Friday, 21 May 2010

Can I Have a Pink Abaya?

Can I Have A Pink Abaya?
It's compulsory for women to wear an abaya when out in public in Saudi Arabia and if you look pretty in hot pink, you are plum out of luck thinking you can wear an all pink abaya around town without attracting a lot of attention.  Black is supposed to be where it's at.  I'm presuming non-compliance of abaya wearing by western women results in a serious talking to at best and deportation back to the homeland at worst.

I think pink abaya's would look fabulous.  I can see these abaya roaming Saudi malls.  Can't you?

One can get tired of black clad ladies, white clad men and dust colored everything else.  One expat even said he can't believe how, in Riyadh at least, all the color is stripped out of people, and because there are so many people, the environment looks colorless.

A couple of weeks after arriving I admit to getting a bit tired of the 'one color fits all' policy  for women, so turned to Google to find reasons why the abaya had to be black.  The internet has lots of blogs and websites on the topic.  What I deduced from all the korero (Maori word for discussion) I came across is that my abaya actually doesn't have to be black.  It just has to cover my arms and legs.

It seems other women have deduced the same, as just lately I have noticed color sneaking into abayas via bright colored trim, embroidered patterns or what I term the 'semi-gloss' variety.  That is, abayas have a light colored lining covered by a sheer black material so from a distance you still look dark, but up close there is a hint of color.

I love the semi-gloss idea and am contemplating getting one although the idea of being sucked into abaya buying for the sake of it is one of the things holding that plan up at this point.  I heard you need to get these abayas made but that's not a problem. The souqs (markets) here have plenty of material for sale and, apparently, there are numerous places in Riyadh that would make such an abaya.

Until I actually talk myself into spending cash on a new abaya, I'm happy adding a splash of color to the local scenery my own way.  With accessories.  Namely headscarves and, for winter time, long sleeve arm warmers like these Raspberry Charcoal Striped numbers from KDNY because though winter here is short it is quite cool.

I've headed out on the town with pink sleeves on my arms ...

Pink sleeves

...and variously colored headscarves.

White shayla

Every abaya is sold with its own matching shayla (aka headscarf), usually in matching black but, as far as I can make out, your headscarf does not have to be black.  There are a number of shops here that sell head scarves in all manner of colors, patterns and textures and I have bought a few.  In my cupboard I have silk scarves that are green, pink and blue.  Two pashmina - one yellow the other tan.  And a couple of multi-colored cotton beauties.

The silk scarves, though bright and pretty, are harder to keep on my head so I've learned to go for something slightly thicker if I don't want my headscarf slipping off all the time while out and about.  And, though most of the headscarves sold here are large enough to cover head and shoulders, it does pay to check before purchasing.

The shop assistants here are quite used to women littering their shop bench tops with packets of scarves, opened, tested and often never purchased.  Grazing their way through shops is how many ladies here spend their day.

I figured that buying a few scarves to make myself feel less dour from all the blackness out on the streets was a better option than spending money on tailor making a pink abaya.  For starters, I don't know I far I would get in a brightly colored garment before being stopped.  Secondly, I cannot think of anywhere else in the world I would wear an abaya other than here.  But headscarves?  They can be worn again, anywhere.  In fact, fashion is such a cyclical thing, that I can see scarves coming back into vogue again.  If the cork shoes that I use to own when I was 17 can make a comeback (and I couldn't believe they did), then so can headscarves.  And when that happens  I'll be ready.

Honestly though, even if colored abaya do happen to make it to Saudi shores before my permanent departure, I doubt if I will go all out on decking myself out in bright pink.  I'm getting a bit on in years for that.  Though a shimmering iridescent paua abaya might be nice, or a deep and mysterious pounamu green.  Oh, to dream of a New Zealand colored abaya!

Ka Kite,

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