Monday, January 28, 2008

Abayas in General, Abaya Styles

Recently I've seen several females in shorter abayas, something I haven't seen before. (In the Gulf, an abaya is a black floor-length cloak worn over clothing when ladies leave the house. They wear a matching black shayla, or headscarf with their abaya.)

At the Marina Mall yesterday, I saw a woman in an abaya that was five inches shorter than the usual floor length. The hem of this lady's long brown skirt really stood out; I assumed she must have borrowed a shorter friend's abaya in a pinch. As a fashion style it definitely didn't work.

Later, while watering my new pink petunias in their new window boxes in front of my villa, a group of teenage girls walked by. Each of them was wearing an abaya that was more like a cape. These abayas were sort of hip length. The girls were beautiful, young, laughing. I liked their whole "air," if you will. Their heads were covered loosely with black shaylas. Very lovely. Is the shorter abaya a new style?

Speaking of abayas, I love them. They're feminine and graceful. They definitely make you wonder what is worn under them, which by the way, could be anything from cottom pajamas to a silk ball gown. Women of the Gulf wear abayas well, as they tend to walk very erect and with a proud air. The abaya fabric is wrinkle resistant and very fluid. Sometimes they have embroidery or brightly colored stones on the sleeves or hems or both, but some Gulf ladies say these highly-decorated abayas are too flashy and are supposed to be saved for special occasions.

The abaya has evolved over the years into something quite fashionable. In times past, abayas used to have "wings," and were like floor-length ponchos, I'm told. But they've become more tailored to the size of the wearer's arms and figure.

Occasionally a lady's abaya will flare open towards the bottom and a bright colored skirt and heels might be seen. It's interesting to note that men seem to like them.

"Western women don't get it," my German podiatrist chiropodist said when we discussed the abaya one day. "Men would rather get a little peak and leave the rest to their imaginations than see everything."

Really, if a woman is overweight the abaya is slimming. I've seen extra-large ladies remove their abayas at weddings and thought they ought to immediately put them back on. If a woman is slender, she is nothing short of stunning in her abaya. For most ladies who fall in between, the abaya makes them look well groomed and certainly insulates them from prying eyes. In this part of the world, where a woman can feel the uncomfortable heat of a strange man's stare, the abaya is often welcome.

I cringe when I read a western woman rail against the abaya as something imprisoning Gulf ladies when, in fact, local ladies I know actually like their abayas.

When I received an abaya and matching shayla (headscarf) as a gift from an Emirati friend, my children teased me about being an Emirati "wannabe." Maybe they were scared I'd wear it in public, I don't know. I find it's best not to listen too closely to my children at these times.

I haven't worn my abaya outside yet, but I confess that I've tried it on (in the bathroom) many times, just to see what I'd look like.


Land-Frau said...

Frances,if you want to wear your Abaya do so, I am sure you look great.

Kristin said...

Hi Frances. I stumbled across your blog recently, and have been enjoying your posts. I love your positive view of all things Abu Dhabi! Just wanted you to know I linked your comments about abayas to my blog.

Kristin said...

(This is where.)

Frances Gunnison said...

Thanks, Kristin, I'm going to check out your blog now.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your positive take on the abaya. You're right! The abaya is great for us girls with some 'junk in the trunk' and I LOVE my UAE abayas.

Lucky you, I'd shop myself out!


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to mention that I have bought from and they have a great collection of beautiful abayas and will also custom make.

Anonymous said...

hello sweetheart,so kind of you being a lovely lady,speaking outrageous words about the abaya.
i wish all fellow women could think
like you.That's why i would love to say UAE's hands are always open
to embrace beautifull thinkers/writters like you.Thank you

Frances Gunnison said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for your kind sentiments. The world is small and getting smaller. We can live in peace and harmony if we appreciate each other and approach our differences with respectful curiosity. I loved living in Abu Dhabi and I completely understand the abaya as a liberating force.
Kind Regards,