Abayas and Shaylas


I was fascinated by the traditional dress of the Qataris and Emiratis.

Men wear a thobe, which is essentially like a white oxford shirt, but it goes to the ground.  On their head they wear the ghutra, a white or red and white cloth, held in place by a black ogaal.

Women wear an abaya, which is essentially a long, black robe.  It’s different from the formless sack shape of the all-enveloping burqa, and some women decorate the sleeves of their abaya.  Women must cover their hair, and they do so with a shayla. Many of the Qatari women also wore the niqab, a face veil covering all but the eyes.

Lest you think these women all look the same, they do not.  Just like we used to find even the smallest details to distinguish ourselves in our high school uniforms, Qatari and Emirati women have many different ways to show their style.

First and foremost, the handbag.  Every women carries a beautiful, designer handbag.  It seemed to me that the most popular were Chanel and Louis Vuitton bags.

Next, is sunglasses. Again, designer, of course.

When the sunglasses are off, even though you can only see their eyes, it’s clear that make-up is very important, as every women’s eyes are gorgeously made up, usually with dramatic black eyeliner, or kohl.

It was hard for me not to stare at the Qatari and Emirati women.  I thought they looked so exotic and mysterious.  Keep in mind too, they wear regular clothes underneath their abaya, so every once in a while, you catch a glimpse of blue jeans, marking a stark contrast between the traditional and the modern.

Beyond the clothing though, I noticed how these women moved in their long gowns.  They swayed gently, side to side, as they walked, in a manner that revealed their femininity, even under the concealment of their black robe.

I had the chance to experience what it was like to wear an abaya at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.  Every female must wear both an abaya and a shayla in order to enter the grounds of this spectacular mosque, the third largest in the world.

What do you think?

Probably not…



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