MyWorld: Peddling Panties


Because of restrictions on women working in Saudi Arabia, men hold nearly all sales positions in this country, which means that men sell women’s undergarments and lingerie. This is yet another example of the contradictions that abound in this strictly religious and segregated society where women are mainly allowed to work only in the education and medical fields. In a country where black marker is applied to women’s images in magazines before they can be sold, and where men and women are not supposed to mix together socially, a Saudi woman in need of panties or bras must purchase them from a man. Despite the fact that a law was approved about three years ago permitting women to step in to sale positions for women’s undergarments, this has still not happened yet. Making this problem even worse and more embarassing is the fact that women cannot try on articles of clothing before purchasing them because dressing rooms for women are virtually banned within the kingdom. I especially like to try on bras before I purchase them because sizes and fit can vary greatly from one manufacturer to another. The reason for the ban on women’s dressing rooms is that the religious rulers consider dressing rooms too potentially dangerous for women – a sex-starved male salesclerk might not be able to control himself if he knows there is a woman undressing in the back, or it would present too tempting of an easy opportunity for a willing woman customer who is attracted to the lowly salesman. Only in Saudi Arabia…
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About SusieOfArabia

American woman now living in hubby's homeland of Saudi Arabia
This entry was posted in Clothing, contradictions, Culture, Life, Odd or Unusual, Photo, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shopping and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to MyWorld: Peddling Panties

  1. Pingback: MyWorld: BAN THE BRA … salesmen!!! « JEDDAH DAILY PHOTO JOURNAL

  2. Chiara says:

    I have used this pic in a post on the Saudi campaign led by Reem Assad to boycott men selling ladies’ undergarments in Saudi (a 2 week boycott on buying lingerie from men, starting Feb 13). It is the best pic on the topic! I hope the campaign is successful.

    http://www.chezchiara.com/2010/01/lingerie-in-saudi-and-social-activism.html

  3. alyaba says:

    Stop being selfish, why do you throw Equal Opportunity Employment out the window when it makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, you are doing the exact same thing as they are doing there. you are no different than the ones limiting men to work at the shops.

  4. rantingcynic says:

    I feel, although this practice of patriarchal propriety is part of the culture, it is completely unnecessary. I am from America, my father raised me with a religiously strict and patriarchal view point. I rejected it. I found it hard to believe that there is a difference in importance of genders. My mother was a broken woman because of how repressed she was and limited in opportunity. No license, no education, no new clothes, no options, she did not even have to option of buying her own bras. I considered this to be abusive, so me and my girl took her to a shop one day when my father was at work. I bought her 250.00 worth of clothing because my father would not. She was working with a female sales person, I being her son, stepped out of the situation and went across the street while my girl-friend and the saleswoman helped her out. I will never forget the look on her face when we left the store: It was one of fear, giddiness, shame, and joy. Giddiness because they were not just new bras, they were ones that made her feel beautiful. Fear because she feared my father and what he would do when he found that she had clothing that he did not buy. Shame, that she could not buy them herself. Lastly, joy, because she knew that someone cared about her (me and my girl).

    I donโ€™t think she would have even gone in to buy them if there had been a man behind the counter.

    • Wow – great story! I’m curious about what your dad said when he saw the new clothes! I applaud you for thinking for yourself and being your own person. You must be a great disappointment to your father – and that’s a compliment!!!!

    • alyaba says:

      thanks for sharing your story with us, but why are we surprised that issues like these are totally foreign to us and only exist in far away places like saudi when in reality they obviously still exist even in the US.

  5. This is an eye-popping photo. Good work! The contridictions you write about simply amaze me. You’d think if the sight of women’s hair or ankles or elbows can turn these men into sexual predators, handling their under garments would also be taboo. This is just wrong on so many levels.

  6. Carver says:

    Your posts are so educational. This would be an issue I would never have thought of. Certainly does seem ironic. Cheers, Carver

  7. AnnMarie says:

    When we first came to the UAE (early 80’s) men would be selling
    lingerie and bras etc. Now I don’t believe you find it so much
    except for the smaller souk like stores. I remember being totally
    grossed out when my husband’s relatives would buy from shops like
    that and think nothing of it! It seems ironic that they would allow
    men to handle such items as those in Saudi, very creepy if you ask
    me, don’t like it at all. It’s one thing for a man to go into a
    store and buy an item for his wife, but a man selling such items,
    sick, just sick!

  8. Osamah says:

    ^ i agree with everyone…just writing to add that there is an H&M store in the Mall of Arabia where there is a completely separated women’s lingerie section, where men aren’t allowed to enter…if you go to the mall, enter from Gate 6 and go straight up, it should be in front of you ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. luna miranda says:

    very strange, indeed. my sister who works in a hospital in Riyadh has some weird stories.:p i’m surprised you were able to take this photo.:p

  10. Jossie says:

    It is a country of contradictions. I wonder how the women feel when buying underware from a man.

  11. diane garwood says:

    I remember one mall we went to in Jeddah that had a brand new lingerie shop staffed entirely by women. There was a wall just inside the door so that people (men) walking by wouldn’t have the shock of seeing women buying unmentionables. There were even a couple of male guards just outside the door to make absolutely sure that didn’t happen. And all the windows were completely blocked off. It was a little strange. ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t remember if it had dressing rooms or not, but trying on an outfit from another store, we had to buy it, go try it on in a bathroom (which had dressing rooms) and then when it, of course, didn’t fit, had to take it back, return it and buy another size then, go and try on that size. Unbelievably ridiculous! And such a waste of time!!

  12. J Bar says:

    It certainly is a surprising image.

  13. Fishing Guy says:

    Susie: Your world certainly does have strange rules. I wonder if this makes other women uncomfortable.

  14. Ah, Susie, you do write it so well — hope no one there is keeping an eye on you! I continue to be amazed each week as you open my eyes to the restrictions and contradictions and what has to be considerable difficulties in adjusting to a way of life so very different! I’ve known/read about many of differences in our two cultures, but obviously there are far more than I ever knew!

    Have a great week!

    Sylvia

  15. ewok1993 says:

    I believe this is when online shopping is the solution to the embarrassment. This does not solve the problem of finding the right fit.

    Have a wonderful Holidays.

  16. JM says:

    What a cool shot this is! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Wish you a very Happy Christmas, Susie!

  17. Chiara says:

    Ironic, isn’t it, that in Western shops most often the discomfort is on the part of men shopping for a gift for a wife or girlfriend, and feeling very uncomfortable even being in that store, or section of a store, and worse when the enthusiastic saleswoman discusses size, about which they seem to have no clue, and she says something like “More like me, or like her (pointing to me ๐Ÿ˜ฆ )?”
    I do believe I have bought bras from a male salesperson who was highly knowledgeable, and to my amazement and delight, when I asked if there was ANYTHING in my usual size, opened a drawer full of wonderful bras, but of course there were change rooms and he didn’t help with the fitting.
    I was discumbobulated the first time I walked through the souk in the medina of a major Moroccan city and a bra vendor called out sizes and prices to me, but more by the calling out in French (obviously intended for me) than his being a man. My future SIL was more discumbobulated by the sudden tripling of prices.
    Now men selling below the waist garments is definitely getting into eewww territory for me.

  18. Qusay says:

    Since I was a little boy, that… which is in your picture annoyed me… but what I came to comment on today is the Great capture that you got… good job.

    • Thanks, Qusay! I really liked the way the photo turned out too! Sorry if I brought back some bad childhood memories for you, although I can certainly see how this image might annoy little boys!!!

  19. Geogypsy says:

    Been bra shopping lately Susie? ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Don’t these malls have bathrooms where one could try clothes on?
    The contradictions continue.

    • I make it a point to buy all my underwear in the states!!! I don’t want a man selling me my underwear!!! And woman would not be allowed to try clothes on in the bathroom. I guess one could purchase the item, take it to the bathroom to try, and then if it didn’t fit, return it.

  20. elle says:

    There was this one branch of a Naomi (lingerie store) where only women employees are permitted. I’m not sure if it still exists but I think it was located on Heraa street in a plaza, if I recall. No man is allowed in! Talk about complete freedom with the additional bonus of no awkward salesman trying to find your 34B bra in a heap of 36Ds.

  21. Dina says:

    So many contradictions.
    Can you at least exchange an article if it doesn’t fit?

    • Some shops will accept returns, but others do not. Usually there will be a limited period of time in which you can return something, but for women like me, it’s a problem because I don’t have transportation, and returning an item requires another trip to the shop or the mall.

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