As she walks wearing royal black Abaya, it is adorned with beautiful embroidery and shiny beads along the abaya bottom and also along the sleeve edges. This is the image we constantly witness in the Arabian Gulf “Women in Abaya”.
Abaya as we call it in Al Khaleej (Arabian Gulf Countries) are known to be a veil for the body, to new comers to the culture and custom of GCC countries can give a description of a black cloak worn by women. Thence for outsiders or those who are new to such culture can be bore by seeing women in black. However, it takes time to be accustomed and to know that Abaya has become a statement of individuality for each Khaleeji lady that had emerged beyond being a sign of a woman's belief in Islam and of her modesty.
I do not remember much of the early days of the Gulf traditional Abaya but it used to be a shapeless black garment with small armholes, and a slightly delineated neckline (or no neckline at all). It is worn over the head (over the scarf and the jilbab) or other traditional styles are worn from the shoulders. My fascination of Abaya developed few years ago. Wearing Abaya was never imposed on me, my mother believed the importance in the decency in clothing, yet she never had any objection on the choice of dressing as long as it did not cross the border of being decent or it is not being revealing. I recall my two younger sisters wore Abaya away earlier than me, only then it had stricken me how fashionable Abaya is from the collections they had similarly to the western clothing fashion. Not only that the wearer of Abaya has the upper hand of choosing from readymade or tailor-made Abaya, it is about putting individual touch and style whether the cut, embroidery, type of material, even using accessories creating ones own chic Abaya. In era were fashion is the ultimate point of modernity, many arguments are arising as the abaya have crossed the means which was created for and it has become very eye catching and now its about fashion and trends and away from the modesty.
As I entered the shop Abdullah Hussain Al Khanji in Muscat City Centre dazed with the modern ambiance and still statues in the glamorous latest fashionable Abaya, greeted by Sales Staff who introduced herself Amal Saeed Al Amry. Her soft voice and polite manner encouraged me to admit to her even though Im Abaya wearer but my knowledge is so limited with the history of Abaya. Amal told me that Abaya is originated from the bidu not only as she says Suter (Protection) it is an ancient Khaleeji Custom. She explained that the thread which was used then to make the Abaya was from goat thread and then colored in black and such use of natural material did not cause any heat for the body in contrary it provided cooling for the body while in constant moving. Only with reanasis when Abaya had been modified and new type of material were introduced.
When I asked how she defines Abaya? She replied with pride that Abya is an art, it is a beatification for the women and Black is a royal colour which gives certain chic on the wearer and especially with head cover as it’s called in colloquial Arabic Shaila this is made of transparent material.
I got an opportunity to explore more about the fashion of Abaya by meeting Nawal Al Hooti Omani renowned fashion designer. Her shop located in Al Asfoor plaza it is differed from Al Khunji shop. Nwal’s shop did not have shelves parading Omani traditional dresses nor having collection of Abaya which she is know to be designing. The shop I may refer has an antique look into it. As if it takes way back to olden times, you get the feeling for being home. Still has a prestige in it, I hold into my silence as number of women entering the shop wearing elegant Abaya and I'm captured by the style of Abayas that there wore, I did not see the design before, no similarities from others as I kept thinking to myself and observing in quietness while Nawal was seeing into her customers. I have the head scarves (shila) displayed on the table. I scrutinized into each one, the soft texture, the sequences and the designs in them, and I’m all tempted to purchase one.
Nawal Al Hooti clearly said “The definition of abaya has changed. Abaya is no longer Abaya, it used to be worn for centuries as humility covering from showing body curves. Abaya has become like a dress with many fashion into it. Now for some its not about modesty, it is like a long jacket worn with skirts or trousers or dresses” She explained how the Abaya have changed with the passing years “Women finds herself continuously wearing Abaya and the inside dress is not been seen no matter how creative the style is. The only thing is seen for the eyes were the Abaya and that is how the idea of creating appealing design on the Abaya had appeared. Little by little it has become fashionable in every season certain designs comes out” She clarified.
I wondered how is the Abaya is useful as for instant closed abaya “When you wear Abaya you have complete freedom on what you wear inside” stated Nawal. She also gave insight of her preference as designer is making statement with Abaya with certain collage or decorative work into it, so it lightens up the Abaya. She explained even though black is chic, however the excessiveness use of black in Abaya can be distressful. Nawal had surprised me when she talked about colorful Abaya “One has an option to wear colorful Abaya for evening’s occasions. As I mentioned abaya now has a shape of being like long jacket, introducing Colorful Abaya can be worn with matching or color coordinated clothing and so on”. My immediate response on the acceptance for the colorful Abaya, Nawal stated “ Im one of the people who wear colorful Abaya for going out with my husband or coffee gathering with my friends and I have more demand on them now more than before. I feel colorful Abaya should be taken for happy occasions and black abaya can be worn for souq, hospitals visits and so on. Of course it’s taking time but it is slowly gaining acceptance. True examples of our ladies Ministers are wearing colorful abays. Hopefully to be the first country in the GCC country to be popular with colorful Abaya” she affirmed.
As for the designs, Nawal creates the head scarves and based on it she works on the Abaya for her customers or keep certain designs ready to be selected by the customer or based on what the customer aspiration. Selecting deigns of Nawal, the customer grantees getting individual designs and assurances that the style of the Abaya is not repeated to another customer. As Nawal puts it in her own words “The wearer of my designs gets the worth of the pattern and enjoys wearing the Abaya to its maximum length of time”.
The Photos from flickr.com and I would like to thank all the photographers/ who posted the photos enabling me to compliment my writing with photos