Saudi Arabia: The Perfect Abaya

Okay…here is a post that I know Aafke, as an artist, will certainly enjoy.  I want each of us to describe what would be the perfect abaya.  Let’s go on the premise that it must be a black garment.  But, how would YOU like to jazz it up … or down?

First of all for me, the abaya MUST have side pockets!  I also prefer an abaya that snaps or hooks up the front.  It is too awkward and bulky to lift one over the head and it also messes up hair and makeup.  My abaya also needs to have slits in the side to make it easy for walking.  I have a long stride and an abaya without slits looks ridiculous on me as I walk along.

Now, about jazzing it up or bling… I want to make a statement.  My abaya should have a big pink ribbon on the back with the words in Arabic – ‘Let’s find the cure for cancer NOW.’  I would also want pink crystals along the sleeves and the neckline.  Of course my abaya would have a hood which is lined inside with pink material.

I’m not sure if the Muttawa would approve of my abaya but it would be ideal for me.  Of course I would find out where an American Bedu reader found her pink cowboy boots so I could wear some under my abaya too.

84 Responses

  1. I like the idea of pretty Abaya. I still have three and am not even Muslim any more. The one I like best was made in Saudia and given to me as a gift. It is mauve on the bottom and gold around the bodice, and has a great deal of flowery embrodery and is just beautiful. Don’t the Muttawa make you wear black all the time?

    I wonder what would happen if one of the women they were beating broke their arms? I’ll never find out.

  2. @Gwendolyn, your favorite abaya does not sound like a saudi-made abaya

  3. Well, the tag says ” 3 Made in S.A.R.” Maybe it is party abaya. I do not know, I did not go in there.

  4. Gwendolyn: Abayas don’t have to be black according to Islam. There’s a hadith to prove this, but a lot of so-called “mutawa” are totally unaware or just ignore it.

  5. Isn’t that Syria? Syrian Arab Republic?

    Carol, I like how you described your abaya with all the pink!

  6. I think that is Syria. Good catch, Suzanne

  7. I had a very pretty one, I think it was from dubai? not sure it was black as usual but a sil-cotton type mixed material, quite comfortable and flowing .. ir had hooks and the hooks/eye was a rose – tiny one in maroon, it’s lining was maroon and it has maroon satin piping , the base was kind of flared and sleeves fitted . I love the neck like a heart shaped opening with a hood and from the end of the hood there was maroon sash hanging which i could wraparound my neck like a scarf.. i can’t describe it so well. it had pockets and maroon stones like stuff outlining it +more stones on the sleev like stars ( tiny ones0 so only the sleeves were sparkly and the body was plain.. I wore it plenty of times in saudi when we went out to parties etc., and no one ever bothered me , F gave it to me when we landed hoping it will make it more palatable to me 🙂 .I opened the box and took one look around and asked him if he thought it was ok for saudi ,and that’s when he realised how muich it didn’t serve the purpose of the garment 🙂 adn i met my in-laws for the firt time in that garb ( must have partially contributed to the lack of love ) .

    I had it with me for such a long time, my daughter a few yrs ago decided she loved it and made it into a kurta ( long top), she had the tailor chop off half of it and the hood , she wears it over jeans now and it looks classy but i would never have ripped it like that- has sentimental value . oh well teens..

    and then i had a ugly one for daily use in that polyester type thing that everyone wears.. uggghg

  8. ooh i forgot , my SIl took the bottom half with the piping,stones and roses and made 4 placemats, all by herself when she was bored at home 🙂 with some kind of backing.. it was really pretty , i would have never thought up something like that, she was creative…I’d totally forgotten about it ,it’s somewhere in her place with no one to use it ..sad.

  9. I think that I would not like being ordered about by threatening men. Faisal tells me things. In some ways perhaps it is good, but after being so free to do as I wish, it would seem like punishment to me.

  10. OK, that explains it. I wondered how it would be seen by the Muttawa in KSA? Thank you.

  11. My wife likes the the bling bling Vegas style with the crystals and never gets a pullover kind. Her biggest complaint is getting a hajjab that doesn’t migrate or slide off her head. She has perfected the one handed hajjab toss to straighten it, by consistantly fixing it.
    These days the Saudias are getting more bold in contemporary fashion in the abiyas, Lamore Thobe from Jeddah has been the only ground breakers for men. I have seen the overlays in thin leather on some abiyas, perhaps pink leather is more for your liking American Bedu.

  12. Praise the Lord. I like the aesthetic of the bisht style abaya. I had ordered an overhead, but ended up receiving one that fit me perfectly – as a shoulder abaya. I kind of wish it had an opening, but then again, do I always want to be holding it shut? Disturbing hair is not an issue since I already have an amira on before I put it on, and I wear no makeup.

    All that having been said, I cannot resist mentioning that I am nearly finished sewing myself a bisht abaya out of six Indian patchwork table runners. I took an Indian patchwork belt, cut it in half and made little ‘sleeves’ out of it. So, the ‘wings’ are dark blue, and the middle panels are red/pink/gold/etc. Very nice contrast. I am probably going to sew in more belt sections in the front to make the neck opening narrow enough so the thing stays on my shoulders, then I will probably attach the front panel to them with giant buttons or something to that effect and otherwise let it hang loose. The thing is so huge and heavy that only a woman over six feet tall can pull it off without looking totally ridiculous 😛 I’ve promised the wife of a certain customer (an artist) that I will wear it to their next opening night 🙂

  13. I don’t have enough fashion sense to say what my dream abaya would look like, but I do like the abayas I see a lot of the girls wear here in Abu Dhabi!! Definitely very unique and stylish. Not sure if there’s that much color in Saudi yet…

    On a side note, an Emirati tour guide told us that ladies wear dark abayas because they wear whatever they want underneath them – skirts, shorts, more close-fitting items, etc. If they’re going to girls party they want to be dressed up but they don’t want the men to see them. Doesn’t provide the whole explanation of the black abaya tradition (a lot of other colors besides black would serve the purpose too!) but that was the first I’d heard of a more practical reason behind it! It was kind of refreshing.

  14. Br Lonnie:
    Al-Amira Hijabs are great for doing active things but they make a mess of my hair. I do not know where you are and what is permissible, but I make a triangle out of a 1 meter scarf, and wrap it around my head, and pin it with a pretty, dangly pin. Youtube has dozens of ways to do it. Good heavens, what am I doing telling about Hijab. I’m not even Muslim. But I still use them for cold weather, riding my bike, or when I feel insecure. 🙂

  15. Maybe because I’m in Tabuk and it is smallish, I have gotten away with wearing a grey cotton abiya for years. I had it made for me. I took one I had to the tailor and explained the “modifications” It has side pockets. It closes in the front. Instead of snaps/hooks, it has decorative frogs. It has black lace trim around the cuffs and bottom.

  16. The description given in the post is just wonderful ))) My ideal abaya is 1.100%silk (cooling in the heat and keeping you warm in winter); 2. with a hood (when muttawas start saying “Madam, you are in Saudi Arabia…” (as if I can forget it seeing them) I will just put the hood on not to stress poor men at work); 3. with a zip decorated with crystals (it prevents abaya from opening and lets you wear whatever tiny clothes you want under without the risk to be exposed. The best abayas are designed in Jeddah – some of them look like a piece of art – in combination of colours, sleeve shapes, embroidery along the hems, etc.

  17. I gave up on the Gulf-style abayas years ago – black polyester is the worst possible material for the climate, and for some reason, the closed ones never have a wide enough bottom hem to allow for normal walking movement. I’ve never seen an Arab-made abaya that isn’t made of polyester, except for the silk ones, which cost a small fortune, aren’t much more comfortable, and are a whole lot less durable.

    Some Western manufacturers make them out of natural fabrics, but they tend to cost an arm and a leg, and they often don’t have sizes small enough for me. If I’m going to cut it apart to take it in, I might as well just sew it myself from scratch, so that’s exactly what I learned to do. In fact, I just finished one made from two layers of cotton gauze.

    As far as pockets go, a loose garment isn’t going to hang right if you have anything substantial in them, but it’s easy to remove a section of the side seam so you can reach in and use your jeans pockets.

  18. Sunni, I carry my wallet and tissues in my pockets along with my shooping list. I don’t much care if my abiya “hangs right”. It does the job it is suppose to do, covering me up. I’m out for comfort and practicality. I’m not trying to make a fashion statement.
    I fing it amusing that I live in the only counrty in the world where I have to hide the fact I”m a woman by wearing a garment that immediately identifies me as one.

  19. My dream abaya is the one I’m not compelled to wear!

  20. I think the perfect abaya is the Emperors new abaya. One you can’t see and can’t feel.

  21. I think the idea of pink leather accents along the seams would be very attractive!

    I also forgot to mention but what Aafke knows very well about me is that my abaya would also have to have a pink kitty (Hello Kitty) hiding somewhere playfully too!

    I also found the most unique selections of abayas in Dubai. I agree that Jeddah seemed to be cutting edge for abaya styles in the Kingdom. However there was a makeup artist at Saudi TV who made the most gorgeous haute couture abayas I’d ever seen.

  22. Not that I want to experience it, but I wonder what it would be like to be near the Sook and be accosted my the Muttaween? Do they beat the infractor every time, or will a simple verbal correction be enough.? Yes, I am American and I can wear anything from Abaya to things I won’t say, and the only thing that might happen is boys might laugh at me. I think if I were in public and got corrected, it might break my heart and I would after that willingly just cover everything so that there would not be trouble.

  23. Can you tell me what is SII?

  24. the reality is that the muttawa rarely will beat a woman. she will be asked to cover. if she is uncooperative she may be taken to a local police station.

  25. in what context, Gwendolyn? I don’t know what you are referring to.

  26. Oh, sorry. I was asking about the comment made by another sister where she said, “My SII took mine and made place mats…” , so I thought it might be some sort of Saudi slang.

  27. I think for me that one correction would be enough. I am fearful of men, even in America, it is sometimes hard for me, and I’m American and have lived here all my life. Silly me.

  28. SIL – sister in law (global slang)

  29. Oh, I see, LOL thank you. 🙂

  30. When I was yet very new Muslim, I had an experience with man who said he was Muslim on SKYPE. We text-ed only at first, and later voice and finally with video. I was new and even more ignorant than I am now, and one evening he said that I should wear Niqab, so I put it on and he said that I was “beautiful?”. Then he asked me to stand up and turn so he could see me, all the time speaking softly to me.

    Then he told me to take off all my clothes save the Niqab…

    I never spoke to him again. Sometimes I think the Abaya and Niqab have taken on a fetishistic value for the men.

  31. Gwendolyn, you are an ex-Muslim, or claim to be, most of your stories sound very suspect. Also you seem to have been singularly ill informed about your ex-religion.

    But it is not that I am not amused by your amazing stories.
    As you are now planning to become Mormon it would be fun if you would keep us up to date with your experiences with the religion of magic underwear and private planets after death.

  32. “Then he asked me to stand up and turn so he could see me, all the time speaking softly to me.

    Then he told me to take off all my clothes save the Niqab…

    Sometimes I think the Abaya and Niqab have taken on a fetishistic value for the men.”


    It appears that: Nothing sexier than a niqab in the romantic blue light of a computer screen…

    Gwendolyn, seriously. Do you really think many of us buy all of these stories you make up in your comments.

  33. Okay, I can’t help myself.


    You don’t express yourself like a typical American woman in your writings. So I am curious.

    You keep saying you have lived in the US all your life. However, many of your statements have me wondering about that. In addition, the way you write also gives me pause. Seriously, how did you grow up. Either you are extremely naive, timid, lacking in self-confidence or maybe higher education or you are creating an altered internet persona.

    Why the heck are you so fearful of men. Most men in the US leave women alone to do what they want to do and behave themselve just fine. So what gives?

  34. @ To everyone else

    On the other note, why don’t women protest against this dress wear. Instead everyone is talking about it as if it is the most wonder fashion statement to hit France. This garment is the cause of a great deal of oppression, hardship and death for women. So answer me that. Why are women going on about this dress wear when what it represents is hiding your dirty, sinning, sexual, selfs which cause men to do the unspeakable including harming you. Why?

    Remember 15 girls died in Saudi in 2002 because that didn’t hide themselves in this. So again, I ask why are you going on about this dress wear like a fashion event?

  35. Because as long as the abaya is mandatory, then make it have a statement.

    Please do not derail the topic. If you want to talk about dress and oppression, please search the blog for earlier posts that do talk about that specific topic! Or…take the non-relevant queries to the debate page.

  36. I see I have derailed the topic. Excuse me. I will leave again. Apparently, you have to be the chose to do that as evident in other blogs.

  37. Stop having such tender skin! Your comments are welcome…on topic. If off topic, just go to the debate page. Pretty simple.

  38. I don’t have tender skin. Check the blog topics even this one and you will see it is off the topic. Not just me.

  39. Today I have zero patience. Please do not tell me how to run my blog!

  40. I will let you know if I find him.

  41. By the way, I asked a question just wanting an actually answer to why women are doing this instead you immediately it the topic button. The topic is the dress wear. My question was a legitimate one on the matter of this dress. It was just that a question. Maybe you have a biased toward my comments.

  42. Make your choice.

  43. describe the perfect abaya and I’ll give my response to your query!

  44. Sheer.

  45. I agree, if you are forced to wear an abaya you should decorate it and bling it for all you’re worth.
    If the abaya is the only way you can express your personality then make your abaya unique.
    And make it yourself, out of a sensible fabric. It’s just a black bag, any idiot can sew an abaya.

  46. This is about Abaya. I am sorry to have made off topic comment.

    There are good men, and bad ones. I met many bad ones, but I am free now.

  47. I wore Abaya because it was ordered, and it made me feel secure and safe and still miss my Hijab even though not Muslim.

  48. Don’t worry, join the Lsds or whatever crazy Mormon sect and there will be many men telling you to obey and cover yourself. You should feel right at home

    Have you thought of becoming a fundamentalist Jew? Then you would be ordered to cover as well.
    Just trying to help you out you know, as you seem to be bend to join any religion which treats you like a doormat.

  49. @Gwendolyn,

    Security issues, fear issues, believe issues, imaginary worlds, imaginary situations, imaginary friends etc.

    Perhaps a professional can help you with all of these…

    Consider it…

    @bigstick, I would not consider any abbaya you were perfect 🙂

  50. Wow, that hurt. 🙂

  51. @Bigstick – I think you copped out a bit on your answer! I agree that abayas are oppressive (in my personal view) but for the moment they are a fact of life in Saudi for most women. Therefore, if a woman has to wear one, at least let her know that it does not have to remain totally black or made from polyester.

    @Gwen – thanks for recognizing you’d been off topic. I’m sure if you want to take your thoughts to the debate page, others would continue to dialogue. You probably did not get as many responses because those comments were off topic.

  52. come on MoQ….let’s hear how you would design an abaya…this topic is not restricted to women only! (smile)

  53. AB:

    That is all you had to say, initially.


  54. @American Bedu,

    I had to shoot a Hog this morning to feel manly again after I read your article last night.

    Now I am on my second can of chewing tobacco and barely hanging on..

  55. MoQ:

    Yes, please tell me your perfect abaya and how it would look on you. 😉

  56. MoQ:

    Given your high assessment of yourself it would be like a 10 but I would say can you cover more. 🙂

  57. Awww MoQ….you were watching Hog Wars again on tv, weren’t you?

  58. I have a black Abaya that is translucent when looked through. The interesting thing about it is it has designs around the collar and the sleeves, on the matching Hijab and this little triangle thing that must somehow be part of a face covering but I do not understand that part.

    Interestingly they used very fine copper or brass wire to make the elaborate designs. It is quite pretty. It says 60 in the Collar but nothing else and is very comfortable and durable.

    Someone also commented on my language word choices. The answer is that it is easier that way, and so many of the people I talk to speak English as their second language. 🙂 So I routinely leave “articles”. out of my language but it is not with the intent to deceive.

  59. Okay…Lonnie gets a gold star as one of the few men who took the time to describe an abaya.

    Seriously, I’d be curious to hear from the man’s perspective on what he thinks would be an ideal abaya.

  60. Please do not be mean to me.

  61. And you disgrace yourself.

  62. @Gwendolyn – those numbers are sizes.

  63. “Given your high assessment of yourself”

    Everyone should have a high assessment of themselves unless they want to be losers in life.

    I do not know what the rest of your comment means.

  64. @Gwen

    Can’t you just be yourself. Seriously. This may be your biggest problem as your not sure who you are. Liking yourself and being yourself is the first step to freedom.

  65. @American Bedu,

    “Seriously, I’d be curious to hear from the man’s perspective on what he thinks would be an ideal abaya.”

    Seriously Carol for me is none. There is no abbaya that looks good on a woman. All I see with abbayas is oppression. So they all look the same to me.

  66. @ MoQ:

    Your kidding right or I am missing your sacasm. In other words, you would think you look awesome in an abaya with bling (the perfect 10)but I would be telling you to cover up even further. 😉

  67. Some women do get a sense of security from an abaya. I may not agree with their view but would not want to take that away either if that is their choice.

  68. I would be happy to take this somewhere else as it is off topic. I am myself. To be anyone else is illogical. And according to those around me, I am quite happy compared to before.

  69. @Gwen – the debate page is where you need to go.

  70. @American Bedu: The security of Hijab is what kept me going long after my heart left those who are mean in Islam. I even continued to Hijab after I was attending church. NO one questioned it. I am sure that the Holy truth is in life somewhere.

  71. @bigstick1,

    Aha, sarcasm an art form that requires wits and some understanding of what is commonly understood with the audience. Otherwise, it falls flat and sound like silly comments.

    Guess which one of those, your comments sounded like…

  72. I am not sure where it is, but will try to find it. But, I most enjoy your topics. 🙂

  73. @ MoQ

    Thank you. I got that sacasm. I am truly witty. I knew in time you would understand my brilliance.

    However you really need to work on your skills. 🙂

  74. If you are truly yourself, if your comments here are truly representing you I suggest you get some serious psychiatric treatment.

    So, you first became a fundamentalist Christian, then a fundamentalist Muslim, (not fundamentalist enough to go on hajj though, too much trouble), and here you said you were now looking into becoming a Mormon, a nutcase crackpot religion/sect if ever I’ve seen one.
    And now you suddenly went back to church after deciding islam was not for you after all?
    Your stories simply do not add up.
    I suggest you keep notes before coming on the internet and entertain us with your fiction.
    And I have also before suggested you read up a bit more before composing your fiction.

    Anyway, Christianity and Islam are now far behind you, how is the Mormon thing working out for you? Have you been allowed access to the magic underwear yet?

  75. Gwendolyn, you could combine you know, magic underwear foundation, christian modest dress on top of it, and finish it off with abaya and hijab and niqab.
    Three layers of divinely commanded, protective, magical cloth should make you feel a lot safer.

  76. This is off topic. Please have respect for American Bedu. If you wish to meet on debate page, say so.

  77. Do you want to meet on Debate page or make cutting comments here? I know where it is now.

  78. I prefer any garment to have pockets. If I had to wear an abaya I would need it to be made of sturdy blue denim because I tend to get dirty in the garden and wipe my hands on my clothes. I guess that does not fit the requisite black. That is one thing I don’t understand, wearing black in hot countries. If the outer cover-up garment has bling, wouldn’t that be the same as shaking your ankle bracelets?
    What about pleats to make walking easier?

  79. an abaya with pleats is an interesting concept.

  80. I’ve seen denim thobes for men but never an abaya made of denim. I know…not fair.

    On Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 4:17 AM, Carol Fleming wrote:

    > an abaya with pleats is an interesting concept. > >

  81. AB – aparently moshes, moshe some such store in abudhabi carries denim abayas 🙂 in case you end up there adn want one .
    I know because a Patient was wearing a nice denim dress that we had to rip and she was upset and said she made itout of an abaya !!!

  82. 5-carat Kunzite Diamond studded Abaya is the perfect kind I’d like to own. One which has a long lacy trail and a lacy hood to match. The Abaya material has to be 100% silk. And I’d like to have my initial sewn at the wrist. Obviously I’d only be wearing my dream Abaya for special occasions e.g. hotel wedding receptions coz who would want to be a walking bait for trouble 😉

  83. i want this abaya can u tell me the prise n how i buy this abaya…

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