Dear Omani: I’ve seen photos of Muscat from 15-20 years ago, and most of the local women are wearing nice, colourful western-style clothes. Now its all black abayas. What happened?
Photo: Covertress blog.
Abaya’s in Oman
Alright, the image everyone has about the Middle East and mainly the Gulf area is that an Abaya is very essential and women HAVE to wear it. Then, they open one of those “Before & After 1970” books for Oman and realize that women in those pictures are not wearing black. Shocked and confused, they start wondering… “Black? Why? They used to look very beautiful in those colorful clothes?
Well, let me give you the whole story.
A very long long time ago (25 yrs ago), Oman started to open up to other countries. Television came along and people started seeing all the good civilization stuff. People started seeing that Women in Saudi Arabia and Iran wear black, “not sure which started it first”. As anything else that seemed new and “cool”, women started importing Abayas. I remember when I was 16, my first Abaya was from Bahrain. It was cool and hip. Now, of course people would tell you that the main reason in wearing black is because it does not attract attention from guys – as usual, its about guys. Of course that is not the case anymore. Now, black attracts more attention than any other color since it symbolizes a human being with female parts…
So, what is an Abaya in the 21st century?
Well, there are two types of Abayas. Some that are for conservative women that truly believe in it, and others (majority) that view it as fashion. Every season we have a new design, the main purpose is to look elegant and “very” attractive.
Many women hate it, but wear it because it is so very convenient. As far as people are concerned, you can look very elegant no matter what you are wearing inside. Even if it was your pajamas or just your underwear!
Hmmm. Fair enough Dreamer, thanks! (By the way readers, you can find Dreamer's excellent cultural blog "Reality in Oman" here.)
I can't help but think its a bit more insidious than just an imported fashion trend though. I know Omani women who used to wear Western Clothes at work here in the Sultanate (and this is in the past few years) being threatened if they don't stop and wear an Abaya. And this was not just during Ramadan.
Personally I've always found abaya's to be pretty sexy, thanks to the stories of expensive french lingerie hiding just beneath the steer black of the abaya (and confirmed by Dreamer I note) and the occasional flash of ankle... But maybe that's just me.
Any reader comments?