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Trendy abayas pushing burqas out of fashion

Updated September 08, 2013

KARACHI, Sept 7: “It is not just a dress. It is a symbol of modesty. Dressing modestly leads to modest thoughts, too. The abaya and hijab have a way of shaping morality in the lady who wears it,” says Sadia Ali, a customer at an abaya shop on Tariq Road.

The traditional burqa is passé. Compared with the abaya, the full-length embroidered dress originally from the Arab Gulf states, the burqa is rarely worn these days. “I think there must be one that belonged to my dadijan in that big dusty trunk lying at the back of our garage,” says Maria Sabahuddin. The girl herself wore emerald green hijab kept in place on the head with a pretty brooch over a jet-back abaya with sequins at the front opening and sleeve cuffs.

Shabana Usman, who runs an abaya shop in the basement of the Gold Mark shopping centre, on main Korangi Road, says that most of the cloaks and abayas in her shop have been imported from Dubai. Therefore they are expensive. “The simpler ones with scant embroidery or sequins cost Rs3,000, while the fancy ones cost Rs5,000 and over,” she says.

Her shop “is just a mini branch”. “Our main shop is in Dubai,” she adds.

Ms Usman counts some of the most popular abaya styles on her fingertips. “There is the farasha style, the Sudanese style,” she says. “The material used in abayas should have a nice fall such as jersey, georgette, etc.”

“The most popular colour for abayas is the very same for the old-style burqas — black. But we also sell off-white, beige, fawn colour, blue and grey abayas,” says Mohammad Amir, who besides having an outlet in the Gold Mark shopping centre, has the main shop in Dubai.

“It’s an Arab tradition, so we have links in the UAE,” the shopkeeper points out. The cheapest and simplest of abayas at Mr Amir’s shop are in the range of Rs1,000 to 1,500.

“But the expensive ones can start at Rs10,000 and go up to Rs50,000,” he says. “The most expensive ones are actually encrusted with zircon stones.

“Abaya tailors are also different from your regular shalwar-kameez suit tailors. Their cuts are very different.”

Rizwan Ansari, who stitches abayas, says: “I also have an embroidery side in my tailoring shop for doing the embroidered borders for the abayas.

“We stitch all kinds of abayas. We can even replicate the ones in the Arab catalogues brought to us by our customers. For the simpler ones, we charge Rs700 and the price can go up to Rs1,500. It can even go up further depending on what kind of embroidery work or sequins you want on the cloak.”

When asked about the difference between an abaya and a burqa, the tailor explains: “The burqa had a proper head covering with a veil but you can wear a scarf of your choice over an abaya for the hijab. Girls use pretty and colourful scarves. It’s more of a fashion statement now than a way of dressing modestly.

“Then like the burqa you always wear full clothes underneath the abaya as well. But ladies usually wore a proper kameez and shalwar underneath their burqas. It is not uncommon for young ladies to wear jeans and tunics underneath their abayas with sneakers, and the mothers copy their daughters,” he laughs.

“So the trend is changing. Also the burqa used to be a loose garment, whereas the abaya is fitted to the body shape. We are asked to put in more pleats by the ladies.”