A bit of history was made in the social-commercial area in Saudi Arabia last week: A first group of 26 women began a special course on how to sell lingerie. The course, which lasted 10 days, took place in the city of Jeddah off the shores of the Red Sea.
This is considered a real breakthrough in Saudi Arabia, following protests organized by groups of women who have simply had enough of buying their underwear from men.
The issue of selling lingerie is not new. In 2006, the conservative kingdom enacted a law prohibiting men from selling women's underwear. But the implementation of the law was restrained as a result of pressure exerted by the powerful religious establishment, which did not wish to allow women to work in shopping malls, where men and women spend time together.
In general, most of the stores in Saudi Arabia are manned by men, most of whom are immigrants from eastern Asian countries. Only a small number of "women's only" malls have saleswomen.
According to Arab website Elaph, the course instructors' main problem was how to overcome the women's embarrassment in regards to fitting the bra's size to the customers and presenting the store's merchandise in an attractive manner.
One of the course's participants was quoted as saying, "It was a wonderful experience. But the thing which sent me into a state of shock was the bra sizes. Before the course we did not know how to measure."
It should be noted that the sale of lingerie is a divisive matter not only in Saudi Arabia. The government of the al-Sharqa emirate recently distributed a memo to all shopping malls and stands, stating as of January 1, 2010, the sale of lingerie will be restricted to women only. Stores which continue employing men to do this job could face for heavy penalties, the memo warned.
Doron Peskin is head of research at Info-Prod Research (Middle East) Ltd.