Abaya is a religious and cultural symbol in many Arab countries. Its origin is undoubtedly the Gulf. Many people think of abaya as an ages old traditional apparel. This is not true. In fact, it replaced the tradition Bedouin women’s dress produced from goat wool and colourful embroidery as a modern alternative. By time it attained religious significance. Today it is a part of the dress code in several Gulf countries.
Together with several regional assets, abaya is also becoming a global trend. It is spreading all over the world. In Turkey, it took a revivalist tone with the Ottoman background of ‘ferace’. Ottomans are well-known to have imposed ferace as a colourful alternative to the black burqa that was disliked by the modernising royal family.
The Muslims of the Far East, particularly the Muslim women of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Philippines also developed a more colourful version of abaya – the kebaya. It was certainly influenced by the Indian sub-continents lust for colourful dresses and printed designs.
The post-modern spreading of abaya as a universal Muslim dress has a dimension of colouration, but it also has a dimension of amalgamation of different styles, cultural elements and designs.
Traditional abayas were usually single piece, close front, dress-like black apparels with occasional embellishments of traditional handwork. Today’s abayas are mostly open front, colourful and accessorised with lace and other modern accessories. As such, today’s abayas may be donned not only by hijabis, but also by many modest fashion forwards.
Still, the abaya designers are using the material already produced for other products. With innovative pattern cutting, affordable printing facilities and production of limited amount of specially designed fabrics we may see a new generation of abayas spreading to the world in near future.