Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Women Are Women: Abayas and Hijab

One of the questions I get most often when I am back in the US is whether I have to cover, whether I have to wear an abaya, whether I have to cover my hair.

I tell them that in Kuwait, it is still a choice. Many Kuwaiti women do not cover their hair, but most dress modestly and are still traditional and conservative in behavior.

I tell them that in Saudi Arabia, I had to wear the abaya, but that the embassy instructions were to carry a scarf, but only to wear it if the muttawa / religious police made a fuss, as it was not the law of the country. The law stated that Moslem women would be covered, but not non-Muslim women. The Saudi women would tell me all the time that I didn’t have to cover, but when I mentioned the Muttawa – they all just sighed and nodded, and said that some people have a funny idea about religion, but that this was not the real Islam.

What I loved about women in Saudi Arabia is that they have a lot in common with women everywhere. When confined, they have ways to press the envelope. For example, the malls are full of stores with the sexiest shoes I have ever seen – and when feet are one of the few things that CAN be seen, guess where the money gets spent? There were also entire floors devoted to perfumes, and women would pass and you could nearly swoon from the delicious scents, an entire cloud of scents as they passed, cloaked in anonymity. There were glove shops, with the sexiest, laciest gloves you have ever seen. At the time, most of the abayas and scarves in Saudi Arabia were plain black, although occasionally you might see one with a discreet little trim, or a tiny little sparkle.

The kids told me they could tell their family members; they learned to identify posture and voices. They didn’t have any problems picking out their Moms and sisters.

Women would approach me in stores, standing next to me, pretending to examine some goods and whisper “Hi! Where are you from?” and “Do you like it here?” Many times, on planes, husbands would make their wives change places so as not to be contaminated by sitting by the likes of me, a wicked western woman with her hair showing, but the women would smile shyly when the husband was looking the other way. Women are women. We have our ways. We manage to get around restrictions.

On the other hand, I want to share with my Western readers the trend in abayas and scarves in the last few years. They are GORGEOUS, and there are times I am tempted to buy just because they are gorgeous.

On a deserted morning, I found these shop windows to share with you:

These are going-out-calling dresses, worn under abayas

These would probably be worn to an evening event like a wedding

Even the younger girls have special evening clothes

Not your old fashioned abayas

Love these details

Scarves to wear with abaya

July 7, 2008 - Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues, Women's Issues


  1. I noticed an interesting choice of words

    Many “modern” Kuwaiti women do not cover their hair.

    the word modern gives the wrong impression, and can confuse your Angel-0′-Saxa-phones who read your blog.

    Careful freckles.

    Comment by Purgatory | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. Good point, Purg. I fixed it. LOL @ Anglo-Saxaphones.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. echo many of my thoughts! 🙂 the pics look terrific.

    Comment by onlooker | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. yeah guess where all the money is spent! LOL
    I have always wondered how little boys/girls identify their mommies in public places! because to me, the covered women (head to toe) all look alike!

    Comment by Ansam | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. Thanks, Onlooker!

    Body language, Ansam! It’s also how we know things we don’t know how we know about other people.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 8, 2008 | Reply

  6. Body language, that is why I enjoy chubby chicks, lots of body to talk.

    Comment by Purgatory | July 8, 2008 | Reply

  7. LOL @ you, Purg!

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 8, 2008 | Reply

  8. I have a lovely collection of abayas and scarves that I bought in Kuwait. I never needed them, I just liked them. My favorite, however, was given to me by a Bedouin lady at the Bedouin camps in Fahaheel. I was translating for a group of American ladies and the Bedouin women were very interested in my a) bright red hair and b) spoken Arabic (which I assure you was horrible!) Made of simple black cloth, I still use it all the time.

    Love the pictures!!

    Comment by Heather (Global Gal) | July 9, 2008 | Reply

  9. I buy – and wear – some of the souk dresses and dura’a. The souk dresses in cotton I can just wear around the house and they are inexpensive. The dura’a get me through some of the evening events – but they are more expensive!

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 9, 2008 | Reply

  10. Nice post 🙂

    Comment by jewaira | July 9, 2008 | Reply

  11. I love the dresses and abaya’s! I’d wear them too!
    I notice that the dolls have really big boobs! Does that mean they actually have clothes that fit women with a larger breastsizes? Because in the Netherlands I can’t buy anything unless it is stretch! Or, what I sometimes do; buy a really large size and alter it…
    I love the orange calling-dress.

    Comment by Aafke | July 10, 2008 | Reply

  12. Thanks, Jewaira. 🙂

    Huh. Aafke, I hadn’t noticed, but yes, the evening wear gals seem a little endowed, don’t they? I think it all depends on the cut of the dress, and the fabric. Glad you liked them; I like them too. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 11, 2008 | Reply

  13. I love abayas, even though I normally wear western modest clothing, I would wear those glam gulf abayas every day if I lived there,,

    Comment by basbousa | July 11, 2008 | Reply

  14. Basbousa – some of them are truly wonderful. There is one called The Butterfly; the sides are bias cut and wavy down each side. Sweet and pretty.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 12, 2008 | Reply

  15. i am a designer from India who has developed the most exquisite Abayas and woul like to market it well.It needs to be marketed for very exclusive customers as no design is repeated.Can you guide me as to how to go about it?Thanks.

    Comment by dollysud | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  16. Dolly, I am sorry, I don’t know. I think you need to have a sponsor/patron, someone who would introduce you to people who buy exclusive abayas.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  17. hello to all ladies, im selling abayas in facebook my profile name is HIJABS HABAYAS, to go through that you have add me in FB, those are good quarlity and bueatifull ones, thnx for your attention, byeeeeeee

    Comment by hafsah | May 12, 2010 | Reply

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