The traditional abaya is a plain black robe worn by Muslim women to cover their regular clothing.
It could be defined as a long-sleeve robe-like dress and it is the traditional form of dress for many countries of the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and United Arab Emirates.
In Iran, the abaya is commonly known as a chador and in South Asia, it is called burqa.
The Abaya conceals the whole body except the face, feet, and hands. It can be worn with the niqab, a face veil covering all but the eyes.
So, where does the abaya come from?
The origins of the abaya aren't known exactly. It is believed that the garment has existed for over four millennia.
In particular, the Mesopotamians seemed to wear garments that are similar in style and length to the abaya, though the clothes wouldn’t have carried the same name at the time.
Islam and the abaya
The rise of Islam in the seventh century increased the popularity of the abaya.
The religion adopted the veiling practices that we know today, with some guessing that this may have been influenced by the presence of garments like the abaya at the time. It's during this period that the abaya gained the religious associations that many attach to the garment today.
Interestingly, many believe that pre-Islam abayas were much more revealing than the ones we see today. It was not until the rise of Islam that wearers were required to draw their veils and ensure the abaya covered as much of their skin as possible. This was done to protect women.
Some scholars also believe the act of “veiling” was as much about status as it was religion. For example, in pre-Islam times, veiling was seen by many as a sign of luxury, with women who didn’t need to work often wearing veils alongside their abayas. These women used the veil to distinguish themselves from the working women who couldn’t afford something as impractical as a veil to cover their faces.
Abayas and the 21st Century
Traditionally, abayas came in black only, but designers have become more conscious to wearer’s taste to fashionable sophistication.
Today, the abaya is both linked to the Islamic faith and a fashion trend in its own right. The growth of Islamic/modest fashion has brought it to a new level of fame, and it is not uncommon to see women who do not practice Islam wearing the abaya.
Abayas and the weather
Because abayas originated from the Middle East (a hot temperature zone), it was imperative that lightweight fabrics were used to cushion the effect of the heat.
Nowadays, because abayas are now used in other places with cooler weather, fabric chosen is related to its function, not merely weather.
Many commonplace abayas are made out of cotton, polyester, rayon or blends of those fabrics.
Abayas sewn for colorful events such as parties and weddings will be made of silk.
And just like every other dress made in Europe or America, it could be made from denim, corduroy, and even velvet.
In some Middle Eastern countries, abayas bought during winter will come with heavier and thicker crepes. During summer, light and thin crepe-like materials are normally used.
Abayas come in many designs, and different styles and colours are favoured by women from particular regions according to specific religious and cultural interpretations.
A Head abaya rests on top of the head and extends below the ankles, ensuring that a women’s body stays completely hidden.
Black abayas are more commonly worn in Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi-Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar.
White abayas are popularly worn in Far Eastern Muslim countries.
Coloured and embroidered abayas are becoming increasingly popular in Jordan, western countries and now also in Middle Eastern countries, too.
Although black is the preferred colour in some countries, Muslim women can generally wear whatever colour they like as long as it does not generate unnecessary attention. For this reason, earth-tones are popular choices.
So, if modesty and comfort are your priority, we have a whole range of abayas for you to choose from.
If your trip is in a hot country and you need suitable clothing that is modest and light, our modern and stylish abayas give you exactly what you need.
Going to Saudi Arabia?
Our luxury abayas are made from nidha Aswad which is recommended for Hajj and Umrah. When embarking for business trips to Saudi, or going for umrah and hajj, with our exquisite wears, you will look modest yet stylishly dressed.
Read our article on “Should I wear an Abaya to Saudi Arabia?”