Old Costumes

Traditionally, the costume for women is centered around the thob, a loose-fitting robe, the cut varying by region.

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Old costumes of Jordan

Traditional women’s costumes in Jordan are quite unique. As with Palestine and Syria, there is a great deal of regional variation within a small geographic area, which reflects different styles of living (for example, the agricultural societies of northern Jordan, and the bedouin nomadic and settled communities of the south).

In the 19th century the majority of textiles used for clothing in Jordan were purchased in Syria or Palestine. By the early 20th century hand woven indigo dyed cloths were preferred, with these later being replaced, in about 1920, by black cotton.  Most Jordanian costumes are recognizable by the long rectangular opening slit or decorative panel on the front of the dresses.

Costumes in the north of the country usually were made up of one length, with long tight sleeves and a low neckline, and were called a shirsh. Decoration came in the form of embroidery around the neckline, hem and the sides of the costume.

The dresses of central and southern Jordan were sometimes of double length, with long pointed sleeves. These double dresses thob 'ob (or "folded dresses") are particularly fascinating seen out of context - whether hung out a window in a Jordanian village to dry, or as seen in displays such as this - where their length makes them almost impossible to imagine as a garment. One story told was that the dress should be as long as the living room of it’s wearer (thus revealing social status - the longer the dress, the bigger the house).  There are several different styles - some, of the type illustrated below, featured an enormously bulky body with huge sleeves that were often worn draped over the head or used as shopping baskets.  Others, with long likes of embroidery running from chest height to the folded hem and with mush smaller (normal sized) winged sleeves were known as berame.  Thob 'ub were popular among some of the Jordanian bedouin tribes as well as being found in the Salt and Kerak region.  They are usually worn with a rectangular black or red silk and metallic brocade scarf 'asbe harir worn rolled up and wound around the head with the tassels falling down the centre of the back (an example of the 'asbe harir, worn in a different style, can be seen in the image above left).

From the web site:      http://palestinecostumearchive.com/index.html

Old costumes of Palestine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Traditionally, the Palestinian costume for women is centered around the thob, a loose-fitting robe, the cut varying by region. A square chest panel on the thob, known as the qabbeh, is often decorated. A highly decorated qabbeh could function as a family heirloom, handed down from mother to daughter for use on several different dresses. Embroidery on the lower back panel of the thob used in some regions, is known as the shinyar. In Bethlehem, brocade on the back hem panel of the thob is known as the diyal. Pants or trousers known as libas or shirwal were commonly worn under the thob. The men's shirwal was typically black, white or blue cotton.

Both men and women also donned jackets, known as jubbeh, over their everyday dress. If embroidered, the jubbeh was known as the jillayeh. A short embroidered jacket known as the taqsireh,[8] deriving its name from the Arabic verb "to shorten",[9] was worn by the women of Bethlehem on festive occasions. The gold couching of the taqsireh often matched the thob. European influence on local fashions resulted in the addition of pockets sometime in the 1930s.

In villages, men wore a traditional, ankle-length coat (qumbaz) with a rounded neckline and narrow sleeves, often striped. Reportedly, the color of the coat could identify one's village. For Bedouin men, the overcoat or shoulder mantle is known as an abaya. Under such coats, the traditional village or Bedouin costume included a cotton or wool tunic (qamis).

Traditionally, Palestinians wore sandals or were barefoot, donning red or brown leather shoes as needed.


It was deemed proper and dignified both for men and women of all religious denominations to cover their heads, whereas it was shameful (´ayb) to leave it uncovered. Local variations in headdress abounded, with the most profound differences seen along the rural/urban divide. For men in particular, headdress served as the chief distinguishing feature from which one might determine class, religious affiliation or political/social inclinations.


The women in each region wore distinctive headdresses, often embellished with gold and silver coins from their bridewealth money. The more coins, the greater the wealth and prestige of the owner. The sha'weh, a distinctive conical hat "shaped rather like an upturned flower pot," was worn only by married women, mainly in Bethlehem, Lifta and Ain Karm (District of Jerusalem), and Beit Jala and Beit Sahour (Bethlehem District). Hanan Munayyer's research revealed that these hats, often associated with women of King Arthur's court, were seen on Levantine women by the Crusaders who subsequently brought the style back to Europe.

The smadeh, an embroidered cap with a stiff padded rim worn in Ramallah, had a row of coins, tightly placed one against the other, around the top of the rim. Additional coins might be sewn to the upper part or attached to narrow, embroidered bands. As with the other female head-dresses, the smadeh represented bridal wealth, and acted as an important cash reserve. One observer wrote in 1935: "Sometimes you see a gap in the row of coins and you guess that a doctor's bill has had to be paid, or the husband in America has failed to send money". A khirqah, or embroidered veil, was also often attached to the back of the smadeh.

The words araqiyyeh and taqiyyeh have been used since the Middle Ages in the Arab world to denote small, close-fitting head-caps, usually of cotton, worn by both genders. The original purpose was to absorb sweat (in Arabic: "araq"). In the Hebron area, araqiyyeh  came to denote the embroidered cap with a pointed top that a married women would wear over her taqiyyeh. During her period of engagement prior to marriage, a woman of the Hebron area would sew and embroider her araqiyyeh, embellishing the rim with coins from her bridal money. The first time she would wear her araqiyyeh would be on her wedding day. A large veil known as the shambar was also commonly worn in the Hebron area and in southern Palestine.

Before World War I, the use of a veil to cover the face was not widespread among the women of Palestine, and was more common among urban middle and upper class women than among Bedouin and peasant women. Peasant women could not afford to be obstructed in their house and fieldwork, and traditionally the Bedouins did not cover their faces. A veil covering the face was a symbol of status, a class marker, and a sign of female modesty and family honour, worn primarily by women who did not have to do physical labour. The majority of women in Palestine donned a mandil for everyday dress; a white cloth that covered the head and shoulders, while leaving the face uncovered.


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."

Social and gender variations

Palestinian costumes reflected how men enjoyed more physical and social mobility than women. Traditionally, Palestinian society has been divided into three groups: villagers, townspeople, and Bedouins. The villagers, referred to in Arabic as fellaheen, lived in relative isolation, so that the older, more traditional costume designs were found most frequently in the dress of village women. The specificity of local village designs was such that, "A Palestinian woman's village could be deduced from the embroidery on her dress." Townspeople, (Arabic: beladin) had increased access to news and an openness to outside influences that was naturally also reflected in the costumes, with town fashions exhibiting a more impermanent nature than that of the village. By the early 20th century, well to-do women in the cities had mostly adopted a Western style of dress. Due to their nomadic life-style, Bedouin costume reflected tribal affiliations, rather than (as in case of the villagers) a localized geographic area.

Weaving and fabrics

The production of cloth for traditional Palestinian costumes and for export throughout the Arab world was a key industry of the destroyed village of Majdal. Majdalawi weaving, as the technique is known, is woven by a male weaver on a single treadle loom, using black and indigo cotton threads combined with fuchsia and turquoise silk threads. While the village no longer exists today, the craft of Majdalawi weaving continues as part of a cultural preservation project run by the Atfaluna Crafts organization and the Arts and Crafts Village in Gaza City.

Weaving among the Bedouins is still traditionally carried out by women to create household items suited for the life in the desert. The thread is spun from sheep's wool, colored with natural dyes, and woven into a fabric using a ground loom and the strong fabric produced is used for tents, rugs, pillows, and other domestic items.

In the past, linen woven on hand-looms, and cotton, both raw or dyed deep blue with indigo, were the mainstay fabrics for embroidered garments. According to Shelagh Weir, indigo (nileh), produced a colour thought to ward off the evil eye, and was dominantly used for coats in the Galilee, and dresses in southern Palestine. Indigo dyed heavy cotton was also used to make sirwals or shirwals, cotton trousers worn by men and women that were baggy through to the ankles or tailored tight around the calves. Wealthier regions had garments of a darker blue, being able to afford to dip cloth in the vat as many as nine times. Dresses with the heaviest and most intricate embroidery tend to be those described as 'black', being heavy cotton or linen of a very dark blue.

Because of the hot climate and for reasons of prestige, dresses were cut voluminously, particularly in the south, often running twice the length of the human body with the excess being wrapped up into a belt. For more festive dresses in southern Palestine, silk was also used. For example, a fashion of the Bethlehem area was to interlay stripes of indigo-blue linen with those of silk. Today, the fabrics used for dresses are largely machine-made and do not always equal the quality of the embroidery.

Village women embroidering in locally-distinctive styles was a tradition that was at its height in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Women would sew in items to represent their heritage, ancestry, and affiliations. Triangles, used as amulets, were often incorporated to ward off the "evil eye", a common superstition in the Middle East. Large blocks of intricate embroidery were used on the chest panel to protect the vulnerable chest area from the evil eye, bad luck and illness. To avoid potential jinxes from other women, an imperfection was stitched in each garment to distract the focus of those looking.

Diverse motifs were favored in Palestinian embroidery and costume as Palestine's long history and position on the international trade routes exposed it to multiple influences. The cypress tree (saru) motif is found throughout Palestine in many complex and simple forms. Other Palestinian motifs are derived from quite basic geometric forms such as triangles, squares and rosettes. In the late 1930s, new influences introduced by European pattern books and magazines promoted the appearance of curvilinear motifs, like flowers, vines or leaf arrangements, and introduced the paired bird motif which became very popular in central Palestinian regions. John Whitting (collector for parts of the MOIFA collection) has argued that "anything later than 1918 was not indigenous Palestinian design, but had input from foreign pattern books brought in by foreign nuns and Swiss nannies". Others say that the changes did not set in before the late 1930s, up to which time embroidery motifs local to certain villages could still be found. Geometric motifs remained popular in the Galilee and southern regions, like the Sinai Desert.[38]

Before the appearance of synthetically dyed threads, the colors used in Palestinian embroidery were determined by the materials available for the production of natural dyes: "reds" from insects and pomegranate, "dark blues" from the indigo plant: "yellow" from saffron flowers, soil and vine leaves, "brown" from oak bark, and "purple" from crushed murex shells. Shahin argues that the colors used in Palestinian embroidery include the ancient color schemes of the Canaanite and Philistine coast: red, purple, indigo blue, and saffron and that more recently, Islamic green and Byzantine black were added to the traditional palette.

Shelagh Weir, author of Palestinian costume (1989) and Palestinian embroidery (1970), demarcates embroidery distribution patterns in Palestine by painting two horizontal lines: the first running south of Mount Carmel and the Sea of Galilee at the longitude of Afula, and the second running north of Jaffa and south of Nablus from the coast to the Jordan River. Her research indicates that in the area between these two lines there is very little history of embroidery, though there remains evidence of traditions of fine decoration, including braidwork and appliqué, in women’s costume. An Arab proverb of this particular region, originally recorded by Gustaf Dalman in 1937, went: "embroidery signifies a lack of work."

Longstanding traditions of embroidery were found in the Upper and Lower Galilee, and in the Judean Hills and on the coastal plain. Weir writes that cross-stitch motifs may have been derived from oriental carpets, and that couching motifs may have origins in the vestments of Christian priests or the gold thread work of Byzantium.


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