My latest online clothing purchase was a pair of side-close abayas from a company I haven’t tried before: Islamic-Attire.com. I couldn’t find much about this company before ordering from them, so hopefully this review proves useful if you are considering it! Islamic Attire has a wide variety of very affordably priced abayas and jilbabs. There are also a smattering of other clothing options on the site: a few hijab styles, some salwar kameez (more on the expensive side, and many with oddly transparent sleeves), a couple of maternity or nursing abayas, and some individual tops/bottoms/coats. They also carry a pretty good selection of plus sizes, which can sometimes be hard to find! Some selling points for me in trying the unknown site as a whole were as follows:
The prices were pretty good for the abayas at least. The majority of their abayas were around $30 to 40-something, though there are more expensive options as well (including some very decorative ones). Besides that, they have a sale section that has quite a few options under $20 (in specific sizes for the most part, while the main selection at regular price is available in all the size options). However if you happen to find something in sale in your size this is a great deal. It appears that their sale selections change frequently, they also have a “deal of the day/week” type of markdown which is mentioned on their facebook page.
Despite the fact that they are shipping from overseas, they were offering free shipping in the US when I ordered, which is of course a huge plus. Overseas shipping can get really expensive as I’m sure most of my online sisters know! At the time I ordered, they had a free shipping code (no minimum) for US customers, and also a $10 off coupon for filling out a survey on their site (point of confusion: I filled out the survey and got nothing, not realizing I had to create an account on the site in order for it to be “applied” as a credit. This was quickly explained and remedied by customer service in response to my inquiry by email, however). The $10 off coupon is still going on at time of writing. Right now, they also have a special on the site for free shipping over $50, and judging by their facebook page, these deals or other coupons are fairly common so keep an eye out for them if you’re considering ordering!
The main reason I decided to order from this company is that they carried several styles of “side close” abayas, which have become INCREDIBLY hard to find, anywhere. I have a side-close style abaya that is at least 10 years old, bought from the former “Desert-Store” website (which I believe is under new management from when I used to buy from them, as they shut down for a while and reopened with a different style of merchandise). This was my favorite abaya and really my default outfit for practically everything for years 😛 unfortunately, time took its toll and the embroidery on it is in pretty bad shape, despite some attempts at repair. That abaya stands out as one of the best quality I’ve had though as well, the fabric was heavyish, but excellently breathable in hot weather, and it didn’t snag like the fabric on so many abayas and jilbabs seems to (that usually brings about their eventual demise for me). I think it is made of actual Maliki crepe, based on descriptions I’ve read, which if you can get the real thing is an excellent material for abayas.
At any rate one of the other things I like about that abaya is the side close feature. The wrap-around style means it’s very easy to walk with a long stride (so many fully closed ones are too constrictive for me, and I dislike the ones with snaps down the front because they always pop open) and it goes on super fast and easy over either pants or a skirt. It doesn’t restrict at all when you are sitting down, either, so it’s very comfortable doing pretty much anything. The ties mean the fit is somewhat adjustable if your weight fluctuates. It was excellent when I was pregnant because the fact that there were two overlapping sides made for easy expansion (until the last couple months of pregnancy when the arms/bust got too tight :P).
The only drawback of side-tie abayas, really, is the fact that they can tend to blow open when you are walking if it is windy (this isn’t so problematic with a skirt, unless it’s REALLY windy, but can be a tad annoying with just pants/shirt underneath). I have often thought that adding an additional second tie near the waist would significantly alleviate this issue, but I never got around to it on my old one.
I’ve had some other abayas that close on the shoulder in the past and hang straight down, but I don’t like those as much (actually manually had to add side ties) as they have an even bigger problem staying closed and they don’t seem to hang right on me. Anyway, at long last I found several very similar side tie options on this site! Just in case, I also contacted them about some of the styles, as in some pictures it was hard to tell if the style was actually side-close or not.
Most of their abayas on the site are not side-close but a variety of other styles, including several styles I’d seen very similar versions of on sites like East-Essence. East-Essence will certainly get you some bargain-bin coverage, but I’ve been somewhat disappointed with their workmanship, fabrics, and fit. (I tried a side-close abaya from there as well in the past…). My orders there have a been hit-or-miss. Overall, though, I liked the selection, prices, and style range better on Islamic-Attire, and there are several other styles on there that I would be interested in trying besides what I ordered, now that I’ve evaluated them!
Another huge selling point on this site is the custom lengths. A lot of online abaya retailers only have one length, which is slightly too short for me, or limited length options. Sometimes on top of that, they also shrink (I have had some full length garments that had to be converted into “tunics” due to severe shrinkage :P). Even if they don’t shrink much, I have a lot of garments that look oddly short simple because of the standard heights that tend to be offered. You go with what you can get. But, I am always excited about being able to order things in a length that I actually like, i.e. long enough that it’s not quite dragging on the ground, but that I don’t have a weird hand-span of pants legs or skirt edge hanging out the bottom. I do have a number of shorter tops that are slightly above or below knee-length, but the slightly longer-but-not-long-enough length where my abaya ends a few inches before my pants do always looks a bit odd.
I did have a slight amount of trepidation about ordering as the site was a complete unknown, I couldn’t find much about it in terms of reviews online either. I’ve ordered things from other sites on occasion that weren’t worth the return shipping to send back. Some of the feedback on their facebook page was inquiring about possibly lost packages so that didn’t fill me with hope.
Also their website has some display problems (especially in FireFox) and some misspellings (shippping?) which with my QA tendencies throws up a red flag. There was practically no information on the site about shipping/order times to various destinations either, though it seemed to be shipping from overseas.
Once I created an account (to get the coupon) I tried to set up a wish list, for which there is an option on the site, but couldn’t get it to work. I contacted customer service about this, and they said they would look into it, but currently the feature doesn’t seem functional.
After reading through all the shipping info and FAQs, I also contacted customer service to find out how long it would take to get the package to my location. The time for shipping and processing in my opinion is very important to have on a website, especially since those of us shopping online are sometimes used to near-instant gratification. 🙂 At any rate we want to know when we’re going to get our order! The customer service rep said it would take 7-8 working days to process, and 4 days minimum to deliver. I noted that their site indicated that the delivery service only delivers during working hours and may require a signature, so I had it delivered to my office (normally, I have delivery at home and request no signature, but this is not always accepted by the delivery service on international packages and I didn’t want to have to work in an extra trip during the work day to pick up a held package). When all was said and done, however, I decided to give them a go but only order 2 abayas to try them out :), especially as I couldn’t find this style I liked anywhere else these days!
The first abaya I ordered was the Mehnaz Overlap Abaya in Grey. I wouldn’t have minded some punchier color options (which they do have on the site in other styles) but I really wanted the overlap and this one was clearly the style I was looking for! I also like grey and it goes with a lot of things from my wardrobe, including some nice spring pastel hijabs for the supposedly-warming weather (snow again today…). I liked the simplicity of the style a lot.
I should say at this point that I’m not a huge fan of the recent bling and sparkles craze. Nothing against those who like them, but I prefer my day-to-day clothing unadorned by the following items: glitter, Swarovski crystals in any form, sequins, large shiny metallic patches, imitation gold ornaments (I actually wear much real yellow gold jewelry either, preferring silver or copper), plastic or glass gems, crinkly or otherwise plasticky feeling materials. I can tolerate small rhinestones of certain types, but I have been known to pick them off (I have nothing against real gemstones but for soooome reason I just don’t happen to have any clothes with those either :).)
You will note that I violated my rule here by ordering an abaya with unidentified little sparkly things on the cuffs! Bottom line, know the rules so you know when to break them.My need of a long-sought-after side tie (and I didn’t want to get two black ones) trumped the anti-sparkle chorus. Also, they looked relatively small and inoffensive and covered only a small part of the abaya.
As it turned out, they WERE in fact fairly inoffensive. They aren’t Swarovskis or even “gems”, nor do they contain sparkles. They look more like tiny clear plastic water drops with a silver backing to make them shine. They also don’t appear to be in danger of flaking off (another risk with glued on gems) so I ended up content with them :).
Especially because, I really liked the abaya! I will note that the abaya is not as tight-looking (waist-defining) on me, possibly because I’m surely a larger size than the model in the picture. However, one of the great benefits of side-ties including these ones (more on that below) is that you can tie them looser or tighter depending on personal preference and adjust the fit somewhat.
The other abaya I ordered was the Firaq Gulf Abaya in black. This one is less obviously (except to the trained eye perhaps) an overlap abaya in the picture, so I did ask the customer service department about this and other abayas on the site to confirm before ordering that they were in fact overlap abayas like Mehnaz. The reason I asked was, some of the other abayas especially look like they could go either way, and I’ve also seen abayas on other sites that can only be called “mock overlap” in that they appear to cross over but are in fact stitched down, which defeats the whole purpose.
I was a little concerned that this abaya might be a little too glitzy/bling-bling/flashy/in-your-face/what-have-you for day-to-day wear (read: the office or wherever I happen to be going out and about). It’s a bit difficult to tell from the product photo if the embroidery is all sparkly gold, which would be a bit over the top.
Also I remembered seeing another abaya on desert-store around the time I bought my old old abaya which was in a similar design to this one, except it had a lot of sparkles, gold, silver, and mesh (it had close-up views) which I did not order for that reason.
Of course, in those days, I thought the side-tie abayas would not be hard to come by in the future. O new innocent hijabi was I, ignorant to the islamic fashion world and its changing weathers.
I did consider another very similar style to this one which had a bit less embroidery, but ended up deciding to give it a go.
I was very pleasantly surprised actually. The embroidery, while ornate, is not metallic gold but in fact is a gradient thread (the kind where the thread fades from one color to another) in shades of dark brown to beige. It does have a lovely warm brownish gold effect but it is not shiny metallic gold. It is accented with little spots of silver metallic thread which are fairly unobtrusive.
There was another surprise with the Firaq abaya, which was the fact that it came with a second abaya in the same color back, but plain and closed, a few inches shorter in the sleeves and hem. I have concluded that this is an under-abaya or under-slip to be worn beneath the wrap-around abaya for additional coverage, since it’s not actually long enough on me to be worn on its own and seems to have been shortened in both departments so as to fit unnoticeably beneath the overlap abaya. The grey abaya was made in the same wrap-around style (almost identical cut) but does not include the underslip (which frankly I had no idea was coming, so I didn’t feel its loss).
The underslip was actually quite handy, I found out. As aforementioned, wrap abayas can have a tendency to blow open in the wind if it’s that kind of day and you’re not holding the edge (I know we needn’t worry about parts being exposed by the wind, but I’d still rather err on the side of staying covered), and the underslip of course alleviates that issue completely.
Also, I found that both abayas “crossed” at the neck considerably lower than my old wrap abaya, meaning a high-necked tee-shirt underneath (or the underslip abaya) was necessary even with hijab hanging low over the front (at least in the windy environment where one might want to don the underslip abaya). It is partly evident in the FIRAQ product photo, in that part of the model’s chest is exposed, however on me this looks quite a bit lower. On me, wearing the under abaya covers almost all of this gap, so I don’t think the under abaya is depicted quite accurately in the photo or the style has changed slightly. This also probably varies depending on fit from one person to another.
The vast problem with the under-abaya, however, was that it was not flared at the bottom. It was narrow enough that, never one to walk with mincing steps, it severely restricted my stride to the point of being fairly uncomfortable. This defeated much of the purpose of the comfy wraparound abaya. I was left in a quandary… remove the underslip and hold my abaya down in the horrendous gusts of wind that had appeared out of nowhere that day, while strategically pinning my hijab to stay in place over the gap area, or stumble around in the narrowness? I took off the under-abaya. (I was already wearing my usual pants, people, before you get terribly alarmed… the under abaya isn’t really long enough to go without anyway on me, and I…well I pretty much always wear pants under an abaya anyway).
However, the problem was quickly remedied. Once at home again, I added side slits of about 8 inches on the under-abaya’s side-seams which resulted in a very comfortable stride plus plenty of coverage (the side slits were not evident since the wraparound abaya covered them). This made for a much more relaxed and relaxing outfit, great for lounging around anywhere, be it couch, floor, or desk chair :P.
Fabric and Quality
The workmanship was good, and in fact the more I looked at it the more I was favorably taken with it. The seams were all double-folded or otherwise finished so there were no raw edges. The fabric, though very thin feeling (one could even say, when I first put my hands on it, a little insubstantial and possibly cheap feeling…) was soft and drapey, and the garment seemed well put-together. It’s not nearly as durable-feeling as my old Maliki crepe abaya, but it feels like it will be good for hot weather when that eventually rolls around, and it’s thin enough to allow easy layering of a coat or sweater as well.
I have not yet had any issues with snags or tears, despite the thinness of the fabric. At one point in early days I stepped on the edge of my garment in a dressing room (note: side tie abayas are great when you’re going clothes shopping) and tore loose the inner tie (there is another tie by the armpit which holds the underside of the overlap closed, opposite the visible outer tie). The fabric itself did not tear, but the sewing that held the tie to the seam by the armpit inside came loose. Now, my old abaya has a small strap with a snap on it on the inside there instead of a tie (the kind of snap that is riveted through the fabric), so when I’ve stepped on that one in the past, the inner fold just comes unsnapped instead of ripping (which is not noticeable from the outside and is easily reattached). I think that might be a design improvement (and easily added to these ones). On the other hand, it took less than 30 seconds for me to sew the tie back on so I’m not in a big hurry :P.
The outer tie (the one that is visible) is not attached at the seam for some reason, but a few inches from it. This seems odd to me, and it also feels like it’s attached a few inches lower than I would like. However, I strongly suspect again this is a personal preference based on body shape and would vary from one person to another. I might move this tie to the seam edge and up slightly, when I get in an improving mood again :). We’ll see!
The fact that the fabric was fairly thin gave another bonus point to the garment that came with the “under-abaya.” If not wearing the under abaya (or wearing the grey abaya which does not have one), any sort of lumpy clothing underneath, large pants pockets with protruding buttons, etc, is noticeable. This is true to a varying extent of many abayas, but depends quite a bit on the type of fabric. This fabric is not at all transparent although it looks a bit like it in the product photos, I think the model must have been standing in front of a very strong light. The only “visibility” is due to the thinness of the fabric, which could be addressed by wearing a long smooth shirt or slip underneath if it’s at all bothersome in combination with certain pants/shirts/skirts.
I appreciated the fact that the side ties did NOT have tassels on them. Let’s face it, tassels look nice, but most of them (at least the ones made out of thread, or pretty much any ones except the kind that go on the end of curtain ties and are solidly knotted together), end up unravelling or fuzzing out or otherwise looking bad. It’s not a reason for me not to buy something with tassels (I usually just remove them once they “die” or even before) but it’s just something that needs to be done really well or not at all. Use another embellishment if necessary. In this case, the abayas used a small bell-shaped cone of fabric adorning the end of the tied. The tie and this end were both made of the same fabric as the abaya, folded and stitched down. I thought it worked quite well, actually, and looked understated and nice. The inner ties were the same, but without the bell end, just a knot securing the end, which was perfectly functional. The fact that the fabric ties were basically stitched tubes of fabric (like some shoelaces) made them tie and stay tied very well. I have had some abayas with different kinds of ribbons or cords which just never seem to stay tied properly, or the ends unravel.
The one area of workmanship that was pretty shoddy was there were 5 pairs of velcro squares along the edge where the overlap occurs. One above the tie, one at the tie, and 3 down the side. Now, in theory this solves the problem of the abaya flying open. In reality, the velcro in my opinion makes the fabric hang funny instead of draping loosely as is the beauty of side-close abayas. Also in reality, I just hate velcro. I had the way it feels, the way it snags the fabric, the way bits of lint and thread always get stuck in it, the sound it makes, etc. It has its uses (toddler shoes :P) but really in most cases there is a better solution, any solution.
I find a lot of abayas are made with velcro closures in various places, and I always remove them or replace them with something else. The ones that have a piece of velcro by the neck are the worst because it pokes you in the neck. I’m not crazy about those stitch-on snaps either (the kind that is sewn to one side of the fabric instead of attached with a grommet through the fabric), because they always wear out or pop open at inopportune times, but I’ve replaced velcro with them before because they’re easy to use and replace and they don’t have the issues that velcro does. The bits of velcro were also not attached very well. Unlike the other stitching on the abayas, it was rather like these were added as an afterthought. The threads on them stretched from one velcro square to the next and were not finished. On the plus side, they were easy to remove with my trusty thread-ripper, ever by my side.
The order took a seriously long time to arrive. A month to the day from the time I ordered, to be exact. Now, I feel this is a long of time, BUT it’s not unheard of, especially on sites that are making to order with custom lengths. Frankly if the representative had quoted me this initially (instead of the 7-8 working days plus 4-ish delivery days) I think I would have been okay with it.
As it was, I contacted them about it several times. On the plus side, customer service was fairly responsive throughout the process, answering my inquiries quickly. The order status on the website wasn’t useful until the package had actually shipped, (also, they sent me a different shipping number than the one on my account on the website) and in fact, it did not take very long to deliver after being shipped and I could track its progress online. I think the order processing prior to shipping is what consumes all the time. So, keep this in mind. Personally, I think they should put this information on their website (which doesn’t give a good idea of shipping times) because if you go into it with that expectation, it’s not that big a deal, but if you go into it with the expectation of a more typical turnaround time, you get anxious people wondering what happened to their package, posting panicky questions on facebook, or ordering things for events that they will not arrive in time for. I didn’t have any event that I was waiting on the order for and I’d already seen comments from people about “delayed” packages, but it still wasn’t the expectation set by customer service, so this could use some improvement.
On the whole, however, I was pleased with my order and with the company. Their site and expectations could use a little work (but, forwarned by my review is forearmed as they say!), and I won’t be ordering any “last-minute” outfits expecting quick delivery, but the products are good, excellently priced for the quality, customizable of shape and size, and of wide variety! If you order from them (or have done so in the past) or are curious about other aspects of my experience, please let me know!