Most Emirati women wear the ‘Abaya’, which is the traditional female black robe that is seen all over the United Arab Emirates. The Abaya has become a cultural feature in countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council, Bahrain, KSA, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE. However wearing the Abaya is not limited only to this region, as it is also worn in some countries in North Africa, such as Morocco, and elsewhere but in more colorful fabrics and designs. The main reason for wearing the Abaya in the Gulf was to observe modesty and as a protection from the harsh desert environment. By wearing such a loose garment the women protected their clothes from the effects of the sun and sand blown around. Many of the visitors to our center often ask “why is the Abaya black?” The Abaya evolved and became black because it is a discreet and elegant color. While the black color is mistakenly thought to attract heat, it actually filters UV rays. Recent studies show that black radiates heat waves and creates a shadow underneath the object, similar to the sunglasses.
Historically, the Abaya was originally a completely black, simple square, designed to be loose, light and flowing, and was worn by being placed on top of the head and reached down to the ankles. The Abaya changed over the years and it is now worn on the shoulders like a cloak and is made from various materials. It is often misunderstood as a dress, but women normally wear their colorful traditional or modern dress underneath it, and wear their Abayas only when they are out of the house. It is usually worn with a scarf ‘shalya’ which covers the hair, and some choose to wear it with a veil, which covers the face. While there are many different styles, the way it’s worn has to do with the many factors. For example, the tradition of the individual, culture of a region or politics of a nation. The Abaya in itself as an attire, does not stem from religion, the fact of the matter is that religion states the purpose of draping a garment on when going out is modesty so you are not showing off in public, as a protocol of modesty. Modesty applies to males and females alike and is manifested in all faiths as you look back at the way we all used to dress in the past especially when one is practicing their faith.
Due to fashion development and technologies, the Abaya evolved from the traditional modest completely black and simple design, into many different styles with colorful embroideries, belts and tassels. Some even have jewels around the collar or on the sleeves. Basic and designer Abayas are available now in the UAE market, and abroad suiting different tastes, from the simple to the more extravagant, and accordingly their price ranges from 100 to 1000s of dirhams. Certain malls are known in Dubai for offering a various range of Abayas.
The Abaya is extremely practical and is a source of pride to our Emirati women, even among the younger generation, who preserve it and wear it gracefully. It is up to the individual to be modest or not, each has his/her own view on that. On the other hand, wearing the Abaya is a choice and not by force, although women’s comfort zone plays a big role in adapting to the environment that they are in where each person decides for themselves.
While visiting our cultural centre, you have the chance to try on a Abaya, take photos, experience local cuisine while learning more about the culture and heritage of the UAE.