BLACK AND WHITE: colours of the past.
Are we still stuck in that past? For as long as this generation can remember, Abayas and Thobes have existed and been part of our everyday lifestyles. They are distinguished by the elderly as well as by little kids, and as shocking as it may seem, the bland black fabric now symbolizes the entire female sector of Saudi Arabia, as does the white, which represents the males. It has allowed foreign eyes to stereotype us and put us inside yet another box, a monochromatic one. But do these insipid colours embody our identity? Will Saudis’ identities continue to be concealed this way forever, or will history repeat itself?
Abayas have not always been black. In fact, up until several decades ago, they did not exist at all! It all started back in the days of when Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him, ruled this sacred land. They endured a long journey to become what we now know of them.
At the very beginning, it wasn’t culturally mandatory. Women were free to dress in any way that conforms to Hijab. Then onwards, when religion was thought of as a way of life rather than many ‘different ways’ to live, Abayas became a must. Yet still, they didn’t look the way they do today. Back then, according to many seniors, Abayas were thick black cloaks worn over the head. Though, those who were fashionably privileged chose to wear it differently. Their Abayas started at the shoulders and ended a little below the knees. Afterwards, everyone began wearing long ones similar to what is worn today, but they preferred to stay traditional, thus, sticking to the colour… black.
So what about tomorrow and the day after? Will Abayas always be there to conceal who we really are?
Many believe that Abayas’ mere existence is based on making women invisible, as if attempting to scratch them from the face of reality. In fact, women play a huge role in the eternal man vs. woman contention. They are the mothers, the nurturers, and the healers. Therefore, masking them with black is truly ironic because one: black is a colour that is used as a symbol of evil and death. And two: since women initially started wearing them on their heads, they somehow resemble walking grim reapers; the personified icon of Death. Does that mean the society wants its women to be looked on as such? And that leads us back to the first issue: have we given the world enough reason to label our women?
With not much change and more of the same, the 21st century was upon us. These days, Abayas seem to have escaped from under the firm grip of tradition, and burst into all the beautiful colours of this world. Many trends have come and gone; yet every one of them added a bit more value to the dress of everyday life. Ladies now seem to spend more time and effort to ensure they choose the best look that represents them in the society. Abayas became their own fingerprints, with different shapes and sizes, but essentially serving the same cause… “Being different”.
Why though? Why do women have that desperate need to connect with their individuality?
Is it because they feel the need to enhance the black façade and make it rich with diversity, or maybe because they’re simply tired of looking like each other’s carbon copies. Either way, Saudi women seem to be pouring in extra efforts just to survive the high tides of the ocean of darkness.
Yet men seem to be following a different track. History reveals how they were never forced to confine to wearing Thobes. On the contrary, they only felt the need to wear it in order to familiarize with the hot desert climate of this Arabian Peninsula and eventually it became a cultural garment. But, again: why white? Unlike black, it is the colour of ultimate purity, peace, and freedom. Does that insinuate the righteousness of men alongside the malice of women?
It is only nowadays that men decided to modestly alter the culture and wear Thobes in blue, brown, beige, and surprisingly, black. And just like women, they’re fighting for a chance of selfexpression through their everyday dress by introducing it to the fascinating world of diversity. For instance, Lomar, a leading company in the Thobe business, aims to alter the image of Thobes. Its philosophy is to change male elegance by redefining it and creating it in a way that compliments men’s life styles, strengthens their ties with heritage, as well as helping them wear their Thobes with pride.
last of all and beyond a shadow of doubt, Saudi men and women appear to be living under the rule of archaic customs, whereby everyone has to look and dress in the same manner in order to reside in the country. For that reason, the main speculation should be: will Saudi Arabia ever be privileged enough to experience a bewildering ‘GREY AREA’ that could morph us into who we truly are? Has your research uncovered why they were specifically the color black?