Why Saudi women are wearing their clothes inside out

Seams to show.
Seams to show.
Image: REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Some of the world’s most restricted women have found a subtle way to speak out about yet another limitation in their lives: not having the right to choose their clothing.

Saudi Arabian women are wearing their abayas—traditional loose black cloaks—inside-out, exposing the seams within. Thousands have launched their campaign online and on the streets of the kingdom, chronicling it on Twitter with the hashtag ”inside-out abaya.”

Technically, at least, there’s no legal requirement for Saudi women to wear the abaya. Though Islamic scripture refers to women “covering themselves with a loose garment,” it’s no more prescriptive than that. Speaking to CBS News in March, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, said women were only required to wear “decent, respectful clothing, like men,” and that the black abaya was not a particular specification. “The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”

In practice, however, wearing the abaya is all but compulsory—and Saudi women have had enough.

These women are already unable to apply for a passport or travel without permission from a male “guardian” or relative, let alone open a bank account or get married. And though they were given the right to drive last year, many of the activists who pushed for the law change have since been arrested and held on charges of trying to undermine security and stability. The right to choose one’s own clothes remains an important step towards the much more elusive goal of gender equality.