Tuesday 15 April 2014

The Practicalities of Wearing an Abayah

When I think of the abayh, the long, loose dress that many Muslim women wear, I think of how elegant it looks:

or how chic:

or how smart and conservative:

When I see sisters wearing it, I usually think the same, especially some of the younger sisters who really know how to make it look stylish.  I have been wearing mine since I was expecting Little Man (who is nine now), dispensing of the need for maternity wear for the office in  the process.

In reality though, there are some things you find out only once you start wearing it.  Some are good things.  For instance it’s like the Muslim version of the Little Black Dress, you have a neat capsule wardrobe that goes from work to weekend, to evening just through changing your shoes and scarf.  My lovely husband hasn't had to listen to complaints of “I haven’t got anything to wear” for years:

My weekend/work look:

My interview/get serious at work look:

My going out/visiting/summer day trips look:

(The images above are from a guest post I did at Kook's fashion blog some time ago here).

I also like that you can camouflage things like weight gain or when you've had too much salad (ahem) for lunch.  I was wearing my navy abayah (which I usually wear for interviews) when I went for a job interview during the time I was expecting Gorgeous.  It was only after I got the job and negotiated my travel allowance that I mentioned I was seven months pregnant.  I will never forget the look on that managers face.  But I was a bit amazed that no-one had noticed.

It’s funny how it affects other people too.  I don’t believe that what you wear is an automatic indicator of your morals or character, but sometimes people just seem to think so.  They hold doors open for you, traffic stops for you and brothers seem to become a little protective of you too.  A friend of mine started to wear it and exclaimed to me – “I had no idea, traffic just stops for you to cross the road.  I think all women deserve to be treated with respect, but if you want to be extra nice to me, I don’t mind.

On the other hand there are some things that are not so elegant or chic.  I occasionally find myself falling upstairs.  Funnily,  it’s never downstairs, but only up when your foot catches in your abaya as you raise it to the next step.  So now alongside holding on to my bag, baby and anything that happens to be in my hand, I usually hold up the front of my abayah too.  I'm also quite scared of getting stuck in an elevator.  It’s never happened thankfully, but I wonder what I would do if it did.  I can just imagine people commenting on what a ridiculous idea it is to wear this kind of clothing anyway – “well what did she expect?”

Every time I need a pint of milk or the bread has run out, I have to put my abayah and scarf on to across the road.  At first this annoyed the hell out of me and I used to ask hubby.  But when I kept asking for a couple of things in a row, it started to annoy the hell out of him.  So now I go myself, or we take turns.  I can’t wait until Little Man is about 16, then I can let him go across the road with his big sister to get the ingredients I remember in the middle of cooking.

There’s also the length of abayah’s to think of.  Over the years my abayah’s have gotten longer, partly because I love how elegant it looks and partly because every time I give one to the seamstress to use as a template she makes my new one a little longer.  So when you walk, no one can see your feet.  I told my little sister Kooks, it looks like you are gliding along.  She replied, “Yes, just like a dementor”. 

The only problem with this is that unlike the elegant fashion shots, the bottom of your abaya gets absolutely filthy every time you go out, especially if it rains, which it does now and again in London.  So now I have my long ones for work or visiting and a shorter one that sits just below my ankles for weekends and running to the shops

Those things aren't meant to put you off wearing it if you are considering it.  For me the benefits of simplicity, elegance (if you ignore the mud at the bottom), practicality and comfort outweigh the inconveniences, which I am use to.  I suppose the main thing is the reason why I first started wearing.  It was because I felt in a good place with my faith at that time, had some strong, positive sister around me and wanted to please Allah (SWT).  I felt awkward, unattractive and unprofessional for work, but that did not put me off.

Now I feel great and love wearing abayah.  I have found a comfortable, modest A-line shape that suits me that I can throw over anything.  I also used to notice the Somali sisters in my neighbourhood holding up the front of their abaya slightly, ever so elegantly and wondered why they did it.  As mine got longer, I caught on and do the same and pretend I am ladylike and chic like them and I glide along (no when ever notices the grubby hem anyway).


  1. Noelle Boughanmi16 April, 2014

    As-salam alaikum! I wear jilbab and also find it liberating. I'm still getting used to wearing it when I'm running around doing errands or taking the kids to soccer practice, but I feel so free in it that it all works out.

  2. I like the 'handiness' of abayas, but I must say, coming from a very colorful and pattern-filled culture, I can't stand wearing the plain dark colors that most abayas seem to have. I would wear abayas if I I could have my own made with patterned fabrics and bright colors. :)

  3. Where did you order your abaya (if they are available online that is).. I am looking for an abaya that is simple and chic looking. All I can find in here is the second hand very worn out abayas imported from arab countries and very poorly made ones in cheap looking fabric. Ugh!

  4. Assalamua'alaikum Sister, another 'I-can-so-relate-to' kinda post. :)