In Texas, I hardly ever saw a women in an abaya or even a head scarf. I suppose that’s because the Muslim populations there are still small and largely from South Asia, where women don’t usually wear such clothing. But in the last couple of years as I traveled to the Levant and now that I’ve lived in the Gulf, I’ve been exposed to a variety of Islamic couture.
Glossary (based purely on my personal observations and conversations with people)
Hijab: Can refer to both the headscarf and an overall modest way of dressing.
Abaya: a loose, robe-like outer garment. It’s common in the Gulf and Emirati women, especially, tend to wear ones beautifully embroidered or covered with beads.
Burqa: Like an abaya, but at least from what I’ve observed, it’s usually used in context when describing the near total covering worn by women in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.
Niqab: A face veil that usually attaches to the sides of a headscarf, revealing only the eyes
I saw a lot of women in Syria wearing abayas. Less so in Jordan where I usually saw them pair a pretty scarf quite fashionably tied over their hair with a trim blazer and skinny jeans. In the Gulf, majority of Muslim women, though not all, wear abayas. (In Saudi, all women must wear them, and not drive, and not be without a male escort … But that’s a post for a different day.)
I really don’t judge other women who want to be covered like this. I actually think the Syrian/Jordanian girls’ approach is a chic look, and practical, too, in winter. (Of course, I would be able to take off the scarf once inside.) I know I would find it a special hell to be clothed in reams of black fabric from head to toe when the humidity climbs and the temperatures reach 110 degrees.
All that being said, I love clothes and find the different ways Muslim women dress themselves interesting. I’m sure there are distinctions of tribe or clan that I’ve missed completely. Beyond that, it’s just fun to learn the different ways one can wear a headscarf. Attach a fabric flower a la Carrie Bradshaw to the side. Or a scarf with rusching. Or, as pictured below, one for all the Muslim rocker grrls out there.