GLAMOUR IN THE GULF
Abayas, when worn in public, are always black. (Jalabiyas, on the other hand -- the Arabian-style dresses women typically wear to entertain guests at home -- are sold in every color of the rainbow.) An "everyday" abaya, which costs between $80 and $190, is usually made of crepe. "It's the fabric of choice for Gulf women," says Al Hamly. This regional preference has nothing to do with the heat, which can reach an oppressive 120 degrees during the hottest months. Rather, crepe -- or krebe, as it's known here -- is slightly stretchy (read: less likely to rip), and it irons well. (Important since women in Dubai typically wash their abayas every three days or so, with special detergent formulated not to fade the black color.) Still, even in a country where black is the new black, a woman can have a little fun. "You can play around a bit with the style to be different," says bin Kalli, whose favorite casual abaya has denim embroidery on the sleeves. Then there are special-occasion abayas: often a base of delicate black chiffon, transformed -- by way of colorful embroidery, Swarovski crystals, and hand-beading -- into a couture-quality work of art. "Normally, we wear abayas that are decorated with lots of color at weddings," says bin Kalli, "or to the kind of gathering where girls get together." These black-tie versions are costly, though: They run roughly 4000 dirhams ($1,000 U.S.) a pop. Nevertheless, just as in the West, women in Dubai are prepared to hand over the money if it helps them stand out. In fact, the pressure to look original is so intense that Al Hamly and bin Kalli often forgo the mall and import instead: "I shop for abayas that make me look different from other women," Al Hamly explains. "Some I order special from Saudi Arabia." The process can also be secretive: "Certain girls are reluctant to reveal where they had their abayas made, because they fear someone will copy them," she adds. To thwart the competition, women tend to buy from artisans who design right out of their homes.