An interview with Esra…

I thought it would be neat to share a young Saudi womans thoughts on muhajabah fashion, abayaat and other such things. I know her personally and she lived in the US for 3 years for her undergraduate degree.  I don’t have any pictures yet, but en’shallah she’ll send me some soon!

**I put my comments/thoughts in red**

(Esra H during her time in the US)

1) What is your name? Age? Location? Occupation?

Esra H- 22- interior design student

2) How do you dress on the daily basis? Like what styles of clothing do you like for around the house and for when going out? What kind of abaya style do you like?

Hmmm.. well just casual for inside the house..a jeans or pj pants with a shirt.. for school I just put on some skinny jeans and a shirt.. well coz it’s a only-girls university…

The abaya I wear is pretty normal.. colored sleeves covered with a light black fabric.. and snaps down the front .

3) When you were in the US, how did your dress style change? Did you still wear hejab in the US? Did you wear abaya or just western-style modest clothing? If second option, where did you get most of your clothing at?

Jeans and long shirts with colored hijabs.. I never wore an abaya while I was there. I get  most of my clothing from western stores.. like forever 21.. American Eagle.. Mango.. Zara.. u know the usual stores in the mall, lol.

4) What were your ideas of Muslims in the US before you went, did you meet any American Muslims? What did you think of them? Also, did you face any discrimination or racism? Did a fear of standing out impact how you dressed? How did people treat you (both American Muslims and non-Muslim Americans)

Well I didn’t really think of American Muslims before I got there.. I didn’t even think of it.. although I met tons of super nice American Muslims when I got there.. some were nice, some were annoying.. but that’s not coz they r American.. they r just people. I got along with some some and disagreed with some.

I didn’t pay much attention to discrimination, I really don’t think I faced any, maybe it was because I was just a student and I only lived three years there.

The treatment I got from most people was pretty normal. Although the Saudis in the states were unfortunately pretty mean to me. Which is kinda sad, but oh well..

5) Back to the KSA… How many abayaat do you have? How many trendy ones, how manly plain ones? What styles do you like? (i..e shoulder, overhead) How do you choose them and where do you normally purchase them?  When do you buy new overgarments and how much-generally are you willing to spend on one?

Well I currently have one that I use.. my sister has four.. and since we’re the same size I use hers sometimes. I wear the shoulder abayas although I did wear overhead abayas when I was really young. Currently the overhead ones are considered not only old fashioned, but they give the impression that you aren’t very open minded.. SORRY!

**Ofcourse, when I went to the mall with her yesterday I grilled her on this answer because while I know the overheads are the older type of abaya I really didnt know that a lot of Saudi’s consider them pretty old fashioned. Personally I like them, they cover well, flow nicely and I think, look really feminine. She told me that it’s often the more traditional Saudi’s who want their wives and daughters to wear them as they think then guys wont bother them, something like that.

I just go to the store and see what’s there.. or it would be something I saw on someone and I liked it… I usually buy them from a small store here in *city she is from*. he’d make u whatever u want and it’s cheap!

I usually buy one at the beginning of the school year.. u know it’s a sort of a habit.. like school is starting and u get all the new stuff.. new shoes.. new bags.. new jeans.. new abayah lol

For the pay.. I wouldn’t pay more than 400sr for mine and that’s including the matching black hijab (shila).

6) Do you belong to a tribe? (sorry, I dont really know how this works, just shooting in the dark here)…and does this affiliation impact how you dress? Like Ive heard of some Saudi women belonging to very conservative families/tribes and arent really supposed to wear anything but the plain, overhead abayaat. Whats your take on that? OR, what impact does your family and their expectations have on what types of abayaat you wear?

Nop. I wear whatever I like lol.. just not to flashy coz I don’t want some crazy Saudi boys following me around.

**Due to where she is from in KSA, she is not from a tribal area or a family which has ties to a tribe. The perception that all Saudi families are tribal is a misconception!

7) What do you think of niqab? What do you think of the overhead abaya…like your perceptions of the overhead and the women who wear them?

It’s a personal choice.. each person should do whatever they want.. but I wouldn’t like to wear either.. I’m kinda against them.. I just think they hold the woman back and they set a barrier.. I dk.. I really don’t like them for me..  it looks nice on some ppl tho

**Shes not against the overhead and the niqab itself but more against the reasons WHY some Saudi women wear them. Most have familial/societal pressure on them to dress in a certain way so for some, it’s not really a choice they can make.

8) Are most Saudi women really constricted by their families/general society as regarding to how they dress? Do you feel like you HAVE to dress in a certain manner when going out or else face societal “wrath”?

YES. Man that’s what I mainly HATE about the culture here. That women are controlled! In my family, they don’t control how I dress, but control other things.. OMG imagine them controlling how I dress too!! That would just kill me.

9) How does Saudi society consider pants and women wearing them? Like in some Arab cultures, pants are considered very indecent for women to wear…so women usually wear dresses or skirts. What about in Saudi society?

I think ppl r fine with it here.. maybe some Bedouin or traditional types wouldn’t like it, but other than those everyone else is ok with it.. EVERYONE I know wears jeans!! Lol.. except my grandma.  But even she used to wear pants when she was younger lol..

10) What do you think of some of the current trends in “Khaleeji” fashion…like wearing huge poof clips under the hijab to get the “big head look”, or wearing a LOT of makeup with the shaylah or wearing the really bright, sparkly “UAE-style” abayaat. What do you think of those women who dress like that?

Again I think it’s a personal choice. But I wouldn’t want to wear that.. then what the point of hijab be??

11) What do you think of western Muslim women IN the US and/or in KSA wear the Saudi or khaleeji style abayaat and styling their tarha in the styles worn here?

It’s up to them.. don’t really have an opinion about that.

(Esra and her friends in their Hajj ihram)


11 thoughts on “An interview with Esra…

    • You know, I thought the same thing too…but Saudi women think of abayaat differently than how the average western muslim woman does. Since in the west it’s hard to *generally* find modest clothing in the stores most women use their overgarments as their main clothing focus and most tend to purchase a lot and collect them (if they can afford to)…since it just works out that way. I know in the US I owned like 20 abayaat and jilbabs and manteau before coming! Well, since coming here Ive learnt that the *average* Saudi woman doesnt own that many, since they focus on the clothing worn under it. When they socialize they take it off since they will be in a womans environment anyway, at University they take it off since usually the classes are women only and so unless the professor is a man…why keep it on? Its just the society is different, so the overgarment doesnt serve the same function.

      Plus you can find tunics and long skirts EVERYWHERE so instead of investing in a lot of abayaat like we do in the West, they only buy 1-2 new ones a year and focus on the pants, skirts and tops worn under. Also most woman really dress up under their abayaat here. Like in the US most women would wear sweat pants, tank top or jeans and a teeshirt or something comfortable and cool under their overgarment, here they dress in nice pants, nice top, everything since the abaya will come off ocne they r inside somewhere.

  1. Very interesting interview, I enjoyed reading it!! I need to catch up on the rest of your posts.

    I was also surprised that she didn’t have a lot of abayaat!
    She sounds like a lovely person, mashallah!

  2. I remember my in laws saying the same about the abaya, that they only had one or two. When I went to Bahrain I was so the opposite! There they were in the same one the whole trip but I was dragging my SILs to the market and getting abayas left right and centre LOL. I think it’s because we don’t have that choice here in Western countries, you know? Like it’s buy a $150 one that you could get there for $30 or nothing. Also I think that if I wear an abaya here in Australia, then I’m wearing it all day. I don’t take it off because I don’t visit women all that much, so it really gets worn as opposed to just being something to get me from A to B.

    Also, Esra, my husband comes from a city where no one has a tribe too 🙂

  3. nice, keep adding more pls.

    and i have more abayaat than her, lol.
    well, abaya over there is like baju kurung over here.
    if you see it everyday, wear it almost entire of your life, you just think of it as nothing unusual. it’s so common.

    but i still have more than 10 baju kurung which i wear under the abaya 🙂

  4. i really wish muslim women in the US had the opportunity to dress up like normal underneath their abayas but unfortuantly we hardly ever have a place aside from our house to remove our abayas. all womens universities/malls and stuff like that would be awesome-every girl likes to get dressed up and I think it would make it easier to cover properly outside if you know you get to take off that abaya when you get to your destination and look cute in front of the right people rather than strange men. I see alot of young muslimahs in the US trying so hard to look extra cute in their western hijab style clothing or tight abayas and makeup but i think its because they just love to look cute- its their only chance aside from with their families. i think they would more readily cover all up if they could easily take it off at university and look cute with their girlfriends. you know what im sayin?

  5. Assalamualaikum dearest sister,

    This is a very insightful interview. Back when I was in University, friends from the UAE and Gulf countries are constantly in their abayah and I used to wonder what do they wear underneath. That was until we started hanging out at each others’ rooms and only then did I find out they really do dress up and own just a couple of abayahs. 🙂

  6. That was interesting! I think I knew that universities weren’t mixed but I never gave it much thought. It’s pretty cool that even though it’s so strict on what can be worn in public, there are places available where women can be themselves and just dress up and look cute.

    I heard a horrible story though once about doors to an all girl’s school being kept closed and locked when there was a fire because the girls weren’t wearing their hijabs and abayas!!! If that really happened, it’s disgusting. That they’d rather these women or girls in danger or dead than be seen without hijab!

    • yes that did happen. This and other reasons and the ensuing outrages are now why the mutawwa are always accompanied by police officers, extra safety precaution.

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