I mentioned my appreciation for the black abaya. I can begin to explain here some of what I like about the traditional, standard women’s clothing in the Gulf.
I mean, surely, there are a few things I don’t like. For example, I have slippery hair, and if I expect the shayla (the rectangular scarf that goes with the abaya) to stay on my head, I have to wear an underscarf and pin it tightly. Thing is, I don’t usually like to wear my scarf tight around my neck anyway (and maybe I’ll write a post about tinea versicolor some other time).
I know a lot of people have covered this point, but don’t assume anything about what’s going on under that abaya. Imagine it as a trenchcoat: I could be wearing a dress, a pair of jeans, a dirty muumuu, or–gasp!–maybe even nothing at all. That’s the point, really: none of your business, mister.
Know what else? It’s really quite airy in here. To honest, these days, with the temps in the upper 30s to 40s daily, I have been basically wearing technical workout clothing underneath, so I’m in running tanks and capri-cut running tights. So I am catching plenty of breeze through fabrics, and the abaya is taking the heat, rather than the layer against my skin. Am I a sweaty mess? Sweaty, sure, but not so much a mess. And certainly no sweatier than anyone else out here.
And another thing: I’m always mosque-appropriate. Being a Muslim, if I’m out and about and it’s prayer time, I should pop into any nearby mosque to line up with my sisters for a prayer. In my abaya, I’m always ready for congregational prayers. Which is nice if you like your prayers with company, which I do.
And almost as good, an abaya pretty well ensures that I meet any dress code, anywhere. It’s not often that I need to worry, but it’s one more worry I don’t have if I’m in an abaya.
Notice I didn’t say anything about getting respect on the street or better treatment? So far, I haven’t really noticed a difference in how I’m treated in the black abaya versus my other clothes. But I haven’t been choosing it for social reasons as much as pragmatic, utilitarian ones–keeping cool, neat and presentable while going about life in a hot and humid environment.
Now, I haven’t yet seen anyone in an abaya on a bike here, but Dubai doesn’t really seem to be much of a cycling town. And I certainly would not do garden work in an abaya–but then, the garden is within the walls of our home, a private space, and I’m surely not sitting here at the desk draped in black crepe or chiffon, am I? I don’t wear it in the ocean (though there are those who do), nor would I wear it to the gym. It does restrict movement to the extent that any long dress would. Just as I wouldn’t go for a run on the beach in the Louboutins so many Dubai women are wearing, nor would I do so in the abaya.
Certainly not least, let us revisit one of the oldest truths of fashion: black is slimming, darlings. There are women of all sizes and builds wearing these things, and I truly think everyone looks nice. That is, as nice as their smiles are. One really effective way to show off a pleasant attitude is to cover the rest up in black. And I swear, while I tend to turn it off for the camera, I have been sporting a smile on the streets (and in the malls).