What Are Abaya Dresses?

Donna Tinus
Donna Tinus
A woman wearing an abaya and niqab.
A woman wearing an abaya and niqab.

Abaya dresses are a sort of cloak worn over clothing by some Muslim women. The abaya is often worn by women in Islamic areas such as the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, and North Africa. The loose garment is part of dressing modestly, as set forth in the Quran. Abayas may be all black and plain, or they may be colorful with decorations and embroidery. Wearing an abaya dress is part of the traditional modest hijab way of dressing for many Muslim women.

The flag of Saudi Arabia, where many women wear an abaya.
The flag of Saudi Arabia, where many women wear an abaya.

In some countries, women feel compelled to wear abaya dresses out of a sense of duty and to follow the demands of the Muslim religion. In Saudi Arabia, it is expected that all women of any faith will cover their bodies with an abaya. Some areas of Saudi Arabia will police the garments that women are wearing in public, and demand that women cover up. Only the hands and face are allowed to show.

The Quran instructs women to be modest in dress.
The Quran instructs women to be modest in dress.

The traditional abaya dresses can be totally black and cover the woman's body from the neck to the ground. Some abayas are pull-overs, while others are slightly open, with a closing at the shoulder or a slit up the side. When wearing an abaya, Muslim women will wear a head covering called an hijab. Some women will wear gloves with the abaya, so everything but the face is covered. Another long, loose-fitting garment that is similar to a abaya, and covers everything but the eyes, is called a burka.

An abaya is a cloak that is worn over clothing by some Muslim women.
An abaya is a cloak that is worn over clothing by some Muslim women.

Modern abaya dresses are often made from a solid color other than black. The abaya can be any color and many Muslim women enjoy the fashion of wearing an abaya that looks more like a fashionable dress than an oversized cloak. Although still modest, these fashionable abaya dresses may be embellished with elegant beads or embroidery, providing women with varied choices for their abayas.

In Saudi Arabia, women are largely still required to wear the abaya when in public.
In Saudi Arabia, women are largely still required to wear the abaya when in public.

When she is covered by an abaya, a woman can generally wear anything she wants under it. Most abaya dresses provide wearers with the freedom to wear whatever is comfortable underneath. Many women will dress conservatively before putting on the abaya, when they will be working in a business environment. A woman who is out running errands may wear shorts or slacks with a T-shirt or other simple top. As long as her abaya is opaque, concealing her body shape, she can enjoy wearing whatever she chooses under it.

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    • A woman wearing an abaya and niqab.
      A woman wearing an abaya and niqab.
    • The flag of Saudi Arabia, where many women wear an abaya.
      By: Stefano Ginella
      The flag of Saudi Arabia, where many women wear an abaya.
    • The Quran instructs women to be modest in dress.
      By: Egypix
      The Quran instructs women to be modest in dress.
    • An abaya is a cloak that is worn over clothing by some Muslim women.
      By: Pefkos
      An abaya is a cloak that is worn over clothing by some Muslim women.
    • In Saudi Arabia, women are largely still required to wear the abaya when in public.
      By: Bastos
      In Saudi Arabia, women are largely still required to wear the abaya when in public.