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 http://muscatmitchells.blogspot.com/ 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: http://howtolivelikeanomaniprincess.blogspot.com/2010/06/styles-for-expats-and-before-i-was.html 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.

THE ABAYA

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.

8 comments:

Kerfluffy! said...

Quite nice, I must say. You have, quite properly, mentioned the varieties possible. Although the ladies will always invent newer and newer ways to go a little higher or a little shorter (or sexier), but jolly good nevertheless!

Muscat Mitchells said...

Wow! Thank you so much! This has been really helpful and interesting, thanks for your response!

There are some stunning dresses and abaya. Although I had to have a double take at the one with the picture of the Licorice Allsorts on the front, in a shop in MCC...during Ramadan as well!
x

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Kerfluffy: same with us Muslim girls, you see tighter necklines, more crystals than needed for mall tours, over the top make up ect..

Thank you for your first comment on the blog.

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Muscat Mitchells x: I'll have to check that store out just to see it.

Justine said...

I am an American student and I will be studying in Oman this coming fall semester. My program sent me wardrobe guidelines as well but they seem to be stricter then yours. I will be living with a host family rather than staying with a university, and I was wondering if I could still use these guidelines rather than my program.

Here are the guidelines they gave me:

For women:
If wearing pants, tops must fall at least to mid-thigh. You should never expose your stomach,
back, or any skin between your knees and shoulders. Skirts should fall at least to mid-calf,
though women will generally feel more comfortable in something even longer. If wearing pants,
women’s shirts should be tunic-length, and fall LOOSELY to at least mid-thigh. Neither jeans
nor knit leggings or tights are acceptable for class. Clothing should not be tight, form-fitting
(most knits are too tight), or see-through, and plunging necklines are not acceptable.
Most women here, including women the age of the students, when outside the house wear floorlength dresses or long (40 inch) skirts with close-fitting shirts, covered by long black abayas
(coat-like outer garment made of a thin black silky fabric) with head scarves. If the student
should choose to wear one (as most generally do), these abayas would best be purchased
here, as they can be bought ready-made for a very reasonable price for most women who wear
misses-size clothing. Made to order abayas can generally be ready within a week for nearly the
same price.
An additional consideration for women is their at-home attire – especially if there are men in
their homestay family, you must be sure to have appropriate casual clothing to wear around the
house. This means loose-fitting clothing that covers arms at least to the elbows and legs to midcalf or ankles, and not low cut or made of thin fabric. Cheap housedresses can be bought easily
here, if wanted.
For all students:
The clothes that you bring should all be washable and breathable, preferably drip-dry cotton and
cotton-blends for every-day wear (dressier clothing will obviously require nicer fabrics, but good
cleaning services are readily available and cheap in Oman). We recommend bringing light,
loose-fitting clothing with minimal exposure for daytime activity and a light sweater or jacket for
the occasional cool evening (or air conditioning that may be too cool for your personal comfort).
For swimming, you should bring clothing that can go on top of your swimsuit for protection from
the sun and to cover your body for reasons of modesty (long shorts that come at least to the
knee and t-shirts, etc). Don't bring two-piece bikinis!
Very important: You will need at least one or two dressy outfits (suit or slacks with jacket and tie
for men) for formal dinners and receptions. Women may want to bring one nice gown (a formal
dress like you would wear to the prom or as a bridesmaid) for attending wedding parties. Men
will be expected to wear slacks/dockers and button downs on a regular basis. Additionally, keep
in mind that even the weekly extended family dinners you will frequently be attending may
require nicer outfits than are generally expected in the U.S. On the whole, you will be dressing
up much more often than you might usually at home – not just because the nature of the events
are more formal, but because Omanis tend to dress more formally on a regular basis than their
American peers – so come prepared. Students regularly fail to understand this difference until
they actually arrive here, then find themselves spending a lot of unexpected money on shopping SIT Study Abroad Updated 3/8/2011 3
for appropriate clothing. Save yourself money and embarrassment by coming prepared.

I appreciate any help!

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Justine: Hi, thank you for your comment and welcome to Oman. It really depends where you live and who you live with. I made this guide for expats who have their own housing and who live in Muscat in mind, in areas like Shatti, Madinat Qaboos, and Qurum in mind. If you are staying with an Omani family, in the house out of respect to the women of the household your dress should be closer to the guidelines given by your program. For example, where I live it is very conservative. Not the same dress code as Muscat for sure. So my guests tend to wear trouser cut or harem style pants, long skirts, and long shirts. Not quite as strict as your program but avoid overall tightness and anything too short ect. But Omani ladies where I live are always delighted to have foriegners wear the same dress as them, like abaya and long dresses, and are more likely to form friendships ect in these cases. I think you can still wear jeans but trouser cut ones, with a longer top (but not for school, that's all). If you email the specifs of where in Oman you'll be staying I might be able to help you more. OPNOprincess@hotmail.com

MalTravers said...

I have been following your blog! I LOVE it!! I just moved from Texas to Muscat about 2 months ago. I feel like I am living in paradise. Feel free to check out my blog.
Mallory

www.expatwifey.sqsp.com

The Duncan Adventures said...

I know that this is an old post but I have just come across it now, thanks so much for taking the time to explain the guidelines to people. I tried explaining this to my visiting family this week and they still ignored me and dressed without consideration :-( next time ill point them in this direction...


Many thanks :-)