Fashion, faith, and functionality! Arab male headdresses uncovered

Published May 10th, 2015 - 06:13 GMT

Headdresses are more than just an accessory for worship, as Middle Easterners of all religions use head coverings. Their style choice reveals loads of info about the wearer's nationality, status, and religion (as example, a Muslim man’s head cover should enable his forehead to touch the ground during salat (prayers).

Since ancient times, the skullcap (taqiyah or `araqiyeh), fez (tarboosh), turban (ihram), and draped headscarf (keffiyeh) have protected Arab men from the sun, sands and hot (or cold!) winds of their desert environment. Over time, male styles moved from purely practical towards spectacularly sartorial, reflecting the climate and materials specific to each zip code. Today, those details allow us to link each garment to a particular place and culture.

Turbans are common in North Africa, the Maghrib, Egypt, Oman, Iran and South Asia, but the keffiyeh bumped them off the “best dressed” lists in Palestine, Jordan, and the Gulf states. Iranian Kurds rock the distinctive qashqai felt hat, Maghrib Berbers rely on the hood of their djellabia or burnous, and the Druze have their own unique style of head wear.

So take off your hat and sit through this slideshow.  You’ll emerge fully informed about what (sits) on the minds of Middle Eastern men.

 
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Yasser Arafat Palestine

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat adopted the black and white Palestinian keffiyeh as a symbol of surging Palestinian nationalism. By the late 1980s, the black and white keffiyeh became a must-have fashion accessory in major US cities and, twenty years on, it re-emerged among teens in Tokyo, often worn with camouflage-patterned clothes.

keffiyeh camels

The red checked “shmagh” is Jordan’s riff on the “keffiyeh”, a century-old headdress made from a cotton square, often fringed with white threads that look like lush camel eyelashes! The origin of the its distinctive checkered pattern may have origins in ancient Mesopotamia, representing fishing nets or ears of grain.

Saudi men's fashion

In the 1970s, the “shmagh” appeared in Saudi Arabia where it gained quick popularity, soon becoming an essential part of every Saudi guy’s outfit. It differs from its Jordanian neighbor by ditching the white tasseled borders, and adding the “`iqal”, a woven black cord placed around the scarf to hold it in place.

UAE Gulf Cooperation Council

Each country within the GCC has its own distinction. UAE emiratis favor the “ghutra” (typically all white headscarf), but change to colored “shmagh” in heavier fabrics for winter. Wearing it loose flowing with an “agal” tends to be formal, while wrapped as a turban (“hamdanniyya”) is more casual - popular with young boys.

tarboosh fez

“Tarboosh” is a close-fitting, brimless hat shaped like an upturned flower pot. Typically made of red felt with a black silk tassel, it is worn alone or as the inner part of a turban by Muslim men across Morocco, Lebanon and Syria. The West knows this hat as a “fez”. As Muslim countries adopted modern Western dress, tarboosh wearing waned.

turban Sudan

The Sudanese turban is a stand-out among Arab head coverings - over 5 meters of fabric (most often in brilliant white) wound in a variety of patterns to form a distinctive topper usually worn with the “jelbab” (long dress for men). YouTube has a clip of a turban-winding race, where a professor goes from fabric-to-turban in 5 seconds flat!

Quranic verses Yemen

Yemenis favor the “al Qaweq”, a tightly wound headscarf that comes in two versions. One is made of simple cotton, popular with children and the poor. The other is made of finer fabrics, sometimes embellished with Quranic verses, and used for special events and by wealthier men.

turbans tarboosh Egypt

Turbans first appeared in Egypt alongside Islam, further popularized when Arab tribes settled in Upper Egypt. In the 1800s, European dress began to replace traditional dress across the Ottoman empire, however western headwear was not adopted. Turbans remained in use, and - until the 1952 revolution - the tarboosh was part of military uniform.

Moroccan headcover

The “zleam” is a classic Moroccan headcover and part of traditional men's costume. Twists and slipknots transform the rectangular wool fabric into a versatile hat with a trailing scarf that can shield the wearer’s face from wind and sand, or be left flowing over back and shoulders - especially dramatic when on horseback!

keffiyeh Oman

In Oman, men wear “masar”, an intricately twisted and tucked “keffiyeh” that is worn over a “kumma” - a boxy little cap whose flat top lends the “masar” it’s distinctive shaping. Unlike the UAE’s penchant for clean white fabric, Omanis lean towards vibrantly colored materials, often embellished for formal occasions.

Yasser Arafat Palestine
keffiyeh camels
Saudi men's fashion
UAE Gulf Cooperation Council
tarboosh fez
turban Sudan
Quranic verses Yemen
turbans tarboosh Egypt
Moroccan headcover
keffiyeh Oman
Yasser Arafat Palestine
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat adopted the black and white Palestinian keffiyeh as a symbol of surging Palestinian nationalism. By the late 1980s, the black and white keffiyeh became a must-have fashion accessory in major US cities and, twenty years on, it re-emerged among teens in Tokyo, often worn with camouflage-patterned clothes.
keffiyeh camels
The red checked “shmagh” is Jordan’s riff on the “keffiyeh”, a century-old headdress made from a cotton square, often fringed with white threads that look like lush camel eyelashes! The origin of the its distinctive checkered pattern may have origins in ancient Mesopotamia, representing fishing nets or ears of grain.
Saudi men's fashion
In the 1970s, the “shmagh” appeared in Saudi Arabia where it gained quick popularity, soon becoming an essential part of every Saudi guy’s outfit. It differs from its Jordanian neighbor by ditching the white tasseled borders, and adding the “`iqal”, a woven black cord placed around the scarf to hold it in place.
UAE Gulf Cooperation Council
Each country within the GCC has its own distinction. UAE emiratis favor the “ghutra” (typically all white headscarf), but change to colored “shmagh” in heavier fabrics for winter. Wearing it loose flowing with an “agal” tends to be formal, while wrapped as a turban (“hamdanniyya”) is more casual - popular with young boys.
tarboosh fez
“Tarboosh” is a close-fitting, brimless hat shaped like an upturned flower pot. Typically made of red felt with a black silk tassel, it is worn alone or as the inner part of a turban by Muslim men across Morocco, Lebanon and Syria. The West knows this hat as a “fez”. As Muslim countries adopted modern Western dress, tarboosh wearing waned.
turban Sudan
The Sudanese turban is a stand-out among Arab head coverings - over 5 meters of fabric (most often in brilliant white) wound in a variety of patterns to form a distinctive topper usually worn with the “jelbab” (long dress for men). YouTube has a clip of a turban-winding race, where a professor goes from fabric-to-turban in 5 seconds flat!
Quranic verses Yemen
Yemenis favor the “al Qaweq”, a tightly wound headscarf that comes in two versions. One is made of simple cotton, popular with children and the poor. The other is made of finer fabrics, sometimes embellished with Quranic verses, and used for special events and by wealthier men.
turbans tarboosh Egypt
Turbans first appeared in Egypt alongside Islam, further popularized when Arab tribes settled in Upper Egypt. In the 1800s, European dress began to replace traditional dress across the Ottoman empire, however western headwear was not adopted. Turbans remained in use, and - until the 1952 revolution - the tarboosh was part of military uniform.
Moroccan headcover
The “zleam” is a classic Moroccan headcover and part of traditional men's costume. Twists and slipknots transform the rectangular wool fabric into a versatile hat with a trailing scarf that can shield the wearer’s face from wind and sand, or be left flowing over back and shoulders - especially dramatic when on horseback!
keffiyeh Oman
In Oman, men wear “masar”, an intricately twisted and tucked “keffiyeh” that is worn over a “kumma” - a boxy little cap whose flat top lends the “masar” it’s distinctive shaping. Unlike the UAE’s penchant for clean white fabric, Omanis lean towards vibrantly colored materials, often embellished for formal occasions.