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There seems to be this unfortunate belief amongst Muslims in the West that spending more than $50 on an abayaah is silly and that quality does *not* matter. Now, think about this logically; wouldn’t you want the overgarment or overgarments that you wear day in and day out to actually last? Not fall apart after being washed, not fall apart after half a dozen wears or be uncomfortably hot and poorly-fitting? If your going to spend the money might as well make it worth it! Frankly, I’m tired of abayaat being sold for… yes $50 and they aren’t even worth $25!
So, I dug out some of my abayaat…three of which are very high quality and are from UAE and KSA and compared them against one which is of less than ideal quality from KSA although I purchased it from an Online store here in North America.
What you need to look out for is first; fabric quality, secondly; the abayaahs construction and third; the snaps (if it’s a snap front style).
There majority of Gulf-made abayaat are produced with crepe fabric. There is no *one* kind of crepe…there are thinner crepes and thicker crepes, some that are sheer, some that have a sheen and some that are matt, some are weightless and some have a substantial feel in the hand, some have textures and some that don’t.
A abayaah made out of really poor quality crepe will either feel like cheap polyester or feel like it potentially be quality crepe but is a bit too slippy and smooth to be true. Quality crepe is NOT slippery and perfectly smooth unless it’s silky crepe or has a sheen to it. Even the softest, highest quality crepe like Saudi Saloona is not perfectly smooth, it has a “feel” to it. It’s extremely hard to explain but trust me when I say, if you feel a abayaah made of quality crepe and one made of poor quality crepe you’ll immediately notice the difference.
Additionally quality crepe is fairly rip resistant and LASTS, it does not get shabby looking, even after years of heavy wear and regular washing. I have one abayaah from Qatar in very high quality crepe that after five years and heavy wear still looks like it could be new! Shabby crepes show wear quickly.
Another way to tell quality is how comfortable the fabric is in hot weather-in hot and humid or dry weather the abayaah will “breath”, if you perspire you don’t stay all sweaty and hot, the air flows through the fabric and you feel cool and dry. Poor quality crepe keeps you feeling hot, sweaty and sticky…no air flow there.
Check out this picture…can you tell the cheap polyester “sheen crepe” from the real silky sheen crepe?
The one on the right is *quality* silky crepe the one on the left is the cheap “sheen crepe”…stay away from the cheapo sheen “crepe”…please! Unless you want to slowly roast in your abayaah. How abayaat manufacturers get away with using this kind of fabric is something I do not understand!
So the way a quality abayaah is made is different from how a cheap one is made from the stitching and serging down to the fit of the garment.
Lets take serging for example, here is an example of BAD serging!
I rarely see serging this bad but wow…this is definitely a clue to the abayaahs quality. They used WHITE stretchy polyester thread (ok, don’t they at least have black thread?) and the serging was done very sloppily and used HUGE stitching. Why wasnt the excess cut and why wasnt the garment edges serged BEFORE sewing or atleast serged properly!
Now and example of a quality abayaah’s serging from the same area;
The serging matches the abayaah color and is very right and small with no “raw” edges. The edges of this abayaah will definitely not fray anytime soon!
Now lets get to the collar of an abayaah. Closed and open abayaahs with an inside collar edge should have some light interfacing inside the collar edge to keep the collar looking nice and prevent sagging.
The poorly made abayaah will not have this interfacing nor a clean edge on the underside;
Do you see what I mean? Unfortunately this abayaah does have the habit of getting droopy around the collar area when worn. A quality abayaah with this type of a collar will have interfacing and have a clean finish;
Oh I’m not done with collars yet! The majority of quality abayaat will actually have a narrow piece of satin sewn along the inside collar edge like this;
This keeps the collar from becoming frayed or shabby looking it also keeps the edge smooth against the wearers skin so there is nothing itchy or bothersome against the neck. Cheapo abayaah generally do not have this, they will have rolled edges or just the sewn down collar edge without interfacing as shown above.
If an abayaah is open down the front with snap closers you really need to make sure this part of the abayaah was done in a top-notch way. So, how to tell?
First…if the snaps that were used are these annoying metal things that are pressed into the fabric and are placed right on the edges of the front of the abayah. Oh, big trouble!
Here are two examples;
The abayaah these pictures came from was not made very well in this area either. First metal snaps that are pressed onto the garment were used and the cheaper variety easily pop off unlike when sewn snaps or better quality, heavier metal snaps are used. Secondly, this abayaah has huge gaps between the snaps and the snaps are placed right on the very edges of the garment so as you walk the entire world can see your clothing being worn under the abayaah. Not a problem if you fancy an abayaah over a dress, but most of us wear them over jeans or sweats. So, huge gaps and a gust of wind…bad combo. Additionally they just look tacky, tasteless and cheap. For $50 a better method of closure ought to have been used!
Here are two examples of…in my opinion…the best style of front closure.
Quality abayaat that snap up the front will *always* have an extra strip of fabric sewn inside the front of the abayaah for the snaps to snap onto…this really keeps gaps between snaps from being blown open, snaps falling off and a general look of tackiness/cheapness at bay. It can be very windy out and the jeans I have on under one of these abayaahs will not be shown to the world.
Plus they give a much nicer, finished look to the front of the abayaah.
So in ending, I hope you learned something about ways to tell a quality abayaah from a not-so-quality abayaah and if your one of those sisters who insists upon everything being cheap that now at least you’ll understand the old adage that being cheap costs you more money in the long run! Just to add, I completely understand that some sisters can not afford an expensive abayaah and must make do with what they can afford on a very very tight budget, seriously…I understand this, my husband and I are still graduate students but if you can afford even 1 or 2 high quality abayaat they will outlast a wardrobe full of inexpensive, poorly made abayaat.
And as proof…check this out.
I got this abayaah from Qatar in 2004 and it’s been a very very very heavily used abayaah for much of it’s existence, I would even machine wash AND dry it in industrial laundromat machines and this abayaah seriously looks like it could be new. There are only 2 pin-head sized holes in the hem but the nice thing about this abayaah is because it’s made of such good quality fabric the crepe will not rip and those holes haven’t grown any larger over the years. Esp when I compare this abayaah to a similar one I had in super cheapo crepe…that thing ripped all the way up the front after a handful of wears when I stepped on the hem lugging groceries up a flight of stairs.
Although the hem is a bit dusty from wear, overall it’s in perfect shape after 5 years of wear! Now, take that cheap abayaah!
This is turning into the longest post…but my friend Umm Abdullah who is just so much more coherent than I am and a very good seamstress mentioned a few more key points regarding abayaah quality. She has a much more extensive knowledge of fabric differences and the differences between crepes so here’s her take;
Alhamdulillaah this is a really good guide. Just a note though, some of the very good quality abayaat instead of having a satin binding sewn on the inside; have a binding made out of the abaya fabric instead but folded and pressed so it is like a pre-made binding. (oops! My bad, you’re right, the silky crepe one I have has this folded down fabric as binding, great point!) Some of the excellent quality ones from Dubai that I got from the Somali shop here have this mashaAllaah and I saw some in Saudi like that. Sometimes the fabric of the abaya makes a better quality and longer lasting binding than the pre-made satin bias binding, also on some fabrics the satin fabric will come loose and fray because the weave and composition is just too different to the fabric.
A lot of the abayaat sold online are the ones sold in the ‘flea’ type markets in Saudi and Dubai for sometimes less than $10; but even some of those have decent serging, the snaps put onto an extra piece of fabric and such; if something has white serging then that signals to me it is extremely poor quality.
Just a note about Maliki crepe and mustaqbal/internet crepe and how to tell the difference between the quality and poor quality versions since the poor quality versions of these fabrics seem to be all that is sold in the western online stores. The cheapo maliki crepe has a very synthetic, almost acrylic feel to it, very static-attracting, and the rib effect to the fabric which is very obvious and looks slightly uneven; will attract dust over time sometimes which proves impossible to get rid of. Also around the edges and seams the colour will fade and it will become bobbled. Also it just doesn’t seem to hang right and gets bent out of shape after a few washes. Also it is really hot to wear even in cool weather. The REAL maliki crepe does have a rib effect to the fabric; but it is a lot more subtle and fine, and even textured, so that it can only really be noticed close up. There is a slight sheen to the fabric. It has a substantial but ‘cool’ and crisp feel to it, and it is really flowy, also it feels a lot lighter despite it being substantial; even after many washes it holds up well, keeps its colour with no fading or bobbling in areas of wear.
Internet or Mustaqbal crepe; the cheapo knock-off version feels very lightweight and flimsy, attacts static very easily, when you hold it up to the light it has a crepe appearance but it is very uneven; and with not much wear and tear at all it will develop ’stretch marks’ (i.e. when held up to the light the fibres will have twisted and warped so there are more transparent crescent like shapes in the fabric). It is difficult to sew the fabric evenly so you will often see a lot of lumps and bumps in the hem even if the work otherwise seems fairly professional. It is also never quite 100% black; even when new, if you wear it in hot weather you’ll be sweating buckets, and finally just like the cheapo maliki crepe it bobbles and fades in areas of wear. The cheapo versions are sometimes slightly shiny; or otherwise they just have a really dull, flat look. The REAL version is a lot different. The fabric is very nice and evenly woven; and though not completely smooth you have to hold the fabric up to the light to see the crepe effect. It is slightly translucent when held up to the light but not see-through. Also the fabric has a very slight ‘pile’ to it but it is not something that has a grain to it. The fabric feels substantial; but lightweight, and has a cool but soft handle to it. Sometimes when you first buy the genuine mustaqbal/internet crepe garments they have a slight waxy feel to them and they are very very black; although the waxy feel may diminish on washing the colour won’t do. Also with both of the high quality versions of the fabrics; though synthetic they can be ironed at a much higher temperature than the cheapo versions, the cheapo versions will burn very easily even sometimes on the lowest settings. (I have a abayaah made of the high quality internet crepe and yup, you’re right on the money, it’s such wonderful material! Isn’t static-y and has a fantastic substantial feel and drape. The cheap variety really can’t compare)