Close your eyes, think of Saudi Arabia and what do you see? If you see oil, the scorching sun, plenty of sand, and people in traditional clothing, you got it right. People living in Jeddah and other Saudi Arabian cities wear traditional clothes and are very disciplined. When visiting, it is important that you know exactly what to wear in Jeddah.
When in Jeddah or any other city in the kingdom, you will feel more at ease, welcomed and appreciated if you dress as the locals dress. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a beautiful and wealthy country. To enjoy all that Jeddah has to offer, respecting the local culture and dress codes is a small price to pay. In the first, it is just right to respect the local culture wherever you go.
Minding the dress code is more important for women. Local women always wear an abaya. They never (ever) leave home without it. An abaya is that black cloak that women wear over their clothes. It is a loose robe-like over-garment that covers the entire body except for the eyes, feet and hands. Some women even decide to cover their hands with black gloves. It seems and looks very inconvenient but this is what they like to wear. Now, are women tourists required to do so as well?
Luckily, Jeddah is much less strict than most parts of the kingdom. The capital city of Riyadh is much more stern. People in Jeddah will not frown at foreign women not wearing an abaya. More importantly, the mutawa or religious police will also not mind as long as foreign women keep their hair covered. A scarf or any other piece of clothing will do. But if you do decide to put on an abaya, you can wear anything underneath if that makes you more comfortable.
There are a few other things that women are not allowed to do. Women should not drive or hug and kiss anyone in public. In Saudi Arabia, it is prohibited to show the sole of your feet, wear anything that has a cross or any religious symbol, or bring in pictures, magazines or movies that show scantily dressed women, although you will see women in sexy bikinis swimming in Jeddah beaches.
The mutawa are dressed in brown gowns. It is typical to see them carry a stick, which they will use to tap the ground to get your attention whenever you are not dressed properly or have done something inappropriate.
For the men, avoid wearing shorts above the knee unless you are going for a swim. It is also unlikely for men to wear jewelry since this is considered very feminine and therefore inappropriate. Islam also prohibits men from wearing gold or silk, and you should also avoid wearing such when in Saudi Arabia even if you are not Muslim.
Knowing exactly what to wear in Jeddah may seem as though life in this Arabian metropolis is very complicated and grim. Not at all. Jeddah has a lot to offer in the world of tourism; it is the most foreigner-friendly city in Saudi Arabia, so if you wish to experience the kingdom, Jeddah is the right place to be. Think of the prohibitions in clothing simply as a way to discover a new culture or learn a way of life from someone else’s perspective.