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May 16, 2007

Shopping in Dubai

Shopping in Dubai

Shopping in Dubai

Photo Credit: Celia Peterson

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Dubai doesn't have fashion police -- or religious ones. Bin Kalli and Al Hamly aren't required to wear these robes; they choose to. "We're proud to wear the abaya," says Al Hamly. "It represents our culture. We can look glamorous and good and still be covered up." "Dubai is an expanding city -- there are more expats than locals now," bin Kalli adds. "The abaya helps us differentiate ourselves from the nonlocals." To American women used to staring down a dizzying merry-go-round of new colors and trends each season -- Nautical! Menswear! Bohemian! -- an abaya could seem like a relief: insta-wardrobe. But as it turns out, buying one isn't quite that simple. First, it's more a bespoke process than off-the-rack. Consider the fit: "We don't have 'mediums' or 'size 12s,'" says Al Hamly. "Each shop has a special tailor who measures you every time you go. The only rule is that it's comfortable. They make shorter abayas to go with short heels, longer ones for higher heels." Nor are abayas and their accompanying shailas meant to be humorless shrouds. "My favorite head-scarves are by Moschino," says bin Kalli. "They make ones with hearts or peace signs on them." But, she adds, "If you want to be noticed, you wear Roberto Cavalli." Noticed? In a black robe that shows only your hands, feet, and face? Indeed, in Dubai, wearing the abaya does not have to mean eschewing fashion. On the contrary, the style of robes and head-scarves women wear -- to say nothing of the makeup, jewelry, and handbags they accessorize with ("We spend a fortune on handbags," confides Al Hamly) -- combine to make a declarative fashion statement.

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