Don’t laugh — they’re chipping away here at the state’s misogynist edifice, whether they mean to or not. And thanks to western awareness of Wahhabist practices after 9/11, the royals have to think twice before cracking down.

Subversion, baby!

The change is most striking in Jiddah, the kingdom’s most cosmopolitan city, where many young women now wear their head scarves around their shoulders and leave their abayas open to reveal pants and T-shirts. Medical students here often forgo the abaya altogether, frequenting malls and coffee shops in brightly colored head scarves and white knee-length lab coats over jeans.

Abayas with patches of fluorescent color, floral patterns, animal prints, embroidery and even zodiac signs have started to show up in other cities as well, prompting clerics to criticize the trend and reiterate that abayas were meant to deflect attention, not attract it

Today, abayas are often stylish, personalized wraps that women enjoy being seen in, said Thana Addas, an abaya designer. Addas’s creations, many made with material from international fashion houses such as Roberto Cavalli, Burberry and Fendi and decorated with Swarovski crystals, can sell for more than $1,000.

Many conservatives see the new abaya as sinful, and orthodox clerics have issued fatwas, or edicts, decreeing that the robes must be dark, loose and shapeless.

Well, I guess it’s okay to laugh at this part:

At a mall on fashionable Tahlia Street recently, a line of young men trailed three fully covered young women wearing the niqab, or face veil, with slits that exposed only their eyes. The women, who had stopped to look at cellphone accessories, wore tight black abayas, green and blue contact lenses, heavy mascara and eyeliner, and strong perfume.

Who knows? In another hundred years, they might be allowed to drive.