Men's Traditional Costumes

Men in Larger Syria have been wearing similar clothing along the history of the region.

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Men's clothing, though plainer and less varied than the richly decorated costumes of women, was still a rich medium for visual statements about identity, age and status, and was also subject to changes in fashion as individuals and groups sought to emulate their superiors and display their wealth.


Until the 1930s, the men wore headwear that would be a clear marker of their wealth, locale, religious and political position. Bedouins and some peasants wore a hatta or keffiyeh, held in place by black headropes (agal). The urban elite wore turbans (where wide, bulky turbans proclaimed a man's social importance), until mid- late- 19th century, when they changed to the Turkish tall, stiff, red tarbush istambouli or fez.

The greatest variation of headgear was in the villages. Village men wore a soft, red felt hat (tarbush), with a type of turban (laffeh) wrapped around it, leaving the crown (top) of the tarbush exposed. The laffeh signified status and position, as H.B. Tristram noticed while visiting the Samaritans of the Nablus-region in 1865:


The adoption of the tarbush and laffeh signified manhood, and boys wore only a cap (taqiyeh). The one exception was for the boy's circumcision ceremony, when a highly decorated tarbush was worn.

During the Arab revolt, the headdress changed significantly. While the rebels, mostly tenants, peasants and agriculturalists, were taking control of a number of Palestinian towns, they sought to make their presence visible and in August 1938, they issued a decree calling ordering all Arab men to wear the hatta or keffiyeh. This style of headdress, which consisted of a white cloth held in place by a dark cord ('iqal), was popular among Bedouins and some peasants but came to be adopted by many villagers and townsmen, especially the young, as an expression of Palestinian nationalism. Photographs from this period (1930s-1940s) show that the head cloth was white. It was only by the 1950s that the chessboard gray-and-white or black-and-white pattern came to known as "typically Palestinian". The red-and-white pattern was associated with the Bedouins east of the Jordan river, and was also worn by the troops of the Arab Legion and Emir Abdullah himself. Meanwhile, the tarbush and laffeh went out of fashion except among elderly men. After the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the black and white keffiyeh adopted by Yasser Arafat became, according to Weir, a "potent symbol of Palestinian national identity becoming a popular motif in Palestinian cartoons, posters and paintings, and its meaning has passed into the international language of costume."


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