Shopping for the Full-Body Veil

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A humorous piece by guest writer Mehmudah Rehman, who shares a story of abayah-shopping adventures in Dubai.

Image credit: -Meesho-

Do all women love shopping? Do all the female species (who, according to John Gray, have landed upon the earth from planet Venus) love to gaze at the shiny displays outside the shops? No, certainly not. But shopping for many is a way of life. Possibly the most important three words for some are “let’s go shopping.” I have, often times, come across men grinding their teeth as they wait for their wives outside a cosmetic shop, tired and irritable. The wife, of course, is having the time of her life trying out lipsticks and perfumes as she is showered with compliments from an all-too-eager sales lady. All that and more has often made me surprised by the fact that I don’t enjoy shopping at all.

Whether it be the usual grocery trip, or a shopping expedition for furniture or home-wares, I run away from it all. Clothes-shopping, of course, is another major dilemma. I usually fall into momentary shock as I realize that nothing I like suits my budget, or that when it does it makes me look either fat, ugly, older than my age, or all of the above. I hate standing in queues with irritable children in tow, and I like nothing better than to call off the clothes-shopping plan and make-do with my well-worn dirty-blue jeans and T-shirt. I don’t mind purchasing the odd Tee, it’s the complete wardrobe overhaul that causes problems. The fact that I, like most Muslim women in the UAE, wear the abayah (body-veil) is, on the one hand, great, as the dirty-blues hidden underneath do exceptionally well for me; but one cannot indefinitely put off actually purchasing an abayah.

Shoulders squared and prepared for the worst, I walked into one of the more popular abayah shopping centres here. (Yes, there are complete malls dedicated to just veils, in case you were wondering!). There were more stores than I could count, and more abayahs than I’ve ever seen before. They were shiny and blingy, they were sober and simple, they were ostentatious and cheap, they were quiet and commanding – but there was one thing common among them all – they were black. I browsed through row after row of black gowns and nothing seemed right. It seemed either too gaudy, or too simple, or simply unattractive. I walked along the corridors tense and tired, wondering if I would be able to find anything right at all.

And then I saw it. There was only one word which could quiet describe it: elegant. It was long and flowing, and almost had something regal about it. Though the asking price was way more than I planned to pay initially, I decided to try it on. I gasped. It fell into swirling folds near my toes and it felt… right? I examined myself in the mirror. Even I managed to look somewhat stylish; clearly the gown was special. And then I noticed something, a small but noticeable tear down the left side. But of course, they did not have a new piece and if I ordered a new one, it would take a couple of weeks to make. My need was urgent and this was useless, just like the whole trip was starting to feel.

Dejected and exhausted, I walked down an uninviting alley of the mall and something caught the corner of my eye: the gleaming diamantes on a display abayah – in neat little rows between pleats. I was surprised when it fit just right and ended up buying it. My confidence in my shopping abilities increased manifold when the better half later claimed it looked exactly like a parachute with Swarovski’s. I took the less-than-flattering comment with a pinch of salt, for at that point in time, I was expecting, and there was probably a grain of truth in his eloquent elucidation!

But all’s well that ends well and parachute or not, the abayah became imperative as we inched towards my baby’s birth date, which meant I lost weight (and tummy) after the little one and had to search for another suitable abayah. Oh joy!

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Mehmudah Rehman is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to Dubai-based newspaper Gulf News, as well as Pakistani newspaper, Dawn.