Decked Out: More from the Princess Souk

I went to the Second-Hand Souk this past week with my motto clearly in mind:


I don’t have mounds of them or anything, but you don’t really need that many, do you? The sole use I’ve been able to come up with is princess night dinners, which are parties among my neighbors that began about a year ago, when one lady decided that the farewell event for a woman who was a big fan of the souk should be formal: Come in your most over-the-top souk find. Everyone had such a good time it became a recurring thing. As any four-year-old can tell you, dressing up is fun. And an expensive benefit event shouldn’t be your only excuse to do it.

We’ve found some stunners.

Princess Party CrowdPrincess Party Dresses Princess Party dressesSERIOUSLY. Look at the beadwork on the silver one! But you get a lot of credit for silly, too.

Princess Party dressesPrincess Party dresses

No, I really couldn’t be bothered to do my hair that night, and the bag isn’t part of the silly. It’s just the bag I was carrying that day. Sue me. Anyway, no, I’m not in the market for any more silly dresses. The thing I may not have made clear before now is that you can find beautiful things at the souk as well. Check, for example, this wedding dress:

Second Hand Souk: Wedding dressI’m making it as big as possible so you can appreciate the beadwork on the bodice, even if the cotton-candy skirt isn’t your thing. The fact that it’s hanging in the rafters of a tin shelter in a smelly third-world divey souk above a t-shirt featuring the King is what’ll get it into your hands for, maybe, $80. (Wedding gowns are expensive. Most ball gowns end up around $5-20. $10 is typical.) And you can’t try it on. Or bring it back. And you’ll carry it out in a plastic grocery bag.

But the finds CAN be spectacular, if you’re patient, go often, and get lucky. And…don’t get distracted by the photo ops, as I so easily do:

Second Hand Souk: Ruffles

Yeah, sometimes the best you can get is the awestruck photo-from-below. Second Hand Souk: teardrop dress

Other times, you can only appreciate what you’re seeing from a distance, as in this bridal-party group:

Second Hand Souk: Bridal party dressesAre you catching that? Two matching black leopard-lined dresses at the front, with a pink one behind–same design, also leopard-lined, and a whole nother sweep of matching dresses on the rack behind that. I didn’t ask the vendor whether breaking up the set would be a problem. I’ll be looking for those to still be hanging there on the next trip, waiting for some other group of like-minded, perfectly-sized sisters.

Or here, where a close-up look doesn’t let you see all the ideas:

Second Hand Souk gown

Or while we’re talking about a lot of ideas:

Second Hand Souk: fancy dress

What about the idea of adding horse-riding ribbons to the front?

Second Hand Souk: Pink dress

Or just ruffling everything:

Second Hand Souk: Ruffled gown

Or, oh, never mind, just a cluster of used bras?

Second Hand Souk: bras

STOP IT! No, I’m holding out for something wonderful. And there are plenty of beautiful dresses. I mean this, for example, is a nice rack (so to speak):

Second Hand Souk: Gowns

And this one could be quite stunning:

Second Hand Souk: Gown with vines

But then it has to be the right size. And it has to meet my own fussy little criteria about length and sleeves and cut and fit, and it can’t require a bunch of work to replace missing beads or sequins, or to repair rips, and it can’t have a torn hem or stains. The field of candidates narrows.

Second Hand Souk: Maltesers dress

Wait. What?

Second Hand Souk: Maltesers dressThat’s right. MALTESERS. For Americans and anybody else that might not be familiar with them, this is a package of Maltesers, courtesy of the good people at Mars M&M:


Maltesers are chocolate-covered malted milk balls, similar to American Whoppers, except superior. (Like Mars Bars are better than Milky Way. WHY?!?) The chocolate-to-malt proportion is better, and the malt is delicate where the Whopper tends to be chalky. Note the red color in the packaging. Note the blue of the dress. Note the giant text, probably about a foot tall at the M. Who designed this print, at this scale? Who put it on stretchy synthetic jersey? (Nobody who’d actually licensed it, that’s for sure.) Who saw it, bought it, took it to a dressmaker, and said “This is what I want?” And who didn’t mind having the M cut off at the side seam? Quality note: The print is upside-down on the back (as I would probably do if the text were in Arabic), so someone giving the wearer a fond embrace can look down over the shoulder and still read it.

And that’s when I crumbled. Like a malted center. It’s a giant candy print, for heaven’s sake. $8 later, the dress was mine. I’ll be wearing that every Halloween for the rest of my life, so I consider it a well thought out investment.

Otherwise, the day was kind of a bust. We’d had a little rain the night before, so the smells were unusually rank. And someone who needed an actual dress for an actual occasion got to the only one I would’ve wanted before me, a mere dilettante. It happens. But that only makes you enjoy finding the really great ones all the more. I’ll be back. My soul mates will find their way to me. I just know it. And seriously, next time: NO MORE SILLY DRESSES.

15 October 2015: Since I published this post the Second-Hand Souk has MOVED. I plan to publish a new post soon (with pictures!) but until then the new directions that were given to me are as follows: Take the Eastern Ring Road toward IKEA. At Exit 18 stay to the right as the highway splits. Turn off at Exit 21. You will turn left under the overpass. After about 4 km you will see TAJ Coffee Keyask. Turn right. It’s about 1 to 1.5km and you will see the big white spire on the left side of the road. The spire looks like a corkscrew. (It’s quite close to the old location shown on the map below.)

Second Hand Souk: Map with old location

The souk has MOVED. Please use the updated directions in the note above rather than this map.

Riyadh’s Second-Hand Souk is in the south part of town, just north of Exit 21. My previous posts on it are here and here. The clothing represents only a fraction of what’s on offer–it’s a sprawling site with furniture, architectural salvage, toys, carpets, housewares, appliances, and antiques (sometimes). Most vendors are open in the mornings from 8:30 or 9:00 until Dhuhr prayer at midday, then again from about 4:00 p.m. in the evenings. (Or so I hear. I stick to the mornings.) If you’re a woman, watch your back and don’t go alone. If you’re anybody, watch your wallet. Go with lots of small bills–1s, 5s, and 10s. It’s poor form to bargain down, then whip out a big bill and ask for change. You can also bargain better if you have your price in your hand and can offer the actual cash to the vendor.

8 thoughts on “Decked Out: More from the Princess Souk

  1. 59steps says:

    I love the Maltesers dress! Think of the branding possibilities: Rauch grape juice, Cornflakes, Castrol, Listerine, Rolex. I was going to say Spam, but maybe not in KSA. Wear with pride…


  2. Terry Young says:

    Thanks for making my day-I laughed myself silly! …..And can’t wait to see the Malteser dress in all it’s glory. What kind of mind could think that up? Reminds me of when I dropped a box of Maltesers in a movie theatre with a sloping floor…


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