EXQUISITELY styled abayas are on the wish list of every woman in the Kingdom. Expat women too are determined to make a fashion statement out of the typically black cloaks that are, by and large, not mandatory in their home countries. “Saudi women as well as expat women prefer modern abaya styles. However, women in Riyadh are more conservative in their choice of abaya colors, and there are some restrictions prohibiting very attractive and colorful abayas in Riyadh.
On the other hand, women in Jeddah like to wear colorful abayas,” said Hala Droubi, a Syrian PR coordinator in TBWA\RAAD, Jeddah.
“Another difference between Saudi women and expatriate women,” she said, “is that most Saudi women are willing to invest more in abayas than the average expatriate women. They also buy new abayas more frequently and in almost every season or have their own custom-made abayas, making sure that they follow the latest trends in abaya styles.”
Abayas in vibrant hues, with bands of glistening diamantes, sheaths of leopard prints, glittering stones, ribbon and lace embellishments, etc. are just some of the designs in abayas that are gaining popularity with expat women.
Droubi said the latest trend in abayas is inspired by the old traditional Egyptian “milaya laf” dress, which women used to wear in the 1920s in Egypt.
Abayas in butterfly and fish silhouettes and with embroidery designs on the neck, back and borders also score high with expat women, and so do black abayas blended with bright and flashy colors, and those embellished with sparkling diamantes and detailed bead work in the front. Satin pleated abayas with chic net sleeves give a modern and contemporary look.
Expat women, whether they are teenage girls, working women or the elderly, have their own explicit tastes and manner of wearing their abayas. Note that the young girls prefer funky and heavily embellished abayas in vibrant hues.
Little girls also do not want to be left out. They can choose from a variety of abayas, such as, those adorned with cartoon character motifs of Tweety, Fulla, Barbie, etc.
Sahar Naseem, a Pakistani national and junior analyst in Khalijia Invest in Riyadh, told Saudi Gazette how she likes her abaya.
“My abayas are unique and stylish. I like them to be glamorous, and to be something that catches one’s attention at first sight. For this, abayas do not have to be heavily embellished; they look nice when they are simple and elegant. Above all, the abaya should be a good fit,” explained Naseem.
“For diversity, I like to try out every style and color with regards to abayas. Abaya styles are seasonal, and these days, the ones with stone embellishments, particularly the pink and white colored stones, are most preferred by South Asians like me. I am personally fond of the white stones that give a flashy look,” said Mutarba Khan, an Indian studying in Batterjee Medical College.
Working women, for reasons of comfort and convenience, prefer styles that stand out as simple yet elegant. Mostly, they do not spend much to buy abayas.
“I wear an abaya that is tailor-made and has a moderate fitting. It has beautiful stones on the edges and sleeves that are eye-catching and elegant,” said Tahani Shamma, a Palestinian national, working as a technical support IT specialist in Kamal Osman Jamjoom Est., Jeddah. Like Shamma, Rubina Naseem, a Pakistani freelance writer and teacher in Riyadh, has a penchant for simple abaya designs.
“My abaya has just a touch of embroidery on the sleeves and the bottom. It is simple and decent with well-finished motifs. The sleeves are not too long as long sleeves can be a problem while travelling, working, shopping and dining out,” said Naseem.
Abayas are priced according to their designs, embroidery, fabric, etc. Es-Taras, a type of Swarovski crystal, is commonly as an used abaya embellishment.
Abdul Rahman, sales manager in Riyadh Lady, Najjar Mall, Jeddah, said that the expensive abayas at his shop are mostly bought by Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian women. “Abaya prices vary according to a number of factors. Here, the price ranges between SR400, for which you can get yourself a less customized abaya, to SR1,000 for a tailor-made abaya,” he said.
When it comes to shopping for abayas, it turns out that expat women have specific ‘favorite’ places to shop.
“Abaya shops in Al-Balad, Mehmood Saeed Plaza and Bawadi are visited by the Asian expatriate women, particularly Indians and Pakistanis, who make purchases in the range of SR 200-SR 300,” said Abbas, salesman in one abaya shop in Bawadi, Jeddah.
Like in everything else, trends in abayas, their colors, designs, fabrics, etc., are dynamic. Most abaya fabrics in the Kingdom are imported from Japan, France, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand and China, with those from Japan being the most common and of good quality. Silk, polyester, georgette and satin are the popularly used abaya fabrics. The Kum Seeni (Chinese-arm) styled abayas or Aade, the normal one-sleeved abayas come in an elegant net finish.
Abayas are also customized as to suit the occasion. “Party-wear abayas are heavily embroidered to give a glamorous look, while the semi-precious stone embellishments and metal work are used sparingly on daily-wear abayas,” said Muna Sulaiyman, an abaya designer in Jeddah. – SG