Talking to a saleswoman about your underwear is often a bit awkward, but it could be much worse. To replicate the Saudi Arabian bra-buying experience, you'd have to find a middle-aged male Victoria's Secret salesman and ask him to guess your bra size and describe the fit of a lacy panty. For years, women in the country have been forced to buy undergarments from male clerks, but soon they may be able to buy a bra from someone who's actually worn one.
Bloomberg reports that stores in Saudi Arabia are beginning to implement a decree issued in July that says only women should be allowed to work in "shops selling women's accessories." Thanks to the strict segregation laws in the country, women have been banned from working in sales or using fitting rooms. That means that women buy thongs and negligees from male salesman who size them up by looking at them. In one recent incident, a woman asked for a 32C padded bra, and the salesman told her, "No, you're not a C."
In 2008, financial adviser Reem Asaad launched a campaign to allow women to work as clerks in lingerie stores. Thanks to her efforts, shops have been ordered to switch to female employees by the end of the year. It's unfortunate that men have to be totally banned from the position in order for women to becomes sales clerks, but several chains say they're just transferring the men to positions at other stores in the company. Only 12% of women work in Saudi Arabia, so opening up positions selling cosmetics and perfume in addition to lingerie will create many more job opportunities.
Stores seem to be making moves to hire female employees by the end of the year, unlike in 2006, when a similar directive was issued but never implemented. However, some still doubt that the plan will work. Nawwaf al-Harbi, who recently started working in a lingerie store after selling makeup for 10 years, says he's yet to hear that he's being transferred. He also believes women would rather talk to him about panties and see lipstick colors on the back of his hand because when he was selling makeup, "Women would always tell me they hate buying from female staff because they felt they were being judged."
Men Selling Panties May End in Saudi Arabia [Bloomberg]