Yeezy catwalker Halima Aden caught the world’s attention earlier this year as one of the first models on a major fashion runway in New York to wear a hijab. But this summer, as she moves from magazine shoots to judging Miss USA alongside Ashley Graham who is a host, fashion watchers are likely to notice another staple of her everyday style: the baati, a classic cotton dress from her ancestral home of Somalia that often costs less than $20.
Though it’s a sort of housedress, designed in the spirit of one-size-fits-all utilitarianism, the baati conjures elegance and refinement rather than the scraggly bohemianism of the muumuu and caftan. That’s because of the self-possession of the women—usually Somali—who wear it, and because of the baati’s inherent versatility, the way its fluid, wide-sleeved silhouette flips from loungewear-like to dressed up depending on how it’s styled.
Aden, 19, started wearing baatis when she was 8 years old and has been photographed trekking the globe in them since February, when she signed to IMG Models. “I have found I am wearing them more than ever,” she says. “They are great for wearing on an airplane, when traveling, and perfect for wearing to photo shoots, where I am going to be making clothing changes on-site and need to be able to do that quickly,” she says. “My favorite thing about baatis is that they are so comfortable and easy to wear, like wearing cozy pajamas.”