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Women are not required to wear an Abaya today in Saudi Arabia. However, there was a time you could not imagine seeing a woman without Abaya in public. Here is the history and evolution of Abaya in Saudi Arabia.
In 1965, you could easily see Western women, especially Americans walking out in knee-length skirts in the Al Qatif, Al Khobar, and Al Hofuf regions of Saudi Arabia. History tells us that they were not required to wear an Abaya in 1965.
In other words, the outlook of Saudi Arabia in 1965 was far more modern and progressive than today.
Abaya made compulsory
After the 1979 attack on Makkah generally known as Makkah Seige, the Abaya was made mandatory for women. It was a big shock for women but they had to embrace it.
Soon, everything changed and now you could see women wearing only Black Abaya covered from head to toe. Even colorful Abayas were not allowed.
In 2015, when King Salman took the throne, he eased up some of the requirements for wearing Abayas. Now at this point, you could see women wearing colorful Abayas.
However, there were still required to wear them. At this point, if someone was seen without wearing an Abaya, it used to make headlines.
In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a statement that women are not required to wear an Abaya, they can just wear a modest dress.
Since that time, we find more and more women roaming around without an Abaya but in modest dresses.
Abaya and Saudi culture
Abaya is embedded in Saudi culture. Many women love to wear their Abayas all day long and they do not even take them off when they go to weddings.
This is the reason, you still find more than 90% of women wearing an Abaya while there is no restriction by the government to do it.