Young Emiratis dismiss concerns that national dress has fallen out of fashion

Young Emiratis say wearing national dress makes them feel more unique and closer to their culture.

Young Emiratis say wearing national dress is a source of pride.  Pawan Singh / The National
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Abu Dhabi // National dress is still in fashion, young Emiratis insist.

A Federal National Council session heard last week that it had fallen out of favour with the younger generation.

Ahmed Al Amash (RAK) said more and more were swapping their kanduras and abayas for western-style clothing

He said that unless policies were enacted to protect national dress, it could lead to an erosion of Emirati cultural identity.

But Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth & Community Development, told the session national dress was still popular.

And young people told The National they agreed with Sheikh Nahyan.

Turky Al Hammadi, 29, an aviation engineer from Abu Dhabi, said the younger generation wore traditional dress with pride.

"It gives them a sense of belonging when they wear the kandura," he said." Trends disappear and fade away but the national dress will not fade away."

Mr Al Hammadi said a country such as the UAE which is home to many nationalities would inevitably see a merging of cultures but that this was to be welcomed.

“People have become more open to other traditions and that is the effect of globalisation – the world became smaller,” he said. “It makes others respect and accept us, and so do we.”

He enjoys wearing traditional dress to work and when meeting friends, although he occasionally wears casual attire such as jeans and t-shirts.

“I love to wear the kandura, it makes me feel unique, especially when I am at work since 90 per cent of the company are expats,” he said. “I’m proud to shine which makes me proud of wearing the kandura.”

Myriam Al Dhaheri, 21, a university student from Abu Dhabi, wears an abaya most days, covering her trousers, skirts or dresses underneath. She saves her more traditional jalabeyas for special occasions such as Eid and Ramadan.

“Growing up, I was dressed up according to occasions. So if it was Eid or I was visiting the family, I would wear the jalabeya. But if it was playing at the park, then I would be dressed in trousers for sure.”

She said the jalabeya was comfortable and perfect for formal and casual occasions, making it popular among her friends.

“The traditional dress is not fading. However, there are times where it is more comfortable to wear trousers, especially when we are working,” she said. “For example, when I took archaeology classes, we were advised to wear trousers since it is easier when working in the archaeological sites.”

Ms Al Dhaheri said many were turning national dress into a mark of individuality.

“I do not think fashion trends cause Emiratis to lose their identity,” she said. “There are many designers setting the abaya as a fashion statement rather than traditional attire. That can be seen as a source of motivation for wearing the abaya.

“Emiratis should realise when to wear it and when not to because sometimes it can be considered shameful if not worn, which is irrational.”

Ms Al Dhaheri said wearing an abaya in some fields of work could be considered hazardous.

“It would be hard to do practical work in certain fields, like engineering, while wearing the abaya. It becomes a question of safety, not national identity.”