Fashion Show

15 06 2008

These are pictures that illustrate how I dress here.
Totally covered

Niqab

These first three pictures are not how I dress every day. Rather they represent how the Yemeni women dress every day outside of their homes. The first item is the black abiya — the long black dress — that goes from the neck to the ankles with long sleeves that extend beyond the wrists. I too wear this every day outside of my housing area. Over their hair, Yemeni women wear a black hijab — head scarf. Neither the abiya or hijab have to be all black, in fact it’s hard to find one that is. Most have some sort of decoration on them. You can see in these pictures that the hijab has green and gold embroidery along the edges and the abiya has diamond-like jewels on the cuffs of the sleeves. The last accoutrement is the niqab — the face veil. It has a tie at the top so you can tie it around your head. There are two parts that hang down. The bottom layer is solid material that hangs down below the eyes (see picture at left). Women always have this down when in public. There is also a second sheer layer that can hang down to cover the eyes (demonstrated in the first two pictures). Many women wear this pulled back over their head leaving their eyes exposed. (The camera sees through the second layer better than I expected. When I looked at the pictures after I took them I was surprised at how much of my eyes I could see. Maybe it’s the flash that does that. Looking at the women on the street, you can’t really see their eyes through the veil. Looking out, I can see fine, though everything is a bit darkened. I think the practical use of the second layer is as sun glasses, to protect their eyes from the glare.)

Black hijab

These next pictures represent my typical appearance when I leave the house. The black hijab in the first picture is one I bought here. You can see how thin it is. It’s nice because it’s cooler than the black hijab I already owned and brought with me, which is made of much thicker material. The white hijab is not something an adult Yemeni woman would ever wear–because it’s not black. (Only young girls — pre-teens — wear colored hijab and don’t wear the niqab.) However, it is appropriate for a foreign women to wear. I’m still considered modest and I look like I’m Muslim, just not from Yemen. (I received that hijab as a gift from another student here, Maloushka. She brought it with her but then decided she liked wearing the Kashmir scarfs she bought here instead.)

Blue Hijab

This is another typical look for me. One Yemeni said I look like I’m from Syria with this hijab. That’s possibly because I bought it in Jordan. It’s definitely the sort of modern hijab worn in less traditional societies. I like this one because it is thin material that is cooler. However, by itself, it kept slipping off because the material is too slick. I ended up buying the under piece (pictured separately below) that is a lot like a cloth swim cap. I feel a bit silly sometimes putting it on before going out, but it does the trick.

The question I’m sure most of you have now is “isn’t all that hot?” I’m sure that it is warmer than if I was in a white t-shirt and shorts, but its honestly not too bad. Thankfully the weather here in Sana’a is very mild. The highs while I’ve been here have been from the upper-70s to the low-80s. It doesn’t get much hotter than that all summer. The humidity is also low, which helps. The first few days I was here I had not yet bought an abiya so I only wore long loose black pants and long-sleeve shirts with the hijab that I’d brought with me. I was warm if I exerted myself, but otherwise fine. The first day I wore the abiya, when I put it on over my clothes I felt so hot before even leaving my room, that I immediate took off the shirt underneath. I did this for a couple of days, only wearing pants under the abiya, however, that gets the abiya sweaty too fast and I don’t want to buy a bunch of them. So I went back to putting the abiya over regular clothes. I didn’t notice much of a difference. I think my first reaction may have been more psychological than real. There are times I wish I’d brought some short-sleeve shirts to wear under the abiya, but generally I don’t feel too hot wearing everything. It does make a noticeable having a light weight material for the hijab, however.Blue cap

I wondered how much difference wearing the niqab would make. When I wore it yesterday to walk to the grocery store it didn’t seem to make a big difference. The breeze and walking kept is moving so my face didn’t get too hot. However, in the store, without the breeze, having my hot, humid breath bounce back onto my face as not very comfortable. I was glad to get back outside in the breeze. I bought the niqab, not because I need to wear it here, but because I wanted to wear it when I went anywhere alone so that I didn’t standout as a foreigner so much. Yesterday’s trip to the store was my first test of this idea. Unfortunately it did not make much difference. I still got people saying hello to me in English from a lot of the shops in the souq as I walked through it. I stand out as a foreigner no matter how I dress possibly because my exposed hands are too white, but also, I think, because the way I carry myself and walk gives me away. Oh well.

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3 responses

16 06 2008
Uncle Mark

Nice fashion show. Michelle could never be a Muslim — she gets claustrophobic waring temple clothes. The cloth head piece looks kind of like a “dew rag” that I saw a lot of black men ware in North Carolina.
I’m surprised you don’t get hot waring black in the sun. I’m also surprised the air isn’t humid being close to the coast.

17 06 2008
Umm Yasmin

I’m so excited to come across your blog – I studied Arabic in Sana’a back in 2002 and seeing you dress up in the Yemeni outfit brought memories flooding back. I mostly didn’t wear the niqab, the few occasions I did people still did pick me for an outsider though LOL. I’m looking forward to reading your blog!!

17 06 2008
Umm Yasmin

Oh my goodness – I just read your other posts, I studied at CALES too!!! I remember Jamal, and is ‘Am Saeed the caretaker still there???? When I was studying the mafraj was vacant, so a few of us girls used to go up there and hang out and study our Arabic together. I remember those killer stairs though. My goodness, the size of each individual step is huge too.

Oh I am so excited to read your blog. I remember the adventures of trying to work out what to buy, how to cook in that dilapidated kitchen LOL. But it was so much fun. You will look back on these memories and treasure them I *promise* you!!!

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