‘Single in the City’ columnist Rym Tina Ghazel once said, “Every country’s national dress is symbolic and should be worn with respect, given its history and its nationalistic, as well as patriotic, connotations.” In this case, she was talking about the internationally known Abaya, which is worn by most Muslim women.
What is the Abaya? Are all women required to wear an Abaya if of Muslim nationality? The answer is: not all countries in the Middle East require women to wear the Abaya, which is a robe Muslim women wear on top of their regular clothing to conceal their bodily attributes or beauty from men who are not specifically allowed to see them. The Abaya is mostly required, regardless of nationality or religion, in Saudi-Arabia, who enforces this fashion “law” through police who have been known to swat at women with sticks who are immodestly dressed. This stick swatting rarely happens today, however, since most women follow this rule.
Based on the female Muslim student body at my University, I have only seen what is popular, which is the black Abaya. The popularity of this clothing piece began with a legend. It has been said that during the eighth century of the Abbasid Islamic period, a merchant selling these cloaks ran out of all of the colorful ones and was left with only the unwanted black cloaks. This merchant then visited his poet friend, who helped him with this dilemma by composing a poem praising the beauty of a woman cloaked in black garment, a color he claimed to be worn by the rich and noble. Ever since this legend, women flocked to buy the black Abaya in desire to be “sensuous and beautiful.”
In my opinion, I view the Abaya as a fashion statement Muslim or Arab women choose to wear, not forced to wear. To them, it is a fashion choice in which they feel comfortable and beautiful in, much like the fashion choices us women in America follow. In their case, it is a trend that has been followed for centuries, unlike our trends, which can die out within a year or two. Lets be honest, although leggings and yoga pants are popular now, will this trend still be as popular in five years, or will it die out like the rest of our trends? I applaud this fashion statement brought on by Muslim and Arab women considering how warm it can be in the Middle East, and they are mostly wearing black, a color notoriously known to attract and hold in heat from the sun. Which brings an interesting point to my attention: most yoga pants and leggings, a fashion statement chosen by the everyday American woman, is just as plain black like an Abaya, however much more skin tight and revealing. To me, it is flattering to hide one’s body and not overly flaunt what one has. Although an Abaya might be an extreme garment when hiding what one has, it is still the more appropriate and modest choice of the two.
Pictured: Three Saudi women dressed in the traditional and popular black Abaya.
Not all Abaya’s in the Muslim or Arab fashion world are just plain black however. There are many ways women are able to express themselves through their head to toe cloak. This can be done with a colorful Abaya, an Abaya with an intricate design, or an Abaya that is decorated with Swarovski crystals. One example that showed the freedom of a woman’s expression through her Abaya is from the columnist Rym Tina Ghazel I mentioned earlier:
“At one point in my teenage years, my gang of close friends and I designed and tailored our own special Abaya’s with our logo — a small cat’s paw print on the back next to the letter of our first names. Mine had a huge purple “R” across the back, made up of shiny purple Swarovski crystals. I even wore a matching purple cap over my headscarf just for kicks.”
Pictured: Women wearing Abaya’s showing the stylish and personal touches that can be expressed through their clothing.
From just this small moment shared by her, it is clear to see that the Abaya, a respected garment that expresses a woman’s social status and beauty, does not have to be taken too seriously and can be altered to fit a woman’s personality in a respectful manner.
Ghazal, R. (2012, November 12). Single in the City: The Abaya and I. The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rym-tina-ghazal/abaya-women-saudi-arabia_b_2114073.html