie shops also be concealed like this to hide the female workers? How will men buy lingerie anymore? Will there be a guard outside to prevent men from entering? Surely there are men out there who wish to buy lingerie as gifts for their wives.

The previous minister of Labour, Dr. Al Qusaibi, issued a law back in 2006 decreeing that only women were to be employed at lingerie shops. It was never implemented because of the strong resistance from religious clerics.

"Women are entrusted to us, we should not involve them in matters far from their nature," mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said. How far are female body parts from their nature?

A brave Saudi woman Reem Asaad has campaigned for a change to the awkward situation for many years. She reaches out for women to boycott the stores that are non-compliant to the law. She says: "The way that underwear is being sold in Saudi Arabia is simply not acceptable to any population living anywhere in the modern world" . Let alone in the worlds most conservative and private country Saudi-Arabia.

The current Labor Minister Adel Fakieh has given the lingerie stores a deadline of hiring all-female staff by the end of 2011. The law for women working at lingerie stores, make-up stores or other shops selling womens items has a long list of conditions including:

  • hired women must be Saudi
  • security must be provided
  • stores can be family section or women only
  • appropriate dress in either traditional abaya or uniforms that conform to hijab
  • employer must provide health coverage for female employee and all dependents
  • toilets must be provided
  • sectioning of female only areas for department stores

Men selling lingerie in Saudi-Arabia has always raised eyebrows and caused unease in both the women buying and the men selling them. Despite the King's ruling, the revised law and social pressure for change, not a single female employee has been seen in Saudi-Arabia's stores, yet.

Time will tell if this time around the Saudi society is ready to have females employed in lingerie stores.

The law issued in July 2011 for females to work at women's item shops: http://www.riyadhchamber.com/tamim/tjobweman.pdf
Read more on women working in Saudi grocery stores here: http://blueabaya.blogspot.com/2010/08/boycott-fatwa-madness-by-supporting.html
More on King Abdullah and his mission to improve the status of Saudi women:


Anonymous said...

I live near Jeddah and can confirm that this July there was a female working in the lingerie section of H&M in the Rea Sea Mall. I was really excited to see this. Men were allowed in the store, but there were still no fitting rooms.

Anonymous said...

this is very interesting I hate to shopping for bras yet alone with a guy's help now thats a nightmare! i'm very excited to hear that things are progressing. Inshallah all the best

Layla said...

Jen-that is great news!!Jeddah is always the pioneer. It sounds like they didn't do exactly what the law stipulated re the conditions, but nevertheless that is very exciting indeed :)

Ildi Vancsura said...

I hardly can imagine how to buy a bra with help of a man. How do they know what I would need?! And if they check breast of women is it legally allowed? Ohh that's crazy! On the top of everything else, aren't there any fitting rooms?

Layla, how could you get to used to it? You are a surviver! :)))

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Having lived in a number of foreign countries, I love learning about how expats adapt to new customs and ways of living. This post is fascinating.

What I don't understand in this lingerie buying situation is that Arab women apparently can "engage" with males in such an intimate way, in public no less. If a husband were present would he not object to a strange man perusing his wive's body and making judgments about size etc.?

I hope Saudi women will be allowed to work in lingerie stores soon!

Layla said...

Ildi-I guess they don't have a clue but they are still eager to sell and especially watch you..

Miss Footloose-welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting!
Usually the salesmen will leave the woman thats accompanied by a husband or brother alone. Its the lonely shoppers that get the most enthusiastic responses :D

Wahat Aljalabiya said...

Hi everyone!

Our company "Wahat Aljalabiya" sells lingerie and other fine women's dresses throughout its 60 stores in KSA. Although currently the employees are men, we are currently training women to replace them as soon as possible. We understand this is an important issue and hope to successfully make this transition with your support!

In the meantime, we invite you to visit our website "www.aljalabiya.com" to see our latest collections.

PS, we will also be launching a separate website soon specializing in lingerie so that shoppers can buy online and either pick-up in store or have home delivery.

Thanks again!

Chick Flick Journal said...


Houston Texas said...

I am glad they are doing something about this. I grew up in Saudi and we were foreigners. I was probably around 10 yrs old and went to this shop that sold clothes, bras and panties too. Just like your picture the bras were laid out on table and hung on the walls. I went to this shop with my mom and dad, I think my mom was buying herself a bra if I put 2 and 2 together I was too small to realize it, but all I know was this Saudi shopkeeper was eyeing my mom who was in Abaya and then smiling, making gestures etc while my parents weren't watching.

She bought some stuff and he put it in a black bag, he was smiling and my mom was still looking around other stuff, while he came behind me and pressed something behind me and kept rubbing it a bit. Now I think back and see the problem how happy he was and how he attempted to do this.

Men were already deprived there and now they start imagining things in this types of settings when women are buying bras and lingeries from them.