RIYADH: Her high heels clicking on marble tiles, a defiant Saudi woman turned heads and drew gasps as she strutted through a Riyadh mall — without a body-shrouding abaya.
The billowy over-garment, usually all-black, is customary public wear for women in the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom, where it is widely seen as a symbol of piety.
Some women subsequently mounted a rare social media protest against the restriction, posting pictures of themselves wearing the figure-concealing garment inside out.
Despite the risk of provoking arch-conservatives, many others now leave their cloaks open in the front or wear them in bright colours.
Mashael al-Jaloud has taken the cultural rebellion a step further — she stopped wearing the robe.
In a stunning sight, the 33-year-old human resources specialist strolled through a mall in central Riyadh last week wearing nothing but a burnt orange top over baggy trousers.
But the trend underscores a bold push for social liberties by young Saudis that may outstrip the monarchy’s capacity for change.
Manahel al-Otaibi, a 25-year-old activist, has also foregone the garment.
The abaya, which has existed for thousands of years but only became obligatory in recent decades, is also mandatory for non-Muslim women in the kingdom.
The dress code was once fanatically enforced by the now-neutered religious police, and uncovered women still face random harassment in a conservative nation where attire is often associated with chastity.