Saturday, May 03, 2008

Abaya redefined

In six years of living in the UAE I witnessed a rather dramatic evolution in abaya styles worn by local women. It was certainly not a majority even among young women, but many abayas were adorned with clear glass sequins, or black tufts of fabric, and some even added color to the basic black abaya. It was as if it was acceptable to wear an abaya to cover your clothes and create uniformity, and at the same time add another layer to express flamboyance or individuality. I found it puzzling.

The National has a story on this subject. Some extracts:
Embroidered crystals of black, blue and white glitter on the sleeves of Nouf al Hamly’s open abaya and the lining of her shaila.

Both pieces of clothing are impeccably matched to the midnight blue blouse and white skirt that the 22-year-old laboratory technician is wearing underneath.

Her sister Reem, 21, a student at Zayed University, on the other hand, has chosen a more demure version of the traditional outfit: plain and closed from the front so that the clothing beneath it is hidden from public view.

From traditional wear to fashion statement, the abaya is undergoing a massive transformation, much like the Emirati women who wear it. The subtle differences in the sisters’ outfits offer a perfect illustration of how some young women are pushing the limits of creativity while still respecting their culture.

“We have to stick to traditional boundaries, but that does not mean that we have to lose our femininity,” says Nouf al Hamly, whose point is emphasised by her perfectly presented hair and meticulous make-up.

When Reem shops for an abaya though, she says likes to “make sure it covers the right parts”.

“The way I wear my shaila and abaya is purely religious,” she adds. “I don’t like to attract attention.”
In part, the trend may be driven by the increasing financial independence of Emirati women.

Seven UAE civil servants in 10 are now women, according to official estimates, and a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the UAE has the highest rate of women studying in university in the world.

“Now that the Emirati woman is a working woman and a productive part of society, her abaya is reflecting that change,” reflects Nouf Al Hamly.

Both she and Ms Hashem hasten to add that they choose what abaya to wear by how hectic they expect their day to be.

“If I need to go around and walk a lot, it is easier for me to have it open with jeans under it,” Ms Hashem says. “Abayas are thinner now too, for practicality, and because of the hot weather.”

I've students who sometimes wear the shaila and sometimes don't why that is. Their answer: depends on whether it's a bad hair day or not.

There are advantages to being able to throw on the black abaya and shaila. It's an immediately classy looks even in the basic versions without a lot of bother.



Blogger rosh said...

"It's an immediately classy looks even in the basic versions without a lot of bother."

Well said.

I think, like in every society - as it evolves,there shall be the conservatives, and those who shall stay within their defined ways of life - yet add on certain detailing similar to that of Nouf al Hamly.

Personally, I do not find the layers of make-up in good taste, it all looks horribly gone wrong. However, I love the Abaya/Shaila styles similar to that of Nouf al Hamly. It's a healthy trendy fusion of something contemporary as well as traditional. I say bring on such fusion trendy fashion and wear it proud :)

4:22 AM  

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