A question I am commonly asked by Americans is whether I ever wore the abaya while in Saudi Arabia. The answer is yes. My answer is usually followed with another question. What did it feel like? Now this answer would depend on the season and the occasion! During the mid-Spring to early-Fall season in Riyadh, it felt HOT! Even in spite of wearing a light weight abaya which had “breathability” just wearing a long black garment atop my own clothes with the sun bearing down was uncomfortably hot and stifling. Yet during the cooler times of the year, I found the abaya comfortable, both temperature wise and fashion wise.
However another issue which at times was an impediment for me with the abaya was either its length or its diameter. I dislike an abaya which trails on the ground collecting dust, dirt and who knows what else! I also have a long stride when I walk so I need an abaya which could accommodate my long stride.
There are a wide variety of black or nearly black abayas in the shops throughout Saudi. Women can also have their own abaya custom made to order too. Whatever option a woman chooses, I suggest she ensure the abaya is a good fit for the length desired, diameter or width of material at the bottom for comfortable walking and a loose fit throughout. Besides not wishing to appear immodest in a tight fitting abaya, the abaya should be loose enough to accommodate all types of attire underneath ranging from formal dresses to jeans and bulky sweaters. During the colder months, some Saudi women would wear a coat under the abaya. If I needed to wear both a coat and an abaya, I chose to wear the bulkier coat atop the abaya. I was never stopped or challenged by my choice.
The black abaya which most women wear in Saudi Arabia is more of a cultural practice rather than an Islamic practice. Islam requests that women dress modestly and many other women in Muslim countries have demonstrated modest dress without the requisite of a black abaya.
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