There is no official written dress code for Saudi Arabia. Diplomatic Missions have not been advised that foreign women should wear the abaya and cover their heads. On the other hand, the Missions have nothing official in writing saying women need not do so. The decision whether or not to wear the abaya and / or headscarf rests with the individual.
Some non-Muslim Western women choose to wear the abaya (and some also wear the headscarf) to avoid possible confrontation with the Mutawwa; others carry these items to diffuse a confrontational situation by complying with Mutawwa’s demand to wear them. Although a woman may be very conservatively dressed by Western standards, the Mutawwa and their sympathizers may object to the lack of abaya / headscarf, particularly in the more conservative areas of urban centers and during certain religious periods – the month of Ramadan and the Hajj.
While emphasizing that each individual must make up his / her mind as what is suitable dress, we offer the following information that may prove useful. Additionally, some sponsoring companies provide guidance to their employees on what is considered appropriate conservative dress for Saudi Arabia.
Men conform more closely to local standards if they wear long trousers and sleeved shirts that are not open below the collarbone; gold neck chains should be avoided.
Women attract less attention if their clothing is loose-fitting and concealing rather than revealing, e.g., skirts that are ankle-length or at least well below the knee; sleeves that reach the wrist or are at least below the elbow; necklines that at least cover the collar bone. Pants / trouser suites are not considered acceptable in many parts of Saudi Arabia; some Western women in the Eastern Province have worn loose-fitting slacks / pants with oversize shirts that reach the knees or below. Tight leggings / jeans / slacks and / or tight tops would be at variance with local custom.
If in doubt as to whether an item of clothing were appropriate, common sense would dictate a choice on the conservative side.