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Curious to know what elements make up the traditional clothing of the region? Zoe Rawlins takes a closer look at the male kandura, shimagh and igal and reveals the subtle intricacies of Emirati national dress
rom the kimonos of Japan to the kilts of the Scottish Highlands, sal war kameez worn in South Asia and elaborate tribal headdresses of Africa, national dress is one of the easiest ways to identify where in the world a person comes from, long before they open their mouth and reveal their language. While this may not be quite as straightforward in the West, in many countries traditional attire is still very much alive and forms an integral part of everyday culture. The same is true of the graceful robes and headscarves worn by men from the Arabian Gulf. To the untrained eye, the typical outfit worn by an Emirati man is deceptively simple. But take a closer look and you'll notice a wealth of detail and careful attention to the cut and tailoring of his outfit, all of which help to distinguish where in the region the wearer is from.
DETAILED DESIGN "In most of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries men wear the ankle length white robe known as a kandura," explains Wafa Alabbas, managing director of Ahel Aldar men's clothing store in Khan Murjan, the underground souk at Wafi shopping mall in Dubai. "Then there's the red and white headscarf known as a shimagh (or gutra if it is plain white). The cap worn underneath the shimagh is called the kafiyah, while the igal is the black rope that is wound around the shimagh." All of these items feature an intricate array of individual details, she continues. "For example, there are many different types of kandura worn in the region and the fabric, cut, tailoring and size all vary. "Similarly with the shimagh and gutra there are many different brands and quality, all of which have a unique look and feel. ~
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AT A GLANCE: MEN'S NATIONAL DRESS IN THE UAE
Kandura -long robe like dress, usually made from light coloured cotton Tarboosh - slender
tie that often hangs from the neckline of an Emirati's kandura
Shimagh - fabric headdress worn loose and flow ing, or tied up. Ca n be patterned with bold or subtle details. 5himagh in the UAE are usually red and white
"Some igals have long ends dangling down at the back, some don't. At Ahel Aldar we are the only store in the UAE which makes igals containing oudh (traditional Arabic perfume) and essential oils. "The inside of the igal is infused with the scent," she continues. "We believe this is something very unique and it's become very popular with our customers. The scent lasts for at least six months and when it fades, customers can bring the igal back to our store and we'll re-impregnate it with scent."
Gutra - fabric headdress
(white with little or no embellishment)
Kafiyah - small cap (usua lly white) worn on the head underneath the gutro Igal - black, woollen rope worn around the head to hold the shimagh in place
Sisht -long and
flowing robe, often made from wool with gold/silver embellishment, worn over the kandura. These are usually only worn on special occasions such as weddings or other ceremonies, and by high level dignitaries on public occasions
LAVISH LUXURY The bisht is the flowing, cloak-like garment worn on top of the kandura and is usually reserved for special occasions. Alabbas explains that it comes in different fabrics and styles, but most are made with an extraordinarily high level of detail. "Many bisht are real works of art. They're usually handmade from the finest wool, which is sometimes mixed with silk, and often have trimmings of decorative hand woven threads in real gold or silver." These garments tend to be reserved for special occasions such as weddings, meetings, important business functions or are worn by high-level dignitaries during public appearances. "They are usually of a very high quality with a hefty price tag. A bisht starts at around Dhs700 but the best quality ones can range from DhsS,OOO up to DhslS,OOO, sometimes more."
"In most of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries men wear the ankle length white robe known as a kandura"
FASHION FOCUS One question curious visitors to the region often ask is, does the colour of the kandura and shimagh perhaps denote where the wearer is from? "Not really, it's more of a fashion statement," replies Alabbas. "Most kanduras used to be plain white, but as with any fashion they evolve over time. For example H.H. Sheikh Mohammed, UAE Prime Minister and Vice-President, and Ruler of Dubai, made the blue kandura fashionable and now many people like to wear it, but you'll also see men wearing brown or cream-coloured kanduras.
"The red shimagh tends to be worr. in the winter as it's usually made from a heavier fabric, while the lighter white fabric is more popular in summer." The way in which the shimagh is tied is again more linked to what's hip and trendy. "You'll often see the younger generations wearing their shimagh tied up around their head - it's a fashion thing. But the older generations tend to wear them long and loose with the igal, or perhaps with the ends flipped up at the sides. Another item of clothing typical to the UAE is the na'al (sandals) worn on
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"Similarly with the shimagh and gutra there are many different brands and quality, all of which have a unique look and feel"
the feet. "These come in all different shapes and styles - some in leather, some with a heel - but almost all UAE men wear them," says Alabbas. "In some other Gee countries such as Saudi and Qatar you'll see men wearing regular western-style shoes with their kanduras, but in the UAE they almost exclusively wear na'al."
kandura and you might be able to
TRY IT ON FOR SIZE•••
If you're visiting Dubai and would like to buy an item of national dress as a souvenir, or perhaps as a present, here are a few sto res where you can be fitted for an outfit... Ahel Aldar Khan Murjan, Wafi
Abu Haleeqa BurJuman
National Tailors AI Ghazal Mall
TAILORED TO PERFECTION Whereas most Westerners buy ready to-wear items of clothing from a store, in the UAE that's not usually the case. "We prefer to have our kanduras tailor-made," explains Sultan Mohammed, a Dubai-based Emirati. This means every aspect of the garment, from the fitting to the finishings, is tailored to each individual's requirements. "We take a customer's measurements, note the exact cut they want, the colour and the fabric - everything is chosen by them so the end result is totally unique," says Alabbas. If you have a keen eye for detail, look closely at the cut of a man's
deduce where in the Gee he is from, since a typical kandura worn by a Saudi Arabian tends to be different from a kandura worn by a Qatari, a Bahraini and an Emirati. "Kanduras from Saudi Arabia tend to have high, close-fitting collars while the body of the garment is quite tailored," explains Alabbas. "Kuwaiti kanduras also tend to have a higher neck while kanduras from Qatar often have cuffs on the sleeves ." The style of a UAE kandura tends to be with cuffs and a loose, flowing body, which usually has a tarboosh at the neckline. The tarboosh is a narrow and detachable length of fabric which is often plaited and can be fastened to the inside of the kandura's neckline with a button. While a single made-to-measure kandura can take just a few days to complete, Alabbas says many of her local customers tend to order in bulk. "They'll often have 10 kanduras made in one go, perhaps in varying styles, which takes around 15 to 20 days to complete."
KEEPING TRADITIONS ALIVE Emiratis tend to wear traditional dress most of the time, and according to Mohammed there are only a few occasions when they wear western style clothing. "We prefer national dress and would only wear western clothing in America or Europe." As an Emirati, what does he think of tourists who visit the UAE and purchase an item of traditional clothing to take home as a memento of their trip' "I think it makes a nice souvenir," he replies. It certainly makes for a popular keepsake, continues Alabbas, who says she welcomes a steady stream of tourists into her store. "We have numerous customers from places such as the US, Australia, the UK, New Zealand and from across Europe who visit the UAE and admire the men's national dress. "Many of them who come into our store will tryon and then buy a shimagh or kandura - the garments are so unique to the region that visitors love to take them home as souvenirs or gifts." •
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