An abaya is an outer garment worn by women in some parts of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf Region. It is long-sleeved, floor-length, and traditionally black. The abaya is worn over street clothes when a woman leaves her home, and is designed to be loose and flowing, hiding the “curves” of the body. The abaya may slip over the head, but usually opens in the front, closing with snaps, a zipper, or overlapping layers. The sleeves are formed from the same piece of fabric; they are not stitched on separately. The abaya may be worn with other pieces of Islamic clothing, such as a scarf which covers the hair (hijab or tarha), and perhaps a veil which covers the face (niqab or shayla).
The abaya comes in two main styles: they can be worn from the shoulder or from the top of the head. While abayas seem simple and plain at first glance, there is actually a variety of designs. Traditional abayas are simple and unadorned, but in recent years it has become more common to find them with embroidery, colored embellishments, and tailored cuts.
The ornamentation is often found along the sleeve cuffs, neck lines, or down the front or back. Beads, sequins, colored thread, ribbon, crystals, lace, etc. are used to add flair and color. Design houses such as Saint Laurent and Versace have even made haute couture abayas, and local designers in UAE and other Gulf countries have quite a following among young women. Black is still the traditional and most common base color, but abayas can also be found in other colors such as dark blue, brown, green, and purple.