The first time I visited Saudi, I spent a lot of time obsessing over my hijab. How to keep it from slipping off my head? Why do I look so dorky in it? How do Saudi women deal with hijab hair and arrive at parties so well-coiffed?
My first solution was to adopt the niqab (the face covering). I discovered that by tying that around my head, the hijab wouldn’t slip off my head. Plus, I could easily blend into the crowd with it and not attract attention. But, as anyone who has ever worn a mask knows, it’s not pleasant breathing in your own warm breath all the time. Also, as you can see by this photo, I could hardly pass for a properly dressed Saudi woman. I couldn’t even put the niqab on correctly (there’s just supposed to be one slit for the eyes, not a second one across the forehead).
This is the only photo of me in the niqab. I’ve never worn it again since that first visit except when I had to go to a wedding. This brings me to my main topic, which is hijab etiquette. This doesn’t apply to the Saudi women I know, who always wear a hijab and niqab no matter where they go outside the house. But for me, I’ve learned that there are certain situations where it is optional and others when it is ‘better’ if I have it.
When in the house, or in the hareem of others’ houses, there is obviously no need to cover my hair. But if a male is present (e.g. brother-in-law, uncle of husband, and any ‘stranger’ – but not husband, father of husband, or pre-pubescent nephew of husband), I should pull on the scarf, even if just loosely. Of course I have some lee-way as a westerner; a Saudi woman in the same situation would likely cover her hair and face, or avoid being in the same room altogether.
Outside of the house, I usually wear the hijab while in the car and walking outdoors. But if I am in the mall or some fancier restaurants, I usually feel comfortable enough to take my hijab off. But only if I am on my own. If camelman is with me, I wear it. We learned that lesson the hard way (sort of), but that’s another story.
By the way, my solutions to-date to the questions above: put hair up in ponytails/bun/hair claw, get bangs, and use lots of hairspray. Bobby pins come in handy too, and a pair of cool shades.