The Pleasures of Traditional Dress

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Oman has not been anything more than a small fishing and trading hub for long. Although historically a powerful port – crucial for the route between Europe and India – it only began to grow significantly this century with the discovery of oil and gas in commercial volumes in 1967.

Which is why the dress remains so refreshingly consistent; there hasn’t been the same exposure to frivolous or fleeting western tastes.

The men wear a white, ankle-length robe referred to as the dishdasha, which buttons at the neck, and a round, patterned cap on the head. They take great pride in both items. For white cloth in a dusty country, the dishdasha is remarkably clean and pressed. And the caps stick to a small range of geometric Islamic patterns that offer enough variation to encourage interest without being showy.

I was on holiday in Oman last week and was impressed with both this pride and consistency. Unlike Oman’s neighbours in the United Arab Emirates, there is a self-respect that comes with this costume that elicits an attachment to clothes largely absent in cosmopolitan Dubai or stringent Saudi Arabia. Men actively admire each other’s choices in material or pattern, without seeing the traditional dress as in any way constrictive.

Jump back a few decades, and this attitude is not that different from the passionate yet restrained attitude many British men had to their clothes – in the days when Victoria station was crammed every morning with dark suits, briefcases and bowler hats. It was the British love of a simple yet elegant style that created a love of good tailoring – fit was all important, cloth second and pattern a fair way back.

It is easy to assume that traditional dress, especially in a relatively conservative country like Oman, is an imposition, a stricture that is part of life’s implicitly religious framework. And indeed there are some aspects of dress that are forced on people: government employees have to wear a turban instead of a cap, and airport officials equally are controlled in what they can wear.

But there is a genuine attachment to this form of dress here – one that can be seen in the markets as men pick through potential materials for a new dishdasha, or select a new embroidered cap.

It is the kind of pride that is missing in much of British dressing today. If only there was the same recognition of the values of tradition, an interest in examining their heritage and a concentration on substance over form.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. Nicola Linza says:

    Simon,
    This is a prime example of why I visit here each day. What a serious and beautiful article, packed with relevant information. I too am interested in traditional Islamic design, in all forms, the history of which embodies, in my opinion, some of the very best design elements in the world. The gentleman you pictured here looks terrific in his traditional form of dress. This article is very educational, and I found it a pure joy to read.

  2. Alex Lobov says:

    excellent piece. I lived and worked in Bahrain for a year and got quite used to both seeing and wearing the traditional thobe and ghitra. I visited Oman also and have many friends from there.

    One thing though, you should consider looking more deeply about trends in the traditional dress of other Gulf states. I think your comments about the Emiratis are not 100% on point, you may be pleasantly surprised! Each Gulf state (and some tribes, even) has different traditions when it comes to national dress and it’s a really interesting fashion phenomenon…

  3. Siddharth says:

    Mr. Crompton,

    I have to agree about the fact that the Omani men take great detail to look thier finest.

    But your comment about UAE is not true. Living a san expat in Dubai, I’ve noticed that the local take extreme amount of pride in ensuring thier dishdasha is close to perfection.

    What could have skewed your opinion is that UAE has a large expat population as compared to Oman. So the traditional outfit is more visible in a population with so many locals.

  4. Nick says:

    Hello from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
    I was just out shopping the other day and I was discussing with my friends how easy it must be for Saudis to dress in the morning. Just pull out a white robe, throw on the small cotton hat and on top of that the red and white square scarf with the black rings. But, if you look more closely, you will notice that the white robe is not the same for everyone. There are a lot of different small variations, some have french cuff while others don’t. Also, the way they wear the scarf on the head, there are many ways to wear it.
    One would think that the younger generations influenced by the foreign media would stop wearing the traditional dress, but most still wear the white robe, but they have a baseball cap on the head, so it’s a bit of both worlds.

  5. EON says:

    Simon – A really nice, well thought-out and insightful piece. Keep ‘em coming.

  6. Simon Crompton says:

    It’s great to hear views from the Gulf, and local experience.

    I have travelled to Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi and most of the Emirates, and I have to say Oman impressed me most in terms of consistency. While many Emiratis dress very well and with a love of their traditional dress, I do see more influenced by foreign fads.

    Thank you all for your comments
    Simon