Modest maxi dresses date back as far as the beginning of written civilization. Ancient Mesopotamian royalty are depicted as wearing long loose fitting clothing made of fibers and animal skins. However, these garments, also referred to as Abayas, were reserved for only the wealthiest denizens. Simple cloth fiber dresses such as the one depicted below were commonplace in this region. This would give birth to the wide array of modern women’s middle eastern dresses you see today.
What is an Abaya?
Today the definition of Abaya is very loose, as it can pertain to any loose fitting modest maxi dress that you see in most middle eastern and asian countries. However, the standard Abaya is a black heavy cloak or dress that covers everything. These are most commonly found in Arab countries due to cultural and religious practices of the region. More recently, the abaya, which was a talking point for women’s freedom of dress, came into question in regards to oppression. Although some still believe that wearing such a dress is patriarchal and misogynistic, the women who wear this heavy dress every day proudly state that they wear this of their own modesty and choice. Saudi Arabia, despite their previous oppressive control of women’s lives, amended the law to allow women to dress freely in 2018. Pioneers such as Eman Al-Mandeel have been making strides in modernizing the traditional garb of the region. Thanks to the open minded efforts of women’s fashion designers in Arabia we have come a long way. As Eman once said, “I want my abayas to be an extension of a woman’s personality. They don’t have to go away from their purpose to do that.”
The kaftan or “caftan” is more colorful and flowy. Modern kaftans are beautifully embroidered and can be found in almost every other culture that descended from sumerian and assyrian ancestors. The kaftan was commonly worn by ancient ancestors of persians, the style and garb became popular in the ottoman empire and reached all corners of their influence. Now, the Kaftan is most commonly worn in African countries but has surfaced into western fashion. Visit any EDM show, or walk along the beach in Cali, you’ll find the influence of the traditional kaftan. The dress does an excellent job of serving the purpose of the loose fit, while also giving the wearer a sense of individuality and modesty.
Another form of the abaya is the Jilbab, although they are sometimes used interchangeably, they should be clearly distinguished. The Jilbab is a much more conservative style of dress, sometimes including a burqa. These are less commonly worn by women living outside of a few countries where it is mandatory to wear. These also do not vary much, even in color. Sporting very dark and earthy tones, the garb is meant to not catch attention. The Malaysian style, abaya however, is quite the opposite. Although it does serve the purpose of the abaya, the dresses are made of gorgeous eye-catching pastels and natural colors. The Fabric is also shiny and stays very cool even in humid or hot weather.
Occasions for Abaya dresses:
Simply put, Abayas can be worn anywhere and everywhere. However, the style of abaya you wear really depends on the day. Sometimes, the abaya you wear may be too heavy or hot, or it may not match the theme of the party. However, most modern abayas, like the ones we sell on Hijaz, will work anywhere. The idea of the abaya is simple, it covers all. However, Open faced abayas, which are often lighter and less hot, will give you flexibility in your outfit. This type of style can be seen in the corporate rooms where women are now leading many major industries. Modest maxi dresses are gaining popularity in style, perhaps a maxi dress, kaftan or abaya may be what your closet needs next.