Friday, July 16, 2010

Gulf Fashion: From Black to Ack!

Three of my students at the museum, (I call this pic "Three Sheets to the Wind").

Back in Canada, when I told most people we were off to the gulf to teach again, we were really surprised at the reactions we'd get. Generally, only two people asked us to come see them when we returned and answer some questions they had about the area. 

A lot of other people decided to tell us "what it's like over there". And what they always focused on was the abaya, that black cover women wear over their clothes when they go out in public. 

"It's horrible! They're forced to wear it!" 
Well for the one millionth time, I'm here to say - it's NOT horrible and they are NOT forced to wear it. They love it. It's the national dress, and they want to wear it. (And trust me, the abaya is seriously the LEAST of their problems.) 

Gulf ladies are very fashion conscious. Our student mona unpacked her closet for us this week and it was jammed with clothes; bright traditional Omani dresses, western jeans and t-shirts splashed with Disneyland across the front and beautiful handmade indian Punjabis. She also has about a dozen black abayas, all different and very stylish.

An Abaya Store

Abayas are not all the same here. When buying a generic abaya, you go to just a shop in a mall, but many ladies prefer to go to a more traditional shop. There you first choose the body shape, fitted or loose and flowing. Then you add the sleeves, they will have hundreds of styles of sleeves to choose from and finally the trim or decoration. It's safe to say that in my classes, no two abayas were ever alike.

Many of the more conservative clerics complain about the way the abaya has gone in the Gulf, many of them don't cover your curves, in fact, the abaya can actually accentuate them. Those shaylas (headscarves) they wear can be very glamourous looking a la Audrey Hepburn, especially when paired with big Jackie-O sunglasses!

In class, I sometimes catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window, surrounded by my students and I'm struck by how stately they look compared to me. A 15 year old girl can look so womanly, it really as the opposite effect of what it's supposed to.

Gorgeous Gold Gowns for Weddings

It's safe to say, that because of the lack of colour in abayas, girls make up for it in their regular wardrobe. Pink and orange! Yellow and red! Orange and green! 

Sequins are pretty standard, followed by beads, tassels, trim, fringe, dingleballs and brick-a-brack. Sometimes it works and sometimes....ugh.

But the standards are here to, Mexx, Gap, Esprit. There is even a Le Chateau in Dubai. The malls are filled with luxury brand name products that get knocked off in China. One student has a Chanel bag, another a Gucci watch. 

Here are some of the more interesting examples from the mall.... enjoy! 

Pink and yellow!

Skin tight and over the top!

Purple, pink and green! 
The outfit on the far left is my favorite, check out those sleeves!


  1. I bought you that outfit for Christmas. Good thing I know you're gonna like it!

  2. Hi Rene,
    Thank you for an interesting post. Really informative for me. (And others too, I'm sure.) It is interesting to learn about the different shapes available. And to learn that there are different kinds of sleeves to choose from. The pictures of the clothes in the windows are great. Such colour! And in some cases the outfits do seem gaudy. In some ways it seems a shame to cover up the colour, but then I guess it's a way of expressing oneself even under the abaya. I'm guessing that you and your sister also wear an abaya when you're in public?
    Looking forward to seeing a picture of you in your "new Christmas outfit".
    Cheers, Shannon

  3. Hi Shannon! Oddly enough, foreigners are not really encouraged to wear the abaya because it's considered their "national dress". I simply wear my normal clothes, making sure elbows and calves are covered.

    The girls are not fans of my wardrobe and all its neutral tones...