Prior to my arrival in the UAE I decided that I really wanted to work at a school where the principal requires all staff to wear an abaya. The abaya is the national dress of the UAE for women (more information about national dress). I think they are beautiful and I think they’d make getting ready for work soooooo easy. My new principal doesn’t require us to wear them, but she doesn’t mind if we do. Which meant that I needed to go shopping!
Abayas are primarily black with a huge assortment of colors and designs to enhance them. On my first two days at work I paid close attention to the abayas worn by my co-workers. They were simple and elegant. With the image of my coworkers in my head and a friend in tow, I headed to the Gold Market in Al Ain. Within the Gold Market there are about seven to ten abaya shops (at least that I found, there are probably more).
The shops are a bit overwhelming when you don’t know what you are doing, which I didn’t. The first shop we entered appeared to be very high-end. The abayas on display were not “work” abayas, but the clerk informed me they could make whatever I want. He was very willing to help, but I was still in the “look around and figure this thing out” phase. So we set off to check out some more shops. We found a shop that had some simple ready-made abayas that were within our price range. We tried a few on and realized pretty quickly that we were going to need to get them custom made. This is where things got a bit tricky.
There are pretty strict cultural and religious ideas about public interaction between men and women in the UAE. Being measured for an abaya was going to be a necessity, but all the shops were staffed by men. I also noticed that there weren’t any local women in the shops we were in, so I recommended we keep looking. Finally we found a shop that had local women shopping in it and a female worker. And what’s more, the employee spoke wonderful English!
At this abaya shop I told the young lady in the shop that I wanted an abaya just like her’s, but with different sleeves. I chose a sleeve cuff pattern that is best described as lattice-stiched with rhinestones. I got a matching sheyla (the head scarf) to go with it. The young lady took my measurements, right there in the middle of the store!, and I got my order completed. I was even able to get them to shorten their normal 5-7 day production time to about 48 hours!
With my measurements in hand and my deposit paid, we left the shop. But, I had fallen in love with an abaya in the first shop we went into so I went back there to look at it again. The young man in the shop was very charismatic and really willing to help me get exactly what I wanted. So, I bought a second one. Luckily he was able to use most of my measurements from the previous shop (to avoid any awkwardness). The second abaya is also very simple with lace-patterned cuffs and matching sheyla.
Saturday evening after 8pm I will head back to the Gold Market to (hopefully) pick up my two abayas. The reason I wanted the “rush” job is because I want to wear one on the first day of school, which is Sunday. A wise woman (who shared the hallway with me nearly every day for the past five years) once told me, “if you want to change something about your appearance you need to arrive at school on the first day with the “new you”. If you try to switch things up during the school year, the students will go crazy.” Unfortunately she told me this AFTER I’d made a dramatic hairstyle change in mid-October, and the students were going crazy…but I’ve learned. Abaya on the first day, so I can wear them the rest of the year!