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The Arab world consists of 22 countries, there are hundreds of different cultural traditions of clothing that are influenced by ethnicity, location and religion.

BC ACSA & BC MSA Celebrates World HIjab Day!! Supporting education of diversity & cultural understanding!!

What is a hijab? Check out Ohio State students & faculty answer this questions.

Learn how to wear a hijab.

YouTube Video

Arab Dress by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (http://www.adc.org/education/lesson-plan-arab-culture-and-society/)

Many Arabs today wear some form of modern Western dress, from blue jeans to three-piece suits to Paris fashions. Others wear various forms of traditional dress.


Why do Arabs traditionally wear floating robes and head coverings?

These clothing styles are very practical and comfortable in an often-harsh climate. In the strong winds of the desert, air circulates freely and the robes float. The head coverings (worn in public by both men and women) are protection from the strong sunlight.

The same clothes used to be worn year-round. There were no seasonal changes. A few dresses would last a lifetime.

 Colors and Styles

Through-out the Arab world a loose caftan-like dress with much embroidery is used. But the color and richness depend on local conditions.

- Egypt: Solid colors, blue on white with embroidery.

- Tunisia: Lots of white, some green materials. No black.

- Palestine: Black dresses with much elaborate, colorful embroidery in green and red. Each village has its own designs.

- Syria: Very similar to Palestine, but less colorful.

In countries where deserts comprise much of the land (like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Egypt) clothing tends to be white, brown or dull colors. In Palestine and Lebanon where there is more rainfall and vegetation, more vivid colors are used. Women's clothing has more decorative motifs taken from their surroundings, such as trees, birds, and flowers.

Wealthy urban women of the 19th and 20th centuries followed Ottoman styles and used gold and silver thread, silk and a good deal of velvet. Village women and poorer people used cotton.

- Wedding dresses: Girls started sewing their wedding dresses when they were children. They worked on the dresses for years and the dresses they made became a source of pride. The same rich type of wedding dress was worn among the wealthy from North Africa to Iraq. For poorer people dresses varied with the local products and resources available. After the wedding ceremony, wedding dresses became everyday clothes.

- Western dress: In the 20th century many Arab women adopted Western clothing styles - from Paris fashions to blue jeans. This began during colonialism, as Britain, France and other European countries established regional dominance after World War I. (As Ibn Khaldoun, the great medieval sociologist, commented: "The first act of the conquered is to imitate their conqueror.")

Social Status and "Islamist Dress"

The veil: Whether Islam requires women to be veiled or to have their hair covered in public is a subject of controversy and debate among Muslims. Many argue that the Quran simply mandates "modesty" in dress (for both men and women). Muslim women vary in their practice. Veils were a pre-Islamic cultural tradition. Through the centuries both Christian and Muslim women wore veils in public. In Lebanon Christian women veiled until the 20th century.

Veiling was also a symbol of social class; it signified upper class status. Higher social status was symbolized by head coverings (hijab) and by loose dresses and large sleeves which were not practical for work and indicated freedom from the need for manual labor.

On the other hand, for centuries village women everywhere worked in the fields and their dress had to be practical.

Urban wealthy women lived most of their lives within the households of their fathers or husbands. They lived among other women and most dress was for private quarters. They wore elaborate and expensive dresses. Arab women "dressed for other women" and competed with one another.

Head coverings were for the rare trip out in public and only became an issue in the 20th century when women emerged into the modern workforce. Then a debate developed over "covering" and "what is Islamic?"

Today many women choose to wear head coverings and a distinctive style of dress as a reaffirmation of Muslim identity. During the 1980s in many parts of the Arab world, some women began wearing a plain grey dress and a head covering as a public statement of identity. This was a style previously unheard of. It can be a means of cultural self-assertion, recovering traditional values and expressing Islamist political party membership. Thus "Islamic dress" today is a product not of tradition but of modernization.

This is sometimes related to social class and gender issues. When village girls went to city schools, they were confronted with urban women who were secure and comfortable in wearing European styles. The poorer women could not afford to compete, purchase expensive clothing or go the hairdresser every week. In reaction, some adopted the newly-developed "Islamic dress" to take themselves out of the competition.

Women also complained that when they wore Western dress, men thought they were being "forward" and made passes at them. With the Islamic dress, however, they report that "men treat me as a person, as a professional, not as a sex object."