Wednesday, August 5, 2009

'Ask an Omani': What's with all the black abayas lately?

Here's another installment from our resident Omani in the new 'Ask an Omani' feature here at Muscat Confidential. This time a question about the increase in the number of women wearing Abayas.

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!

Omani Dreamer.

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?


  1. I love this column. I love you Omani Dreamer!

    I can remember one Ramadhan working in a new, and super conservative office. I'd been told that I must abayah up during Ramadhan, if only so I could wear my PJ's to work. Something of a change from my usual Bluejeans and baseball cap work attire.

    Day one, and I look nothing like the scandalous hussy I am at heart. Draped in a lovely abayah with minimal embelleshments and a chinese collar, topped with a black and blue Shaylah. My Hijab was perfect, no stray hair, not a speck of makeup or fingernail polish in sight.

    My Boss, "the Juice" walks in, looks me up and down, and goes "Suburban! You look hot!" I was all, "Whaaa? Juice!!! You cannot say or think that during Ramadhan!" and Juice was like, "yeah, but Abayas are so sexy."

    I don't wear them often but when I do like to rock an Abaya with stocockings, garter, heels and a lacy bra underneath. Stone loves it.

  2. Women in abayas turn me on!


    That photo is so "Life of Brian"!

    "Stone him!, Stone him!"

  3. I am sitting here in Safeer Mall in Sohar taking a scientific survey of women in abayas (at least I am calling it that so I don't look like a dirty old man staring at woman). It is unamimous, all Omani and Arabic women have on abayas. Expat women do not. Western women 'let it all hang out' but Arabic women know that a man loves an air of mystery, and the abaya certainly gives them that.

  4. 2 add my baisa worth.
    Probably also to do with mobility – that is travelling outside ones ‘hara’ into other places or work.
    Previously as women did not work and in general did not move outside their social zone there was no need to put a metaphorical barrier and symbol of respectability between them and men.
    The same goes for women who work. They are meeting umpteen men who they don’t know and its good to have that new found symbol of respectability.
    Pre-1970 in many rural areas coloured clothing (for men & women) was more subdued than now – after all who had cash to buy or upkeep dazzling colours.
    I also wonder if the new found ‘attitude’ from their male counterparts could have a part to play

  5. If Abayas are not supposed to attract men then they have failed. I must admit we all look at women but a woman wearing an Abaya would make me look at the eyes and Arabic women have such beautiful eyes which may not get as noticed if wearing conventional clothes!

  6. I concur. Abayas really do get the imagination working overtime

  7. Good explanation, Omani dreamer!
    I agree that most women use it as fashion statement.

    One remark about the picture of the women:
    The women on the picture combine the Abaya with a Barka, and thus hiding their faces. The Barka comes originally from Iraq. In Oman they are sometimes called `Mutawah´, because they are mainly worn by (very) religious people. Women wearing a Barka in Oman are not allowed to put it on at school, while they drive the car, and on the job.

    Also the use of ‘black Abaya’ in the question is double since Abaya means black.

    Great blog.

  8. an interesting opinion on the abaya and religion can be found at

    I asked her if she thought non-muslims should wear abayas and got a resounding NO! The comment section is very interesting....

  9. Though an Indian I was born and brought up in Oman.
    I remember in 80s old omani women used to wear a colourful clothing which looked like Indian salwars
    (pyjama-like)where as young women were in black abayas.some young omani girls below 15 too used to wear those colourful clothing.Is that the traditional clothing of Omani women before the coming of abayas?I left the Oman in 2003.By that time those colourful clothing had dissapeared almost.Is it still worn in Oman by anyone?

  10. Why black? It could be imitating nuns?! I've thought of it before. Arab women's clothings used to be colourful I believe.

    Another thing. Some women in Oman wear abayas as a tradition. Well, that's why I see a lot of girls with see-through black scarfs, or their heads and hair not covered well.


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