Saudi Arabia: lingerie shops to have female staff


A Saudi woman gets out of a car after being given a ride by her driver in Riyadh on May 26, 2011.


Fayez Nureldine

After years of protests over uncomfortable lingerie-shopping experiences, Saudi Arabia announced this week it will allow women to work in lingerie stores.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud ordered that government officials put in place measures that will enable lingerie businesses to hire women within the month, reports Arab News.

With this new decree, it will be the men who are not allowed to work in these shops, AFP reports.

Strict laws in Saudi Arabia aim to segregate unrelated men from women, resulting in a prohibition on men and women working together in lingerie shops. As a result, women -- covered in abayas and headscarves -- have had to chat with men -- who were normally unaccustomed to interacting with unrelated women -- about their bra sizes and panty preferences.

In this TIME blog, Aryn Baker explains what it has been like shopping in lingerie stores in Saudi Arabia:

"Majid wants to show me a negligee. It's on sale, and comes with a racy black and red striped thong. When I demur, he eagerly shows me a frilly lace concoction in yellow and tells me that it matches a bra that is also on sale. Quickly he jets a look at my figure, enveloped in a voluminous black abaya and ventures a guess. 'D cup?' He asks, and without waiting for an answer, trots over to a rack where bras and matching panties line the wall in a rainbow array of lace, satin and cleavage-enhancing padding. The push-up bras are especially popular, he informs me."

This appears to be changing with the new order by the King, who has been attempting to introduce more liberal reforms since he inherited the throne in 2005.

PRI's The World interviews Saudi investment analyst and women’s rights advocate Reem Asaad who lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and has spent years working to bring attention to the lingerie issue. 

The decree is also an effort to reduce female unemployment in the country.

However, Baker also points out that tensions between the royal family and religions conservatives in Saudi Arabia may prevent the new ruling from being implemented.