Saudi Arabia is a young country that is heir to a rich history. In its western highlands, along the Red Sea, lies the Hejaz, which is the cradle of Islam and the site of that religion’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. To the east, along the Persian Gulf, are the country’s abundant oil fields that, since the 1960s, have made Saudi Arabia synonymous with petroleum wealth.

Riyadh, capital city, receives more than 16 million tourists each year, making it the 2nd most visited city in the Arab world. The spectacular sight of Riyadh from the air, illuminated in the evening by city lights, is reminiscent of its eponymous meadows; a bright sea of lights dot the desert as if fluorescent flower gardens have suddenly blossomed among its dark contours.


The story of Arabian costume is an ancient one from earliest times fine cloth and beautiful adornments have been woven into the fabric of Arabian tradition.  First there was the harsh reality of the desert climate, hot and – except in the humid coastal regions – extremely dry. Clothing had to protect its wearer from the sun and wind, and cool breezes while conserving body moisture. On a different plane, there was the cultural and religious decree in behaviour and dress. These factors resulted in clothing of practicality, simplicity and natural grace in everyday wear and incorporated the same in occasionally spectacular detailing on ceremonial and holiday garments.

The item of traditional clothing was designed taking into consideration, the unabated desert and sun. Folds and layering were both for insulation and to retain body moisture. The head was always covered, and headcloths were held in place by a practical circlet made of either cloth, leather, fibre or metal, and sometimes a combination of these. Both men and women drew the headcloth about the face to exclude dust and blowing sand and to shade the eyes from glare.


Bedouins are the Arabs and desert nomads who, lived across the Middle East and North Africa. They would move their flocks to seasonal grazing locations. Sadu, the traditional form of weaving performed by Bedouin women. Illiterate women who managed to create a practical and beautiful art form using only their imagination and the few resources at hand. The weaving is usually done by women on a ground loom, creating a three-ply strong and tight textile that is made into camel bags, tents, rugs and pillows.  Wool from local sheep is carded and then hand spun into yarn that is loosely coiled , dyed and plied prior to weaving.

Weaving of the tent cloth is done by the Bedouin women on a ground loom. The loom is constructed of very simple materials of sturdy sticks and stones. Two wooden sticks are pinned to the ground and the woolen yarn stretch between them while another stick is placed in the middle to separate the long warp threads. The woman sits cross-legged at the end of the ground loom and feeds the weft yarn attached to a stick back and forth between the twisted threads. The weaver gradually moves down the length of the rug and maintains the tightness of the threads. The bright colours and bold patterns in these weavings were to add contrast to the homogeneous desert environment. These are the most prized sadu weavings, created by the most senior weavers.


The basic traditional garment is a tunic, generally long known as thawb for men. A shilhat is variation of the thawb, with large, open sleeves.

Saudi Arabian dress strictly follows the principles of  hijab. The predominantly loose and flowing, but covering, garments are suited to Saudi Arabia’s desert climate. Traditional Arabian costume is an alloy of skill, creative and ornate tailoring and decoration.

Men wear a white ankle length garment woven from wool or cotton known as a thawb. They wear a large square of cotton ,ghutra, over the head. It is folded diagonally over kufiyyah, a large checkered square of cotton held in place by an agal or a ghutra. The flowing, full-length outer cloak called bisht, generally made of wool or camel hair, completes the outfit. In the old days, the bisht was also used as a blanket while traveling. Saudi men wear a camel-hair bisht over the top to fight gelid winds in winters.

Women customarily wear a black outer cloak abaya over their dress, which may well be modern in style. On their heads, Saudi women traditionally wear a shayla – a black, gauzy scarf that is wrapped around the head and secured with circlets, hats or jewelry. Traditional dress is often richly decorated with coins, sequins or brightly colored fabric appliqués. When out In public females are have to cover everything below the neck with the exception of their hands and feet by wearing a black abaya which is vital, although most women cover their head in respect for their religion. Women’s clothes are often decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques.

Saudi women also wear veils made of sheer material. The practice of wearing a veil is an ancient one that dates back at least two millennia, before the advent of Islam. In a harsh desert environment, a thin veil provides protection from constant exposure to the sun, which can damage the skin and eyes. Today, a veil is also a sign of modesty and virtue.

The only little difference between garments worn by men and women in traditional Arabia is of the cut. The textile or the style in which the garment was made specified whether it belonged to a man or woman. Bisht and abaya look quite similar in shape. Women wear the abaya draped from the crown of the head and men wear the bisht hanging from their shoulder

These days Saudis prefer traditional clothes to Western styles of dress, and generally wear modern adaptations of age-old designs. The loose, flowing traditional garments are practical for the  hot, windswept climate, and in keeping with the Islamic ideal of modesty.

Jewellery has been an essential part of Arabian dress for thousands of years given the  rich mines, and pearls and coral from the coastal areas. For the migrant Bedouins, it was also an easily transportable form of wealth and security. Over the year it has symbolized social and economic status. Designs primarily evolved from Islamic calligraphy and motifs, and featured intricate patterns of geometric shapes, leaves, crescents and flowers.

Traditional jewelry was mostly made of silver, although gold was also used. Jewelers used stones such as turquoise, garnets and amber. Tiny bells, coins and chains were also used for decoration. Saudi women wear jewelry in traditional and contemporary designs with diamonds and a variety of precious metals. Solid gold bracelets remain a traditional gift for girls.