Ask Ali: It’s rare for Emirati women to model abayas

Taking photos of local women modelling abayas is not very common here. It’s not that it’s illegal, but more of a cultural code.

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Dear Ali: I love fashion, and have designed an abaya collection. I was looking for an Emirati woman to be a model for the collection, but was unable to find anyone willing to do it. Someone told me that Emirati women here aren't allowed to model. Is this true? If this is the case, who should I ask to be a model for my collection? RI, Sharjah

Dear RI: I'm pleased to know that you're interested in designing our traditional dress. There are many international designers of abayas who have become very popular, and their designs are loved by Emirati women. But I do hope the abaya stays as it is, and doesn't become just another dress – unfortunately, many designers have started to create abayas that are just like regular dresses.

In answer to your question, taking photos of local women modelling abayas is not very common here. It’s not that it’s illegal, but more of a cultural code.

First of all, we have to remember that women are respected and valued in the UAE, and modelling isn’t recommended in a conservative society like ours. Another reason is that the teachings of our religion advise women not to expose their skin or figure to strangers, therefore modelling contradicts our cultural values. However, there are some designers who wear their own abayas instead of using models, and there are a few Emirati girls who work in a fashionista style.

You can try to do the same, but be prepared to work hard to find a model. It’s not easy to find someone who will allow you to take a photo of her while she’s wearing your abaya, especially if it means not covering. But covering the model actually creates intrigue, so don’t hesitate to try this for your shots.

Nowadays, you also see some abaya designers posting their models on their Instagram accounts in a smart way – for example, showing a lady sitting or drinking coffee, but without showing their whole face, and mainly focusing on the abaya itself.

If you have too much trouble finding a suitable model, a back-up plan could be to hire a model from Morocco. The women from there are known to have a similar look to women in the Gulf, and can fit perfectly for a job like this.

If you search, you will find a good number of professional Moroccan models who live and work in the UAE.

There’s even less of an issue if the model is Russian or from elsewhere in the world, because the abaya is not necessary just for Emirati women – any woman in the world is welcome to wear it. All the best with your business.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question.