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Saudi Arabia Changes Women's Dress Rules

Saudi's Crown Prince Changes the Rules For Women Again, and This Time, It Means Everything For Fashion

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In another bid of reformation on the women's rights front, Saudi's Crown Prince just axed a rule that previously forced women to wear a head covering and black abaya.

Now, Saudi women have the freedom to choose whether they want to wear the religious loose-fitting robe worn over clothes or a head covering. The progressive Prince sited the Quran as a reference, stating that Islamic laws were very clear in their stipulation that women wear decent and respectful clothing, just like their male counterpart.

This is huge news for the fashion retail industry in the country, where up until now a dress code was legally imposed on women when in public. Since 1932 when the Kingdom of Saudi was formed, women have had to wear abayas with head scarves – and that was the most daring you could be. Many wore – and may still continue to wear, a niqab (a head-to-toe black covering that only has openings for the eyes), or even a Burqa – (where even the opening for their eyes is tinted using a mesh covering), reports the Economist. It is only inside the privacy of their homes, their friend's homes or in female-only settings, they took off their conservative coverings.

But what's the fun in that?

Woman, being women, always find a way to push the limits. And in recent years in the less rigid Jeddah, women publicly wore colorful abayas which they left open to reveal the normal street clothes they wore underneath, usually conservative tops and long skirts or jeans and sexy shoes – because there has never been a law on shoes.

The retail industry in Saudi is huge – in fact, the country holds 70 percent of the Gulf's entire $170 billon retail sector, according the Saudi Gazette.

Fashion retail was another story – until recently. Because Saudi's – a cash cow market for retailers - had to abide by their country's strict dress code, fashion retailers were in a quandary as to how to tap into this huge market's needs, reported Think With Google. Add to that conservative, Hijab wearing Muslims looking for trendy –yet appropriate clothes. That was another huge market that was left unaddressed.

But then, finally, mainstream fashion learnt how to reach the Muslim market with the birth of Modest wear. In 2014, luxury brand DKNY launched a Ramadan collection of modest clothing. Dolce & Gabbana followed in 2016, although they restricted themselves to a line of abayas. Mango, the high street brand, also created a modest clothing line that year. Then in 2018 Nike took the reins and created their "pro hijab," headscarf created using high-tech fabrics for Muslim female athletes.

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And then the unthinkable happened at Milan Fashion Week (MFW) this past February. Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti, both big fashion houses, had hijab-wearing Somali-American model, Halima Aden (the same model that did some of Nike's Pro Hijab campaign) on their catwalk.

It was a major moment for all of us. One that sent the message that conservative outfits are not only classy, but also very fashionable.

We can't wait to see what Saudi women will be stepping out in shortly.

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