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Abaya: Standing out and blending in.

Mona Mashhoor


THE abaya has come a long way. It has gone through several stages of transformation over the decades from what was the simplest black garment used to cover the female figure to what has today become a fashion statement and a symbol of pride for many.

An abaya today is not just a cultural garment, but also a bold cultural statement. A far cry from the plain black abayas they once were, it is now embroidered and embellished with a range of different colours, shades and gems to satisfy every taste " of the young and the old.

And its demand is sky-high during the Holy Month of Ramadan when women happily go abaya shopping for themselves and to gift others before and during Eid Al Fitr.

Moreover, women are constantly looking for new and innovative designs in the world of abayas. Its significance is apparent even in the city's itinerary of events. Recently, at the Heya Arabian Fashion Exhibition, hundreds of designers from the GCC region came together to showcase exactly that, that the abaya is an item of clothing that allows a woman to stand out with her individuality and blend in with the cultural and social norm.

Young women in general, and up-and-coming designers, in particular, told Qatar Tribune how strongly they felt about the journey of the abaya and its role in their lives.

Qatari designer Maha al Malki, of Malika Q Designs, shared her opinion:"What a woman chooses to wear in terms of colour and design eventually showcases her personality. Just by looking at her you can tell if she's classy, modern or an eccentric and outgoing person."

Speaking to some young women about wearing abayas, they responded in a similar voice:"The abaya provides a sense of home, a sense of belonging", a meaning that does not draw much comfort for the many people who associate the abaya with negativity.

Dalal al Emadi, an up-and-coming designer of De Light Fashion, was excited to be participating in the recent exhibition for the first time, sharing that her inspiration for naming her label was two-fold. She had great delight in designing a new and modern take on the traditional abaya, and infusing it with the 'light' approach, using a combination of light and bright colours and fabrics to enable any woman wearing her designs to stand out."With Ramadan in progress, and during such a hot time of the year, it only seems fitting to accommodate to individual tastes while providing women the ease and comfort, from the heat, of wearing something light," she said.

The abaya has now become a major part of the local fashion industry as well " with several different styles of abayas worn for special occasions, and in different seasons. Abayas have maintained their historical significance and, likewise, acquired a new relevance. Today they are a combination of self-expression and a fashion garb. Contrary to the common thinking that the sole purpose of abayas is to conserve a woman's figure from prying eyes, the traditional dress is a large part of the local culture and the region's pride.

The blend of culture-meets-fashion is a dialogue abaya wearing women have started; to shed some light on the true essence of why the abaya will never become obsolete. Perhaps the fashion forward infused abaya trend is emphasised to remove negative views and help move away from overgeneralizations and stereotyping, but designers believe that the abaya and 'sheila', even with the invasion of foreign culture and ethos, are here to stay.

Qatari fashion designer Fatima al Khuzaei introduced a number of new collections named 'Oh La La Abaya Designs', just in time for Ramadan and Eid. She consolidates the notion of uniqueness and identity and believes that exhibitions like 'Heya' give women with a forward-thinking prerogative a platform to engage a very willing audience.

Fatima put it aptly:"The amount of detailing and the way we've used fabric, makes our abayas extremely expressive and unique. In the GCC and the region where most women wear abayas, my collection empowers them and allows them to express themselves."

Seconding Fatima's expression, several young, stylish women at the event stated categorically that the abaya has nothing to do with oppression or a forced wear, but a choice that many women feel proud to make.

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Jul 13, 2015
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