30 May, 2007

The Abaya Redefined, Again

Washington Post:
Until recently, the abaya was a plain black robe that women kept by the door and wore like a coat over their clothes when they left the house.

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.
...
When Fageeh, a health industry executive, appeared at a recent business conference in a floor-length white abaya made of light cotton and monogrammed with an M, some of the attendees were shocked, she said. But others were inspired.

"When I saw her, I said to myself, 'Yes! This is right,' " said Manal al-Sharif, an editor at al-Madina, a Jiddah-based newspaper. "Nothing in Islam imposes black on us. And I decided to make a brown abaya for myself."

Saudi women have long been known in the West for their all-enveloping black attire, widely considered a mark of their oppression. But Sharif and Fageeh are among a growing number of women and girls here who are rethinking and reinventing the abaya to more closely reflect their personalities and religious beliefs.
...
The black abaya came to Saudi Arabia from Iraq or Syria more than 75 years ago, as did most textiles and goods at the time, said Leila al-Bassam, a professor of traditional clothing and textiles at Riyadh University. The robes caught on in the kingdom after King Abdul-Aziz, who conquered the country's disparate regions and formed a state in 1932, distributed them as presents to various tribal leaders, said Mussaed, the geography professor.

Before that, women wore modest but often colorful regional costumes, and in the more conservative areas did not leave the house until they were married, Bassam said.

As the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice started enforcing the dress code across the country, the abaya slowly supplanted the traditional regional costumes and became the national dress.
I've seen more and more abayas in the UAE with black on black detailing and even colorful appliques on black. But I've not seen any on Emirati women that are not basically black.

Do I just not get out much? What have you seen?

And isn't it interesting that black only became the style in recent times. An early effect of globalization, I guess.

12 comments:

wacky said...

The Abaya commands automatic respect from others, and the wearer feels secure inside. Given the weather conditions in this part of the world, I would not bet on black being good on health grounds. Understand those who use Abaya, are exposed to skin problem, due to lack of sunlight penetration and heavy sweating. It would be a good start for Dubai to introduce colorful Abayas, and set the trend.

secretdubai said...

I think I have seen a very dark navy blue abaya, but I can't be certain the wearer was emirati, as other nationalities wear them too.

Here's hoping for more colours - the women in Oman look so nice and colourful. Black can be elegant but it is drab and really absorbs the heat.

John B. Chilton said...

I covet the dark navy dishdash. If I ever have one made it's going to be dark navy.

Anonymous said...

OK first off the abayas in the Gulf are anything BUT modest. Women wear them like they are batman. They do not cover anything, and those shilas do not cover anything either. If something would cost so much it should at least cover and look modest not look like I'm related to Ghadaffi.

Anonymous said...

It would be a waste of time going after such issues. Years ago women burnt their bras. Now they are the fastest selling article in the lingerie stores. Now its do away with the abaya....few years from now the abaya may become the most sought after garment. Better consever you energies and fight global warming!

aysha said...

I sport a midnight blue one because not only is that my favorite color but also looks very elegant. I had a couple other made last year but have only one black which is more like a coat anyway and I mostly wear it when I'm back home in the states. I'd roast wearing a black one in this weather, I'm afraid. Plus the material on the abayas here would just eat into your skin.

Anonymous said...

As an Arab girl, I am happy that women, instead of disgarding the abaya, are lookin into alternatives to make it pleasant looking and reflect their identity:) It is nice to see different shapes and styles, although some may go to extremes with the bling bling that is blinding.
i am wondering if John B Chilton is a professor at AUS? your name looks familiar

Anonymous said...

From black - to white with flowers. And next comes...?

John B. Chilton said...

Let's just say there aren't many John B Chiltons in the Gulf.

secretdubai said...

I also think being able to wear abayas in different colours would be better for the workplace than black but more heavily ornamented abaya. Many of these are very beautiful but they really do look like evening wear.

In the same way that I would feel uncomfortable in a business meeting wearing massses of diamante jewellery, I wonder if the very glittery abayas give the best impression in meetings? Whereas a minimally-decorated midnight blue one would show variety, but be more "pinstripe suit" equivalent than cocktail dress.

Anonymous said...

YEH ABAYAS SHOULD BE IN DIFFERENT COLOURS AND I LIVE IN UK AND WOMEN THERE WEAR COLOURS SUCH AS MAROON CHOCOLATE ETC BUT WE SHOULD ALSO THINK WHY WE ARE WEARING ABAYAS NOT FOR FASHION BUT AS A REQUIREMENT IN ISLAM AND IT SAYS IN ISLAM IT SHOULD BE DARK AND NOT ATTRACTFUL TO MEN AND BY WEARING DIFFERENT COLOURS AND ORNAMATED ONES WE WILL BE CAUSING SINS FOR OURSELF

Mads said...

Hi,,,Yes a woman does look elegant in an ABAYA. But as temperature in uae soars,,, its very difficuly to carry the black abbaya on to one self especially if you are a woman whose career demands more of out door work. The Textile industry should especially design abaya materials for summers which should be thin and which could absorb sweat.

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