Unless you’re of Arabic descent or you have been lucky enough to be widely traveled, you may not be aware of the fantastic diversity in fashion from this part of the world. From Arabian dresses to Moroccan kaftans, the combination of intricate needlework with size flattering designs means that these designs can be a perfect choice for women worldwide.
It’s easy to fall back on stereotypes when it comes to understanding other cultures, so it’s important to know that a person’s age and location can make a big difference when it comes to clothing in the Middle East. Many younger people wear Western clothes on a day-to-day basis and only wear traditional outfits for special occasions such as weddings. Very often, as in many cultures, it’s the older generations who are more often seen in traditional clothing.
You also need to know that not all Arab women wear a head covering. Some Muslim women do decide to wear the headscarf called the hijab, but some also leave their hair uncovered. Don’t forget that some Arab women are Christian or Jewish and so may not have religious beliefs requiring their heads to be covered.
With Arabic themes being seen in many of the collections from top fashion designers, we’ve taken a closer look at some of the design influences which have found their way into our favorite clothing stores.
The Kingdom of Morocco is the most westerly of African counties, but it also has a rich culture of Arabic, Berber, and European influences. It has both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, a rugged mountain interior, and searing heat in summer.
A Moroccan kaftan is loose fitting with wide voluminous sleeves, making them perfect for days when it’s just too hot to wear tight-fitting clothes. The kaftan is often designed with a row of silk braided buttons down the front of the dress, with shape and definition being provided by a contrasting waistband.
A trip through the narrow and maze-like streets of Morocco’s medina markets is where you will still find the skilled locals preparing colorful threads and handmade buttons. Both of these are key elements in providing personalized designs for the client. Cotton is the main fabric used for summer kaftans and everyday wear, but with colorful stitching and piping, these are anything but ordinary in their design.
When it comes to special occasions, the Moroccan wedding kaftans have become incredibly popular. That’s because their elegant design makes them perfect not only for matrimonial celebrations but also as party wear. Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco has been seen in many stunning and intricately designed kaftans at several high-profile events. The pink and gold design that she wore at the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011 was stunning, and saw her win a place on the most elegant and best-dressed guest list published by Hello! magazine.
Another reason why we love the kaftan is its accessibility. No matter your age or size, a kaftan provides an elegant look that can take you from a relaxing day at home through to a royal wedding!
The Palestinian Dress
Known for its rich colors, stylized motifs, and intricate embroidery, the Palestinian dress was traditionally a way of indicating the wearer’s status and prestige. The village women who lived simple lives would use embroidery styles, design, and color distinctive to their community. The town people had access to a much greater range of materials to work with. This then allowed them to integrate different textiles and beading into their dresses, with unique pieces being produced designed for each person.
The basic Palestinian dress is a loose-fitting robe that is neither tailored nor form-fitting. It has triangular sleeves with intricately embroidered panels on both the chest and back. This modest dress is preferred in hot weather, but the generous use of fabric also became an indication of wealth.
While the dresses can now be found in every shade imaginable, the traditional color was very much determined by the availability of natural dyes. Saffron and vine leaves were combined to create a yellow dye, while oak bark produced shades of brown, and crushed murex shells enabled dresses to be a deep shade of purple. If you saw someone in a dark blue dress, then that was a sure sign of wealth; that’s because to get that dark shade, the cloth would need to be dipped in the dye several times!
The abaya is a long flowing robe that’s worn over everyday clothes. It reaches down to the feet, and with its long sleeves, the wearer’s body is fully covered. Designed to be free and flowing to hide the body’s curves, the abaya is generally worn due to religious beliefs. That said, it might also be worn to protect clothing from dusty local weather.
Now, you might be wondering how an abaya can be considered fashionable or trendy, but when you take a closer look, it doesn’t take long to see how the abaya has evolved to allow individual style to taker a prominent role. From embroidery through to prints, there is now an opportunity to move on from the days of the abaya just meaning a dark cloak-like garment.
Even design houses have now recognized the growing demand of their client base to still retain the modesty of the abaya but to also have the opportunity to express their individuality. Custom cutting has become more popular while the use of beads, sequins, ribbon, crystals, and lace is commonplace.
The abaya itself doesn’t include a head covering, and so women also tend to wear a headscarf called a Shela. Traditionally black in color, this lightweight covering has also had a makeover in recent years. Now it’s common to see designer scarves being used which match the wearer’s handbags. When combined with eye-catching jewelry, there is a real opportunity for an individual to show off their style to the rest of the world.