Abayas : Then vs Now

The purpose of the abaya, a long, cardigan-like garment, is to completely envelop a woman's body in order to conceal her body type. In the past, it enabled Muslim women to both fit in and stand out.

Muslim women and girls of all ages can wear it in a variety of patterns and styles when leaving the house. Many ladies choose to wear it with a scarf or veil, while others may choose to wear a turban.

In the Muslim world, the abaya is the most often worn garment. It is the traditional attire in Arab nations like the UAE, yet many local ladies prefer to wear western apparel instead. 

You may be surprised to learn that "more than 90% Muslim women in the world do not wear abayas." Saudi women are required by law to cover up in public, however some cities in the nation are more relaxed than others.

But it's not that bad to wear an abaya. Feeling uncomfortable in your jeans? Put on your abaya! Or imagine you're out doing errands while wearing comfortable loungewear when you get a last-minute invitation to lunch from a friend. lacking the time to go home and change? No issue! No one will ever believe you are underdressed thanks to your abaya, which will come to the rescue.

Who Wears It?

Women typically don the black abaya in Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Some areas like white, plain-printed abaya garments, and also favour embroidered, heavily-embellished abayas.

Although the wearing of a black, floor-length robe is not expressly required by the Quran, most women nonetheless do it for religious reasons. The abaya is worn by many proud wearers for reasons other than religion, and many see it as a representation of their ancestry.

The abaya is comparable to the kimono in Japan in that it is an integral element of the culture. 

The Evolution of the Abaya

Reem El Mutwalli, a fashion historian, provides the following information on how the abaya's shape has changed in the United Arab Emirates:

Before the discovery of oil, Bedouin women wore abayas, a square-shaped piece of black wool with a large gold accent at the neckline. Only those in the upper classes, such as the wives of sheikhs or businesspeople, could afford it.For the general populace, the broad, double-width black shayla, or headscarf, served as the abaya by encasing the top portion of the body.

1970s: Different black silk weights gained popularity and gradually grew less opaque. The abayas worn at social events grew more stylish towards the end of the 1970s. It exposed the bottom skirt portion of whatever was worn below by draping from the back of the head, bunching at the waist, and tucking under the arm.

1980s: Saudi Arabia introduced the shoulder abaya. In addition to the head covering black shayla, a simple black full-length cloak with sleeves was also introduced at this time. Differing decoration techniques were offered, and black materials of various weights and sheerness were tested.

1990s: As the abaya and shayla became coupled as outfits, the same fundamental design of the abaya persisted with displays of more showy lace, dense embroidery, iron-on rhinestones (often all in black), and the occasional shine. The new "umaniyah," which was named after Oman because it resembled the tunics worn by Omani men, was adopted worldwide.

Due to the fact that it could be worn over the head and was entirely closed at the front, this is also known as the Islamic abaya.

2000 to 2010: There was a lot of experimenting with new cuts and styles, which led to forms that were occasionally quite showy. Butterflies, bats, and other anything with several layers of wings quickly gained popularity. Additionally, some had a waistline by wearing various types of thin and wide belts to draw attention to their body shapes. Hooded extensions were also adopted in an effort to mix in with fashionable Western clothing.

2010 until the present: Using natural textiles and upscale styles that reflect uniqueness, colourful shayla and abaya experimentation has advanced. Emerging local designers start to draw influence from sources other than Western fashion labels, creating their own distinctive looks based on a global fashion history.

The term "abaya" today denotes more than just a garment used to cover other clothing. By distancing itself from previous characteristics, it has developed a position all its own, becoming an essential fashion item and a valuable addition to an ensemble as a whole. Women of all ages can be seen in shopping malls sporting elegantly designed abayas that no longer necessarily conceal the wearer's attire; rather, it is now rather usual to see them worn open in the front like a coat.

The Abaya's Changing Face

When it comes to abayas, the options are plentiful. One of the largest changes in the abaya trend is that it is no longer necessary for them to be black; nowadays, ladies around the Arab World choose from a variety of hues, from khaki green and dove grey to pastel pink and dusty cream.

Several women have recently started wearing open abayas over long skirts or trousers. Here are some current trends that well-known celebrities and local ladies from the Arab World are following:

  • The sleeves may have bell-shaped, straight, fitted, or loose-fitting sleeves from the end.
  • The Accessories: Waist belts, buttons, pearls, lace, elegant ribbons, and laces are a few examples of accessories.
  • The Robe: The robe is a well-liked fashion that is typically worn for formal occasions. This is because the loose robe makes it challenging to handle the gown for an extended amount of time.
  • Even after years of women embracing it as one of the most popular styles, the butterfly-style abaya remains one of the trends that hasn't lost its allure.
  • Open fronts and woven fabrics in muted and jewel-toned tones are common features of contemporary abayas. Some are embellished with flower embroidery, pearl beads, and stripes with an athletic theme.


The abaya has developed a stature of its own, emerging as a key component of fashion and a valuable addition to the entire ensemble. Abayas now have a more positive reputation thanks to fashion designers, who have encouraged more women to wear them with pride. Because abayas are becoming more and more artistic, stylish, and well-designed, a woman may express herself through them.