After writing the post on What do Men Wear Under Their Thobes http://delhi4cats.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/what-is-worn-under-a-thobe/
I received some queries in turn about what do the women wear under abayas. Naturally according to Islam, the muslim woman at least should be dressed modestly at all times, even while wearing an abaya. In Saudi Arabia it is expected for all women to wear an abaya whether a muslim or not. However I have found in my own experience whether a woman is a muslim or not, a woman will pretty much wear whatever SHE prefers to wear under an abaya.
You might be surprised to learn that clothing under an abaya can run the whole gamut from conservative dress such as a women’s thobe or jalabiyah type garment to shorts and a tank top. Because the abaya is long and opaque, in some cases a woman may even wear her pajamas underneath if she is tired and needs to run out for an errand. After all, how would anyone know what is underneath?
You can easily spot the more conservative woman because while wearing the abaya she may be wearing gloves and socks. You can safely assume this would not be a woman who would wear anything viewed as un-modest under the abaya.
At the same time, the woman who may be more liberal and open-minded (Saudi or non-Saudi) while she may choose to wear less under the abaya, chances are noone would really be aware of this fact. Is it wrong if a woman is on her way to a gym and chooses to wear her workout clothes under an abaya? Of course one could say this is wrong because what if there were an auto accident . . . or that in general she should be more compliant with the society and culture.
Only because I have one abaya that happens to have slits on either side for easier walking, I am careful of what I am wearing underneath when going out in that particular abaya. For example I have the jeans that end either just below the knees or above the ankles. I will not wear them with this particular abaya.
Now IF I had the choice in the Kingdom on whether to wear an abaya or not, I probably would not wear one myself. Naturally I would dress modestly due to the culture but I’d feel more comfortable without one for several reasons. For myself, I have always walked briskly and with a long stride. That can be prohibitive in an abaya. But more importantly to me is during the hot summer months when the temperatures are in the mid-40’s to even 60 (Centigrade), if one has to go out the black abaya feels so smothering and naturally draws the heat. I’m also of the mindset that a woman can continue to be an excellent muslim without having to wear an abaya. And of course, that statement is further substantiated by how many muslim women from around the world have never worn an abaya.