Dresses, denim and... drones? How fashion is changing in Saudi Arabia
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The Riyadh skyline // Image credit: apriltan18 on PixabayThere have also been developments in the country’s fashion scene, which is not without its own set of difficulties. Saudi Arabia hosted its first Arab Fashion Week in April 2018, fashionably late owing to various delays and postponements. There were a range of restrictions on the types of clothes allowed to be modelled: ‘no cleavage, nothing above the knee and nothing too transparent.’ Men, even male fashion designers, were prohibited to attend, and photography was also banned. Nevertheless, this was a significant step for the conservative kingdom, and was hailed as demonstrating progress and change. However, fashion designers in the country’s major city of Jeddah appeared to take a step backwards in the name of female empowerment last year. Making a bold fashion choice, designers used drones to model their latest designs with dresses, handbags, skirts and local dresses known as abayas suspended in the air and navigated along the runway in a parody of a traditional fashion show. Intended to ‘showcase Saudi Arabia’s evolving technology achievements’ and bring something new and innovative to modelling, the show was subject to much controversy and billed as another example in Saudi Arabia’s long history of excluding women from public life.
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It is no longer sufficient progress that the country is hosting a fashion show in the first place. Instead, the country and its leaders need to address the deliberate exclusion of women from public viewing as part of their initiative to improve their social positions. Melissa Twiff, a journalist who was invited to Saudi Arabia to write about the developing fashion scene, corroborated this and pointed out that much progress is required in order to develop the country’s fashion offering. The drone fashion show appears to be a one-off event and has not been replicated since. Following this, there have been some reforms in the fashion industry, for example, it was announced that women are no longer required to exclusively wear abayas in public as long as their clothing is ‘decent and respectful,’ and there have been moves to support local emerging fashion designers in subsequent fashion shows.View this post on Instagram
Marriam Mossalli, an entrepreneur and editor, created ‘Under the Abaya: Street Style from Saudi Arabia,’ a compilation of contemporary and ‘progressive’ Saudi fashion to reflect ‘independence’ and express individuality. However, long-held ultraconservative moral values mean that change remains small in scale and there is much improvement to be made. For example, fashion shows continue to prohibit men from attending and photography is banned in order to prevent unveiled women from being seen by men.View this post on Instagram
Whilst it is significant progress that a fashion industry exists and receives government and public support, in order for this to flourish and women to be empowered through fashion the country must combat traditional behaviour which segregates genders and relegates women to the shadows. Women need to be permitted to play a more visible role in their own fashion industry, as models and as designers, in order to combat sexism in the industry. Lead image credit: apriltan18 on PixabayView this post on Instagram
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