Monday, October 18, 2010

WARDROBE GUIDE FOR EXPATS in Oman: request from NM

A guide for expats. When is showing your midriff 100% okay in Muscat, what skirt is too short, a basic guide to occasional abayas, and can a European man where a dishdasha and not offend anyone???

These questions and more answered by OPNO.

I recently got a request from NMx from this blog to detail what is okay or not to do in Oman regarding clothing. I will talk mainly about women's clothing, but answer a few questions from the husband's of my friends as well. NM's comment:
Hi OP! I've been reading your blog for a few months now and LOVE it! [Thank you NM] I'm a British expat, I've been here just over 18months. I am very cautious and aware of what I am wearing so as not to offend AND to try and show Muslimahs here that not all Brits/expats show off their bodies! ;-) Thank you for the advice too...can arms really be shown at night? I too love the style of your role models, they are truly elegant.I really would like to own an abaya but I have a feeling I will be giggle at! I'm not even sure I could carry it off! If you have any style tips/suggestions for a first abaya purchase, it would be gratefully received!Take care, NM x

She left the comment on this post: where the following advice and request was given:

Old post: Please, to all non-Muslim expat women in Oman, take a note from Queen Rania in respect to Oman and our beautiful culture of modesty here. In the very least wear skirts no shorter than below the knee, no cleavage, and having a sleeve, be it only cap-sleeve, is best for day. Avoid ultra-tight stretchy fabrics that cling to all your curves. Out of respect for the women as well as the men. I honestly don't want to see your breasts or your thong. At night, it is okay to go sleeveless if you avoid huge cleavage and go for long lengths. Save bikinis for expat dominated places (pools with lotsa alcohol ect). Thank you ever so much, and I will respect your country the same by trying my best to wear Islamic clothing that meets the requirements of my religion but doesn't scare your local populace. Shukran jazilan!!!! ['thank you very much' in Arabic].
So here goes a basic guide for expat women (and answer to one particular question from their husbands I always get asked):

What to wear for casual day wear, going out, for say, a grocery run, coffee at Starbucks with friends, or a jaunt at CityCenter.

Three options as follows for casual daywear:

1. A dress and/or a shirt.For day it should be tight in only one place (perferably not your chest or butt). Waist is accepted. The length should fall no shorter than just above the knee (scraping it). You could say the same rule for shorts, but I tried that before, and got whistled at Lulus, so really, I don't recommend it. Skirts seem more universally accepted. Preferably, it should have a sleeve, even one so slight as a cap sleeve. In more conservative places like a village or near a Mosque, up to elbows is more polited. A pashmina works fine for this.
2.) Pants.
You are jeans a t-shirt girl? Where loose pants (boot cut or trouser) with a longish t-shirt. The shirt should either be tight on your waist or tight on your chest (no cleavage) no both, a finish off with a slight sleeve. If the top is completelty loose AND NOT SEE THROUGH, you can get away without a sleeve, and the pants are loose and not form-fitted to the butt, like in this outfit worn by Drew Barrymore (just remove the suit jacket)
3.) Leggings/tights and skinny jeans.If going for a tighter pant, i.e leggings, the top must be longer, ideally to the knees, and looser (with arm coverage).***There is an additional option, which is to wear a black abaya over one's clothing, which I will detail later in this post.****
On to formal daywear (not a women only event like most Omani weddings):
1.) Long dress (or skirt and shirt), or traditional jalabiyia [caftan] ect...2.) Skirt/Suit combo:3.) The most daring you should get when flaunting skin: a modest skirt with more fitted top to it, without a sleeve. Try to keep the way it is worn more playful and elegant than sexy. A really nice sundress in a lux fabric is perfect.
On to evening wear, casually out in Muscat, to restaurants where alochal is not served, strolling where Omani couples walk, is very similair to casual daywear, but option number three of formal daywear can be worn in more casual fabrics with a shoulder and chest cover up like a pashmina. No one will bat an eyelash in Muscat (maybe out in the vilages you will get, but not Muscat).

On to evenings. In the evening you can bear your shoulders if you keep the shape fluid not stuck to you and don't go too short. If you bare on part of your body, keep the rest covered. Rule of elegant women the world over, not just in Muslim majority countries.For formal evening, if you DO keep the length long and fluid, you can show your shoulders and a hint of the breastline. No one will kill you for it, as pictured below:Now, on to the exceptions:

a. It is totally okay to spill out your breasts, wear thigh high lengths, and show skin skin skin, in nightclubs in Oman, though I still say, mystery is more exciting but it's up to you. It is okay to dress like a stripper or hooker in places like Rockbottom ect, but if you are Iranian or Philipino, please don't, because some might actually TAKE you for being a Lady-of-the-Night, so please, have your fun but be careful!

And tight tight is okay for bars and expat dominated places where alcohal is served. No one is going to care since Muslims aren't supposed to be in these places by their religion (not cuz of ya'll expats, but because of the drinking).
***This doesn't mean Carefour and Lullu though***
please: to the girl at Al Fair on the weekend with her midriff and muffin top hanging out while all the Omani guys in the room had their chins up to the ceiling . I heard the most amusing husband/wife conversation where he said he didn't care about women's bodies and she laughed, since I could tell she wasn't threatened by the expat teen in the slightest but the sight of the girl has scared the heck out of the husband that his wife would kill him for having glanced in the girl's direction. [Horrible sentance I am too lazy to correct, forgive]. Funny moment though, while weighing my vegetables.

b. Also cleavage, tightness, and exposed mid riffs are 100% okay at Omani women's weddings, where gown like the very first one in this post, are the rule of thumb. More glitter, more amp, is the way to go, lol for most Omani girls. Since no men will be attending, modesty rules don't apply. I have seen Grandmothers dressed like Vegas showgirls in Al Qurum weddings, lol.

c. Bathing suits should be more modest varietiess with lots of cleavage and butt coverage and stay pool-side or at the beaches. For string bikinis, go to pools at hotels that serve alcohal, to be more respectful, and expat majority haunts, like certain clubs and facilities. This one is kinf of obvious, and alhamdulilah, I don't see many doing this one wrong (exception being one woman in Ras Al Hamra who I am related too, lol).

On to the question of wearing local (Omani clothing) for men and women.
Despite what one might think, Omani traditional dress for women IS NOT the abaya. It is a few different versions of very colourful regional wear, that is usually (the casual version) only worn in villages or in the desert, or (the formal version) reserved for weddings. If you are attending an Omani weddings and want to wear Omani formal wear and choose the correct region, it will amuse your host immensly, and will not be seen as insulting whatsoever. If you are to where the day wear out and about in Muscat, or the formal wear at night, and you are NOT married to an Omani man, it will probably confuse people and not be seen as normal and it will get you SOME attention depending, but it won't be insulting. Just weird.
Since I do this, lol, I know. But wearing the casual wear out of Muscat in places like sharqiyah, it doesn't make people very confused at all, since sometimes an expat face in general is an oddity so what you are wearing, so long as it is modest, doesn't really matter.


Abaya is worn in Muscat over clothing. You could say it is the chic city uniform of Omani girls. Yes, we have clothes under there. It allows women to wear whatever they like and not have to worry about covering enough. It is a coat, thrown over one's clothing. It has also been made into a fashion statement, the fabric, and the cut, as well as varying degreees of embellishment, determining its purpose. There are abayas as casual wear,simple (but often embellished designs) thrown over jeans and a tshirt, and abayas for slightly more formal occasions (beautiful cut to flow like a dress or handworked): as well as ones for weddings meant only to be seen by women [and husband's to be]: as they are sheer chiffon creations covered in crystals and handwork.If you want advice for buying an an abaya, finding a semi durable (breathable not not thin) iron-free black fabric and nice sleeve cut is the way to go, design aside, for day. Something with a more flowing cut or eye-catching design is more formal. Sheer chiffon ones are to be worn over evening dresses. So
first, know for what purpose is your abaya. If it for a wedding, the last pics, and the middle ones are fine. For a Mosque visit, or to throw over your jeans for a grocery run, the first set of abaya pics above.
Now, on to the hair. Wearing ana abaya isn't insulting to anyone, because dressing modestly is part of showing respect for the Omani peoples' general beliefs. But you will wonder about the headscarf and the face veil. These are worn (the scarf when it covers ALL the hair, and the face veil all the face but eyes) for religious purposes, so if you are not a Muslim or visiting a Mosque, wearing it will lead people to expect from you Muslim behaviors and values so unless you understand these, do not confuse people. Wear abaya to the store, or for an evening out in a fancy version, but do not wear to a nighclub or to a bar. If you want to cover your hair but as part of the style, it is fine, but be aware, you may be taken as being Muslim, and if you don't act like an Omani woman, you may get more creepy men who assume you have a loose character. Also, if worn without a headscarf and you look like you are an Arab, they may assume you are Morrocan or Pakistani depending on the abaya style, and you may get treated with less respect. This happens to me whenever I wear Morrcan style (hooded) abayas . Most Omanis are good and wonderful but some men are idiots who can equate Morroco with easy or Pakistani with NO rights. True, and alhamduliah, changing.
People may also ask you if you have an Omani husband. Just say you love Khaleeji (Gulf) style abayas, and people will smile.
Onto the men.
For those of you who had a Lawrence of Arabia fanatsy, and want to dress like a local, know what is worn in Oman and when to wear it.
Q. Will it be disrespectful for me to wear an Omani man's clothing?
A. Not at all. But you can wear it horribly wrong and be laughed at, or wear it in a way that is not allowed in a Government Ministry position or building.
Q. How is it worn horribly wrong?
A. Well, there are ways of wearing dishdasha for different occasions. There are also different kinds of dress for Arab men in the Gulf, and the Omani one is a robe witha short tassel at the neck. If you wear an Emriati kandoura (with a long tassel to the waist almost), or a tassel-less version, you aren't dressing Omani at all, and if you don't know this, people will think it is funny.
Also, Omani dishdahsa is worn with an undergarment under it (not pants) called an wizhar that is wrapped around the waist like a towel. You have to master this to wear dishdasha correctly, or buy a kids wihzar with an elastic and cheat, or your dishdasha can go see-through. Something VERY FUNNY.
Q. What are the occasions for wearing it formally, casually, for work, ect?
A. For formal wear, usually the Eid holiday, or a wedding, or a high import function, a bisht (sheer embroidered flowing robe of a few different shades) is worn over top of the dishdasha, with a formally wrapped mussayr (the turban like wrap not the pill box hat called kuma) with assa (stick) and khanjar (sillver dagger belted at waist). This won't be required of any Western man from his work, or socially, but he can do it for a wedding out of respect. For more formal workplaces or when visiting a government Ministry or Minister, a white dishdasha (maybe with embroidery and a coloured tassel) is worn, and musayr. You cannot where the kuma embroidered hat, you must wear a mussayr. For casual situations or less formal workplaces, a coloured dishdasha may be worn, with or without a kuma. Feel free to wear a dishdasha out, or at work, but make sure you are doing it without negging dress code regulations or making your friends laugh too much. They may tease you at first but it won't offend anyone or be too strange.

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