Abayas, like the women who wear them, have come a long way as each generation adds its own elements to the time-honored 4,000 year-old garment.
The long, flowing abaya dress these days is as much about style as it is about tradition; as much about expression as it is about religion; as much about accentuation as it is about suppression; and as much about freedom as it is about constraint. These paradoxes serve to add a sense of mysticism to the versatile abaya dress which, these days, appeals to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
When it comes to fashion, Dubai has especially elevated the garment. Walk around Dubai Mall on any given day and you can find abaya dresses of all styles and fabrics, from shiny silks, intricate satins, impeccable georgettes and high-quality wools. Lately, different colored abaya dresses have been slowly creeping into the fold, discreet colors, neutral tones, but black continues to prevail. Only this time, black is a choice rather than mandatory. And depending on the wearer, black can mean many things from street edginess to sleek sophistication.
Propriety can be classy when done in the right way, and just as there's a time and place for everything there's also an abaya for all situations.
Six different abaya types and where to wear them.
Some people confuse abayas with burqas but there are differences. An abaya is a long robe worn over clothing, but a burqa also covers hands and face.
The long black cloak without buttons or slits may not allow for different forms of styling, however it is convenient if you want to head off to the shops without taking off your pajamas. It may may restrict movement, depending on the cut.
Flattering and beautiful, with a slit at the front, the experience of wearing this abaya is like walking in a breeze. It gives a glimpse of women's apparel underneath which in Dubai, more often than not, means designer clothing. It's versatile and comfortable, and allows for a woman to take long strides as she walks.
This abaya dress is similar to the abaya cardi only it wraps around like a Japanese kimono giving a 'butterfly' look.
The style is inspired by Grecian draped designs and allows freedom of movement thanks to the soft flowy fabric that glides as you walk. It is definitely a unique style.
This 2-in-1 piece is a mix between the closed abaya and the abaya cardi. Includes an attached inner dress.
How to rock your abaya dress
Abaya dresses used to be simple loose garments until around 2009 when different designers emerged to break stereotypes, debunk misconceptions and take designs to new heights. Designer abayas came onto the market, and women from around the world - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - took note.
These days women are more empowered and this shows in the way they dress. Abayas are no longer items imposed by society, family and religion but high fashion which is embraced even by non-Muslim celebrities and influencers from around the world. Influencers and style icons, like Beyonce, Jordyn Woods and Kim Kardashian. are donning their abayas and drawing attention to the beauty of this apparel.
Here's how you can rock your abaya too:
An abaya can cover a few extra kilos and is very convenient to wear if you just want to run some quick errands without having to worry about your clothes underneath - but that's no reason to choose to wear a potato sack! Make sure your garment fits well and is the right size for you. The most flattering abayas are those that accentuate your form rather than the loose ones. Wear a belt to streamline your look.
Excessive layering or wearing bulky clothes underneath can ruin the look of your abaya. Make sure your undergarments are lightweight and don't detract from the beauty and flow of the abaya.
A well-heeled woman wearing an abaya in high-quality fabrics, complemented with fancy jewelry is a sight to behold. Match the look with bags in contrasting colors to make the abaya pop. Designer sunglasses will only elevate the look. Accompany with a shayla to mix up the look.
Make-up and perfume
Details are everything, and skill and flare with dramatic eye make-up can make a high-grade abaya enter the high stakes of fashion. Accentuate the eyes with colorful shades. Lovely fragrances will make a good look unforgettable.
Abayas and what they symbolize today
There was a pre-Islamic time when abaya dresses were worn by women to protect themselves from the elements, such as heat, sand and exposure to the sun. Later, came the need for modesty and women were cloaked as a sign of purity, dignity and belief. But an abaya is all that and so much more, with today's edgy, modern designs breaking myths and misconceptions that abayas are forced upon women.
The way in which abaya's are designed and worn today have broken stereotypical Western notions of female power. Islamic women are leading the way by showing that true empowerment doesn't mean burning the abaya in the same way as bras were burnt by women across Western cultures of the 1960s. Women who wear abayas know that the essence of freedom does not come in spasmodic gestures but by embracing your heritage, acknowledging your traditions and reflecting on who you are. And the abaya is a symbol of who Muslim women are.
That is why abayas are beautiful.