This cloak (abayah) was acquired at Abdullah (Khunji) store in Abu Dhabi during the 1990s. Abdullah is one of the Emirates’ earliest and most prominent fabric merchants. Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli knew Abdullah from childhood as her mother was one of his early clients.
As a whole any cloak (abayah), (bisht), (mishlah), (dafah), is generally constructed from two rectangular pieces of fabric of equal length (fajatayn) sewn together horizontally (hashiyah) or (khabun).
The two outer edges of each length (fajah) are folded to the middle and sewn at the top to create the shoulder line. The lengthwise folded sides (fajatayin) thus leave an opening in the middle running the length of the front body section.
Two small holes are opened at the folded line, on the top corners of each shoulder line to allow the hands to pass through creating the sleeves without having to cut and add a sleeve as in most clothes.
From the 1990s onwards new versions appeared, such as this one, where the fabric came in wider widths so there was no need for the earlier central hemline (khat al khabun), a step in the continuing evolution of the abayah.
This more contemporary silk chiffon cloak abayah is worn draped off the shoulder (abayat_chatif) in public, social, or celebratory occasions. It is customarily accompanied by a matching narrow veil (shaylah), wide enough to cover the head without overpowering the look of the cloak underneath. It is cut on the bias to create a cape silhouette as an added novelty.
It is still the custom in many regions of the Gulf, especially in the Emirates, that women do not take off their abayah at larger gatherings, such as weddings and family celebrations, or even at female only events. However, since the fabric is generally very sheer silk chiffon it allows the silhouettes of the heavily embroidered clothes worn underneath to be visible.
If removed, the article was customarily folded into the smallest possible square, tucked snuggly under one underarm, or placed under its wearer, when seated, so as to not be mixed up with someone else’s cloak. At present, elaborate dressing rooms (abayah-rooms), fully decked with makeup and perfume, are created in homes and major social gatherings such as weddings, where guests can hang their cloaks and freshen up both upon arrival or before departure.