I’ve started taking an interest in wanting to know the difference between traditional Arab dress and how that indicates what country they’re from.
With the more Michael and I travel here in the Middle East as well as afternoons at Souq Waqif, it has become clear to me that different Arab styles mean different things. The souq is very cosmopolitan with many ethnicies walking along the streets. What I find interesting is, can I tell what country a person is from by what traditional clothing they are wearing?
First I’ll say that not all Arab men wear traditional robes and head dress. I wondered about this, why is that? I’ve been told that Saudi, Kuwaiti and Bahraini men don’t usually wear traditional dress in daily life except on big occasions. Yet, I just returned from Kuwait and met a group of Kuwaiti men wearing traditional dress. As well, I’ve been told that Qatari and Emirati men do wear traditional clothing in daily life as it is related to the country itself and in honor of how they used to dress. Living in Qatar, it is usual for me to see Qatari men wearing traditional clothing.
Components of Traditional Arab Dress for Men
The ankle length garb is called different names depending on the country or region. Examples are: thawb, thobe, dishdasha, kandura, jalabiyyah, khamiis, and gandora
Headscarves are called keffiyehs. Also known as ghutrah, shemagh, hattah, mashadah, chafiye, or cededani. How a headscarf is worn, it’s style and color can have different meanings. Or not. It can just be preference.
Agal – is the doubled, black cord used to keep a headscarf in place. Some have long tassels hanging in the back.
Taqiyah – is the traditional skull cap worn under the headscarf to help keep it in place as well as for religious purposes worn for prayer.
With an understanding that there are many cultural nuances that I am unaware of, as well as the influence of personal style, this is what I have learned so far:
Omani men wear a dishdasha/kandura that is loose, without a collar, with a short tassle attached from the collar. They can be colorful. Men wear a mussar hat that is embroidered with colorful patterns and personalized detail.
As well, there is the traditional Omani Masarh turbin. This is worn by bedouins.
Qatari men wear a white thobe with a pointed collar or one button at the throat. There is a pleat down the front and a pleat down the back. There are two side inner pockets. The cuffs of the sleeves are either worn with cufflinks or without. There is one shirt pocket – typically holding an expensive pen. The ghutra is either plain white or white and red. The agal is worn higher on the head and has two tassels down the back.
In the winter months, typically darker colored thobes and ghutrahs are worn.
Saudi men wear a white thobe that is similar to Qatar, but is tighter. The ghutra is usually red and white. The agal is without tassels.
United Arab Emirates
Emirati men wear a kandura. Kanduras are white and can be different colors like beige, light beige and light blue. The kandura does not have a collar, is straight (no pleat), does not have pockets and is worn without cufflinks. The headscarf is called the hemdaniya and is generally worn without an agal. On rare occasions the agal is worn with a long singular tassel down the back.
Bahraini men wear a kandura. The kandura is loose fitting with a soft shirt color, shirt pocket and side pockets. The ghutrah is typically white or white and red and is worn with an agal without tassels. Below are Bahraini teenage boys wearing kanduras.
Kuwaiti men wear a kandura. These have a button down collar, a shirt pocket, side pockets, wide sleeves and a loose fit. The head scarf is white or white and red worn with an agal without a tassel. Winter kanduras are of darker colors like beige and grey.
I’m certain I have more to learn, but this is what I have for today!