SRINAGAR: On a hot summer day, three of her friends teamed up with Aaliya, a class 12 student, to buy a dress that helps her follow the religious teachings regarding a woman’s dress. The four matched a black Abaya with an Irani Hijab – the colour combination and the design of embroidery looked pretty.
Aaliya told her friends that she would buy the dress the next day. She says her friends wanted to buy it too. For girls like Aaliya, the Abaya and Irani Hijab is a way of balancing fashion needs with religious commitments in a conservative place like Kashmir.
“The combination looks cool and is comfortable. It gives me a sense of security in the predominant religious society,” Aaliya says. “Moreover, people with narrow thinking don’t pass hateful comments.”
Over the last couple of years, fashion scene in Srinagar was dominated by western clothing, especially among young women. Young girls showed little interest in traditional outfits and preferred jeans, jackets, overcoats, and cardigans. But Abayas seem to have made a comeback.
Shahaid Ahmad Wani, who owns Libas, a fashion apparel showroom, said that Abaya and Burqa culture never vanished from Kashmir. He said he has been taking orders for such dresses in all seasons. However, the young generation and employed women leaned towards western dresses, Wani says. Women, he believes, stepped outside the traditional way of dressing to shape their personality according to their work.
“Wearing Abaya is religious and it dates back to centuries. We should keep in mind that religion doesn’t expire. It comes back in one way or the other,” he says. “Today we receive at least 15-20 orders for designing various types of Abayas.”
Zara Khurshid, a graduate student, has eight Abayas in her wardrobe – all different kinds of fabrics. She finds the Abaya economical than other outfits available in markets. “I need not to spend thousands of rupees on different types of clothes. An Abaya that costs few hundred rupees does it all,” said Zara.
Imad Haqaq, owner of an Abaya store at Nowhatta said, “Mostly school and college-going girls and young brides are regular customers. Women in Kashmir imitate Dubai and Saudi fashion sense more. It is a pity that simple burqas are outdated. The only women who wear unpretentious burqas in Kashmir are girls of Darul Uloom madrassas.”
Nusrat Majeed, an employee in the education department has a different story behind wearing an Abaya. She says that she has to manage home as well as office and doesn’t get time to dress up. “I am not only a teacher, I am a home maker as well. I don’t get enough time to get ready so I put Abaya on top of clothes that I wear at home. It saves my time and energy”.