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Saudi Traditional Clothing Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 12th, 2019

Introduction

Saudis have a distinct traditional clothing that differentiates them from the rest of the world. The traditional clothing consists of special attires for men and women. Saudis prefer to wear their traditional clothes rather than western styles of attire. Over the years, the age-old designs of the traditional attires have been modified to reflect the changing tastes and preference in the contemporary society. The dressing code in Saudi Arabia is mainly influenced by culture, Islamic teachings, and the weather in the country.

Generally, Islamic teachings, as well as, the customs and traditions of Saudi Arabia require men and women to dress conservatively. Clothes that reveal much of a person’s body are considered inappropriate; thus, they are avoided. This paper will focus on Saudi Arabia’s traditional clothing by discussing its role or place in the country’s culture.

Men’s Attire

Saudi men have a special attire that reflects their religious beliefs and cultural practices. The main clothe worn by all Saudi men is referred to as the thawb. This dress is usually designed as a loose garment with long sleeves. A typical thawb is a full-length clothe that covers a man’s body from the neck to the ankle.

The conventional color of the thawb is white. However, the color is changed occasionally to reflect the prevailing season. For instance, darker colors are preferred during the winter season. Consequently, the thawb worn during this season can be brown, black, or dark blue in color. The material used to make the dress also depends on the prevailing season. Cotton and polyester are the preferred materials for making the thawb for the summer season.

This is because they retain little heat, thereby enabling men to withstand the hot summer weather. During winter, the clothes are made using wool in order to keep the wearer warm. Thawb’s collar is often designed in a variety of styles in order to accommodate different tastes and preferences.

The most common styles are the rounded and the triangular shapes. The design of the sleeves is also not standard. Some have “loose cuffs, whereas others have tight ones”. It is a common practice to fit the tight cuffs with buttons in order to accommodate different arm sizes. The cuff buttons are also used to embellish the thawb because they are usually designed in different shapes and decorated with special items such as diamond. In most cases, the shape and color of the button matches that of the collar.

A traditional cloak referred to as the “mishlah is usually worn by men on top of the thawb”. Cotton and wool are the main materials used to make mishlah. This garment normally comes in different colors such as black, cream, and brown. The mishlah is worn during special functions such as weddings.

Men also wear an under garment that is referred to as the sirwal. Men’s headgear consists of the taqiyah, ghutra, shumagh, igal, and imam. Taqiyah is a white hat that is usually made from cotton and is worn directly on the head. Ghutra can be worn on top of taqiyah or directly on the head. It is usually square in shape and made from cotton. Shumagh closely resembles the ghutra. However, it differs from ghutra due to its white and red decorations.

Igal refers to a double black cord that is used to hold the ghutra or the shumagh on the head. Imma is a long fabric that is worn or folded around a man’s head. Most men wear traditional sandals, which are known as madas. Nonetheless, western shoes are also gaining popularity among male Saudis.

Women’s Attire

The main dress for the women is known as abaya. It is a full-length dress with long sleeves. Thus, it covers the woman’s body from the head to the ankle. The conventional abaya is usually black in color. In the contemporary Saudi, trendy abaya have been introduced to satisfy the fashion needs of modern women. The modern abaya is colorful and is made from different materials. These include silver threads, jeans, lace, silk, and crystals.

Abaya is usually worn on top of other clothes such as skirts and blouses. Most women wear the abaya when they are going outside their homes. This is because they are likely to meet foreign men who are not supposed to see their bodies. According to the traditions of Saudis, women are expected to cover their faces in the presence of foreign men. Thus, they use a veil, which is referred to as a burga to cover their faces.

Apart from abaya, women from different parts of the country have special gowns, which they wear on specific occasions. In Najd region, married women normally wear purple gowns, which are made from silk and decorated with golden threads. This dress is worn during important social events such as weddings. Women from the southern part of the country wear dresses, which are decorated with floral patterns.

They wear pantalets to protect themselves from cold weather. Similarly, they wear a multihued scarf and a straw hat to avoid the heat from the sun. Women from the Al-Madinah region wear embroidered dresses with quilted hems. This helps them to avoid any injury when walking in thorny bushes.

In Hijaz region, women wear gowns, as well as, decorated under blouses and long pants. They also wear a headgear, which consists of three items namely, the “triangular shambar, the rectangular mihramah, and the square mudawwarah”.

The headgear is normally embellished with diamond-studded brooches during important social events. Women from Laith and Taif wear gowns, which are decorated with muslin. In some cases, the gowns are lined with materials obtained from flour sacks. The gowns are usually worn with the headgears that match them.

Cultural Significance of the Saudi Traditional Clothing

The traditional Saudi clothing reflects the social and cultural beliefs of Saudis, which are based on Islamic teachings. Saudis’ dressing code is based on the principles of hijab that encourage modesty rather than indecency. This principle was derived from the Koran and Prophet Mohammad’s traditions that discourage offensive dressing.

The Koran urges women to be modest in their dressing by refraining from showing their beauty and adornments to people who are not their close relatives. Thus, women are expected to reveal their beauty only to men who are their husbands, sons, and fathers. In order to observe the Islamic tradition on clothing, women design their clothes in the following ways.

To begin with, their clothes must cover all parts of their bodies except their hands and faces. Women cover their bodies as a sign of respect to their male counterparts. The fabric used to manufacture women’s clothes must be thick so that a person cannot see through it. In order to avoid revealing the shape of their bodies, women wear loosely fitting clothes. Women are not expected to wear clothes that are similar to those of men such as trousers.

In addition, the main objective of dressing should be to cover one’s nakedness rather than gaining reputation or social status in the community. The traditional clothing not only enables Saudi women to obey their religious beliefs, but also to maintain high standards of morality. Concisely, the clothes enable women to avoid attracting attention, thereby helping men to avoid lustful thoughts.

In order to promote high standards of morality, men wear clothes that cover at least the area between their navel and knees. In Saudi, this area is referred to as the awrah and its exposure to the public is considered immoral. In this regard, men wear clothes that do not reveal their thighs or the shape of their buttocks.

Men also cover their awrah in order to conform to Islamic teachings. In particular, men must cover their awrah during prayer. Failure to observe this requirement can attract a severe punishment. Most Saudi men believe that it is inappropriate to use urinals to answer calls of nature. According to the traditions of Saudis, the correct action to take when nature calls is to sit or squat. In this regard, men wear boxers and pants with no opening in the front.

These under garments encourage men to squat rather than to stand at a urinal. Saudis believe that an individual should not see the nakedness of another person. Consequently, men are encouraged to wear a T-shirt beneath their thawb, especially, when the thawb is semi-transparent. The T-shirt is usually made of a thick fabric such as cotton in order to prevent others from seeing a man’s body.

The traditional clothing also helps Saudis to express their tests and preferences regarding fashion. Unlike the European or American women, Saudi females are proud of wearing the traditional plain black abaya. In order to keep up with fashion trends in the country, Saudi women usually buy customized abaya rather than the standard ones.

The customized abaya is expensive because it is made from the best material and is designed according to the specifications of the buyer. They also differ in terms of their flow, design, embroidery and the gemstones that are used to decorate them. Some women use materials such as jeans to make their abaya in order to conform to the latest fashion trends. Similarly, some women wear abaya with decorative accessories such as ribbons, embroidery, lace, and tassels in order to demonstrate their fashion consciousness.

Finally, Saudis wear the traditional clothes as a way of expressing their cultural identity. Saudis identify themselves as Muslims whose culture and traditions follow the Islamic teachings. Saudis avoid western style of clothes because they hold their Islamic traditions in high esteem.

In this regard, the main principle that guides fashion trends in the country is to conceal rather than to reveal. This explains their preference for the traditional clothes, which promote modesty. Concisely, Saudis believe that wearing tight fitting or inappropriate clothes will make them lose their Muslim identity.

For instance, ladies are encouraged to strengthen their faith in Islam by avoiding clothes that mimic those of non-Muslim women. Similarly, they avoid clothes with bold designs in order to maintain their identity as people who have high regards for morality. This is because clothes with bold designs lead to unnecessary attraction, especially, to women and girls. This can lead to lustful thoughts, which are considered to be sinful and immoral.

Conclusion

Saudis wear their traditional attire because they believe it is better than the western style of clothing. The dressing code in Saudi Arabia focuses on modesty as required by the Islamic principle of hijab. Consequently, men and women wear traditional clothes that cover most parts of their bodies.

Male Saudis wear a full-length garment that is known as the thawb, whereas women wear the abaya. Both men and women have headgears, which accompany their traditional clothes. Over the years, the traditional clothes have been modified to accommodate new fashion trends.

Saudis value their traditional attire because it enables them to conform to their Islamic faith. The attire enables Saudis to maintain their identity as Muslims because its design is based on Islamic traditions. The traditional attire also enables Saudis to express their tastes and preferences regarding fashion trends.

References

Bullock, K. (2002). Rethinking Muslim women and the veil. London: Palgrave.

Halse, L., & Anderson, A. (2009). Saudi Arabia. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Kalfon, Y., & Stillman, N. (2003). Arab dress: A short history from the dawn of Islam to modern times. Palgrave : London.

Long, D. (2005). Culture and customes of Saudi Arabia. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rabolt, N., & Forney, J. (2000). Contemporary Saudi Arabian women’s dress. Clothing and Textile Research Journal, 3(1), 22-32.

Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. (2010). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at a glance. Washington, DC: Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

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