Clothing and Textiles
Clothing and Textiles
Early Muslim Dress . Because textiles are extremely perishable, and figurative representation was a sparsely practiced art form in Muslim societies, detailed knowledge of dress for the earliest period is limited. Depictions of clothed figures before the 1500s are largely limited to book illustrations, ceramics, and metalwork, and an artist often gave only a mere suggestion of the style and construction of garments. Literary descriptions in prose and poetry, however, make up for the lack of pictorial evidence. Basic garments worn in Arabia during the time of Prophet Muhammad were adapted to suit the local environment and made use of products from societies with whom Arabs traded. Arabia produced only leather goods and homespun fabrics made from the hair of goats, sheep, and camels, ranging from coarse to fine in quality. Cotton, linen, silk, and woolen garments were imported through Yemen, Syria, and Africa, forming a staple of trade. Such garments were frequently mentioned in the hadith literature by place of origin or type. The Prophet often received garments as gifts and distributed many of them to others, both men and women, before or after wearing them.
Early Garments . Secondary sources describe the basic items of clothing worn in Arabia as identical or similar for men and women. An undergarment, a long shirt, a long gown or tunic, and an overgarment such as a mantle, coat, or wrap were worn with shoes or sandals and head coverings.
Garments were layered depending on weather, wealth, and occasion. The izar was a basic garment, essentially a length of cloth that could be wrapped or draped over parts of the body or worn around the waist. It was most commonly worn as a long or short wrapped loincloth, meeting the Islamic requirement for men to cover the body between waist and knees. During hard work or hot weather, men wore it alone. Sirwal (pants) were common cotton or linen undergarments that were probably Persian in origin. In early Islamic times, according to the Prophet’s example, both men and women wore sirwal to preserve modesty while seated. Pants were long or short, close-fitting or wide. In later Islamic periods, an enormous variety of sirwal appeared, from ankle-length pantaloons to short, close-fitting briefs. The body shirt, or kamis (from the Latin word camisia), was made from fine or heavy fabrics and was worn by Muslim men and women in their homes. Children typically wore a short version. The kamis was often belted and worn under an outer garment. The simplest was an unsewn wrap thrown over the shoulders or draped over one shoulder. A woolen tunic called a jubba had narrow sleeves. Another common garment was the aba’a, or abaya, a wide, sleeveless outer robe. Often made of fine fabrics, the hulla was a long, flowing coat of Persian origin slit in back or front and fastened with buttons. Two common outer garments often mentioned in the hadith were the rida a man’s mantle that was also ceremonial, and a burda a woven, striped wrap of Yemeni origin that often had a border. Examples of both were worn by the Prophet. Outer garments were often named according to the fabric or place of origin. Footwear for men and women was either sandals made of leather or woven palm fiber or soft leather boots, called khuff, that came to the ankle or calf.
Headdresses . In the Prophet’s time, head coverings were worn by both men and women. Wrapped cloaks were often pulled over the head and held with a band or a separate piece of cloth. The typical Arab head wrap for men was called an imama, a turban made from a long strip of cloth wound around the head. The Prophet Muhammad used to extend one end of the turban down his back between his shoulders, a habit faithfully imitated by many Muslims since. The head cover was also pulled over the face while traveling to keep out the dust or strangers’ gazes. The turban later became a distinctive mark of the Muslim, worn as a simple wrap or as an elaborate headdress over a variety of caps and made from costly gold-worked materials
or studded with jewels. In the early period, women covered their heads with a shawl draped around the head and across the chest, abandoning the pagan custom of exposing the breasts, and sometimes pulling the same wrap across part of the face. A full veil was made of sheer, dark material that permitted the wearer to see out but hid facial features from others. Such veils were loosely draped over the head, extending down to chest or waist level. A large outer garment called a jllbab was pulled up to cover the head and draped over the body to the ground, leaving part of the face exposed. Long, wide overgarments for Muslim women are still called jilbabs in Arabic. A common head veil was the mandil (from which the Spanish word mantilla derives), which was secured by a comb or pins. A smaller rectangle called a niqab might cover all or part of the face. Arab men sometimes covered their faces when riding or traveling, as the Tuareg men of the Sahara still do. The feared Umayyad governor al-Hajjaj first appeared before the rebellious people of Kufah with his face covered in 694.
Occasions . Special styles of clothing included mourning dress, an undyed garment worn by a woman from the death of her husband until the completion of the iddah (waiting period) of more than four months. The ihram, worn by men during the hajj, consisted of two white, unsewn sheets, one wrapped around the waist, the other draped over the shoulder. Women did not cover their faces during the hajjand wore ordinary modest garments. Customs modeled on the Sunnah included asking a blessing on wearing new clothes for the first time and not purposely dragging men’s clothes on the ground out of arrogance. Men were allowed the silk garments only if they had a skin condition irritated by other fabrics, but women were allowed to wear silk. Gold jewelry was allowed only to women, but men were permitted to wear other metals.
Umayyad-Era Clothing . The expansion of territory brought great wealth to the Arab ruling classes and exposed them to new styles and articles of dress. Because of their attachment to the example of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims continued to wear the basic articles of clothing used by the early Arabs throughout the Umayyad period (661–750). Embroidered, brocaded, and patterned fabrics in stripes and other designs became increasingly common, refining the appearance of the thawb (a long one-piece garment with sleeves), the kamis, and especially outer garments and headgear. Despite the Prophet’s injunction, silk became more common for elite men’s clothing. Special, plain white robes of state for the khali-fah (caliph) can be traced to the reign of the Umayyad al-Walid I (ruled 705-715).
Embellishments . The Umayyad court used embroidered and woven designs called tiraz for the khalifah’s robes and those given to others as a sign of official favor. Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) described the role of tiraz fabrics in Islamic history:
It is part of royal and government pomp and dynastic custom to have the names of rulers or their peculiar marks embroidered on the silk, or brocade, or pure silk garments that are prepared for their wearing. The writing is brought out by weaving a gold thread or some other colored thread of a color different from that of the fabric itself into it. … Royal garments are embroidered with such a tiraz in order to increase the prestige of the ruler or the person of lower rank who wears such a garment, or in order to increase the prestige of those whom the ruler distinguishes by bestowing upon him his own garment when he wants to honor them or appoint them to one of the offices of the dynasty. … In the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties the greatest importance was attached to the tiraz.
The practice of court manufacture probably originated with diplomatic gifts from the Byzantines to the Muslim rulers, whose state textile factories had earlier adopted sophisticated Persian techniques and styles. Arab rulers took over weaving establishments in Syria and former Sasanian Persia. Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik (ruled 724–743) was the first Umayyad whose tiraz factories are mentioned in extant sources. They flourished under the Abbasids (749–1258) and their successors. By the thirteenth century, the state was less involved in the production of fine fabrics, and tiraz fabrics had become so commercially popular in the Mediterranean trade that they were devalued as political statements. The inscriptions became less associated with any ruler, the letters less intelligible and merely symbolic. Tiraz symbols worked into brocade fabrics with geometric, plant, and animal motifs were widely imitated in Italy and beyond, where the lettering gradually became more assimilated into the design.
A Textile Society . Woven cloth and garments were a store of household wealth and a form of currency, as well as a commodity needed by everyone. Chests of clothing and household textiles were a pillar of the family’s worth and inheritance. A daughter’s trousseau was assembled during her childhood, demonstrating the skill she acquired in sewing, weaving, or embroidery. It spared the family the expense of purchasing such goods and might become a source of income in time of need. Because of long-standing pre-Islamic local traditions and because they were marks of one’s social class, garments and fabrics to be given by the groom to the bride and her family were an important part of marriage negotiations. Clothing and the fabrics used to make it were an expression of social class, a mark of respectability, and a way of conferring privilege and prestige. They were used as payment for services or as a means of reward. As such, they were a ubiquitous item of trade, and entire sections of urban marketplaces were assigned to the textile trades.
Textiles as Currency . When fabrics became more varied, luxurious, and finely made, their usefulness as a store of value and a form of liquid currency increased. Because producing such fabrics required many artisan hours and considerable resources marshaled from various regions, textiles were accumulated for a time when they would be needed. The list of fabulous fabrics stored in the warehouses of the fabled khalifah Harun al-Rashid (ruled 786–809) is not an indication of mindless extravagance and resources sunk in conspicuous consumption. Fabrics and ready-made garments were a form of wealth that the state treasury purchased or received as tax or tribute. Khalifal purchases were a form of economic stimulus that might bring a city, province, or foreign state into the commercial sphere of the khilafah (caliphate). The government extracted profit from the trade and regulation of fabrics imported, exported, and traded within the empire. The inventory of the wardrobe stores left by Harun al-Rashid lists: “Four thousand jubba of variegated silk said by Ghazuli … woven with gold; Four thousand jubba of khazz silk lined with the fur of the sable, the marten and other animals; ten thousand qamis and ghilala (shirts & chemises); ten thousand kaftan (a kind of robe resembling the qa’ba); two thousand sirwal (trousers) of different materials; four thousand ‘imama (turbans); one thousand rida’ (wrappers) of different stuffs; one thousand taylasan (robes furnished with a hood); five thousand mandil (handkerchiefs) of different materials; one thousand mintaq (girdles) which Ghazuli described as studded with gold; four thousand pairs of khuff (boots), most of them lined with the fur of the marten, sable and other animals; four thousand pairs of jawrab (stockings).” Tiraz factories under state control ensured a supply of fine fabrics for the court, and they attracted scarce, highly skilled artisans, creating employment for a host of secondary and tertiary craftsmen, merchants, and laborers. As tiraz fabrics spread to the commercial sector the khalifal
name and insignia added value to them. A robe of honor with the khalifal insignia woven in became—like signed home-run baseballs or presidential pens—an instant collectible that could be turned into money if necessary. State textile assets were quite liquid, being distributed as a part of the salaries (fringe benefits) of courtly officials and servants. They were spent in the form of gifts to supporters and foreign powers in exchange for loyalty, backing, and achievement of foreign-policy goals. The textiles were carefully inventoried and kept in special buildings under the administration of a high official. While the language of taste varied among cultures of the Eastern Hemisphere, fabrics were universally prized and knowledgeably scrutinized across regional boundaries.
Regional Styles . Costume in the regions newly under Muslim rule must have been vastly diverse. Locally available fibers and dyes were used for fabrics and garments that were suited to the climate and continued little changed for centuries in rural regions. Trade, prosperity, and cultural influences spread to Muslims from Byzantines, Persians, Indians, and Chinese. After the Arab conquest, regional styles changed gradually and influenced Muslim dress perhaps as much as they were influenced by Muslim costume. At the start, Arab dress was inherently dissimilar to that of the other groups, but in time—probably by the reign of the Umayyad reformer Khalifah Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz (ruled 717-720)—aspects of Muslim dress had been copied by non-Muslims, and Muslims had adopted styles from wealthy non-Muslims. The ghiyar (sumptuary policies) followed on and off by Muslim rulers decreed that non-Muslims had to distinguish themselves in dress from Muslims. The inherent contradiction lay in the problem of who was to differentiate themselves from whom. The sense of a hadith attributed to Prophet Muhammad was that the Muslims should separate themselves in appearance from those who had not accepted Islam. It is more likely, however, that Muslims adopted the dress of wealthy classes in the regions where they ruled and lived than that non-Muslims were indistinguishable because they imitated Muslim dress. Use of the coercive power of the state to force non-Muslims not to imitate Muslims was somewhat contradictory, and such laws were both hated and ineffective. Nonetheless, various khalifahs decreed that dhimmis (non-Muslims) had to wear differentiating garments and distinguish themselves from Muslims in other ways. It is doubtful that such decrees were ever widely enforced, and, though they periodically reappeared under various Muslim regimes, sumptuary laws were often withdrawn or circumvented, or they fell into disuse. Secretarial and merchant classes in the eastern Mediterranean and Persia influenced adoption of certain garments and use of more luxurious fabrics, but styles were generally subdued because of the Prophet’s opposition to ostentation, especially his prohibition against men wearing silk and gold. This prohibition never extended to women, however, allowing them to wear fine fabrics and ornaments in the regions where Islam spread. In Abbasid times, as earlier, the cities were home to a wide variety of styles in dress based on ethnic group, class, and occupation, and became more so with in-migration. Arab, Turkish, Persian, Slavic, and Greek costumes could be seen in the streets and markets of growing Muslim cities during the eighth through the twelfth centuries.
Production and Diversification . The importance of clothing, the widespread production of fabrics, innovations in technology, and developments in artistic style in Muslim regions led historian Andre Clot to refer to Islam as a “textile civilization.” Textiles became the most developed product of Muslim regions of the Eastern Hemisphere during the Abbasid period and continuing well beyond 1500, though production centers shifted. Spinning and weaving were part of the domestic village economy nearly everywhere, producing textiles ranging from the coarse fabrics worn by the poor and laborers to local specialties. In areas where wool, cotton, linen, and silk were cash crops, spinning and weaving were carried out on a commercial scale to produce goods for urban and export markets. Woolen goods were made in Syria, Iraq, North Africa, Spain, and various areas in Central Asia, such as Bukhara, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. These goods included mohair (from the Arabic word mukhayyar), softest camel hair, thick highland woolen goods, and durable woolen yarns for carpets. Linen, a well-known export from Egypt, spread to other Muslim centers, such as Pars and Khuz-estan, whose linens rivaled theirs. Cotton cultivation, which had not spread much beyond India before the seventh century, spread widely under the influence of Islam. Cotton textiles quickly became popular not only for their washability, absorbency, and variable weight, but especially for their ability—unlike their nearest competitor, flax—to absorb brightly colored dyes. During the T’ang period (618-907), cotton became a popular fabric in China under the influence of Muslim textile exports, and the Chinese began to cultivate it. By the tenth century, cotton production had spread to Iraq, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and Spain. Cotton was introduced as an import to Europe, where it could not be grown in the colder climate. Mosul, Iraq, gave its name to the basic cotton fabric called muslin, whose weight could vary from the finest gauze to thick, sturdy stuff. Merv, Nishapur, Aleppo, Hama, and Egypt produced specialty cottons ranging from voile to tent canvas. Textile-producing centers on the western Indian coast and inland perfected cotton production for export. Gujurati wraps used tie-dyed or starch-resist methods to make an indigo-blue-and-white or red-and-white bordered pattern called bandhana related to the red-and-white or blue-and-white bandannas worn today. Calicut produced wood-block printed muslins with flowers, borders, and paisley designs that were already being exported to Fustat, Egypt, by the eighth century. Their bright red, black, brown, and violet shades were fast colors from vegetable dyes to which mordants, or fixatives, such as alum and iron oxides, were added. Though imported, these cotton textiles were priced within the reach of ordinary people. Brought from India by Muslim merchants, these friendly prints traveled around the world in the period after 1500 to become the ubiquitous calico prints seen in quilts, American pioneer dresses, and even wallpaper designs. Painted fabrics made use of larger designs, borders, and scenes, including the twill-woven cottons called chintz that were a fad during the seventeenth century. From the finest gauzes to richly embroidered shawls and silks encrusted with jewels, Indian textile centers on the coast answered to the rising demand for luxury and ordinary fabrics. Arab textile trade with India was of long standing, having begun long before Islam, facilitated by the annual monsoon winds that bore ships between India and Yemen.
Silk . Silkworm cultivation and manufacture had been successfully adopted from China by the Sassanid Persians and probably spread from there to Byzantine workshops (notwithstanding the story of silkworms carried in a Christian missionary’s walking stick). Muslim silk production replaced Byzantine and Persian production in the region and, despite Italian connections to the Byzantines, overtook Byzantine silk exports to Europe. By the Abbasid period, the Islamic prohibition against silk for men was circumvented or ignored except by ascetics or those who could not afford it. Well-known export centers included Sicily, Spain, Egypt, Syria (especially damask brocades), Iraq, and Khorasan, and tiraz production spread to virtually all court centers after the breakup of the Abbasid state. Silk velvets; fringes and tassels; carpets; striped, printed, embroidered, and brocaded silks—with gold and silver threads picked out with pearls and jewels—were produced for local sale and export to those who could afford even a single piece of finery. The Chinese draw loom either was reinvented or underwent considerable refinement in western Asia, and by the Abbasid period, its ability to raise individual threads allowed weavers of tiraz and other textiles to form complex designs of animals, plants, geometric patterns, and lettering
in brocaded fabrics. During the tenth through twelfth centuries, Fatimid Egypt and Sicily were particularly important brocade manufacturing centers for exports to Europe, and from the latter, the complex treadle looms and their fabric designs spread to Europe. People wearing vestments and garments bearing Islamic designs are depicted in European paintings. Islamic textiles appeared commonly as altar cloths and vestments in European churches, and they have been exhumed from the graves of church officials and royalty in Europe. More than one bishop was buried in grave clothes bearing Arabic inscriptions, including one example with the Islamic creed La ilaha ilia Allah (There is no god but God) now preserved in the textile collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. By the thirteenth century, silk brocade weaving in Norman Sicily was being produced for export to Europe and was copied in Italian and French centers as well. Beginning in the same century, complex weaving and dyeing techniques spread from Sicily, North Africa, and Spain to various European textile centers.
Leather and Fur . Leather goods were widely produced and used, stimulating the importation of plants and minerals used in tanning and dyeing. Bookbinding in leather was an associated art for which gold stamping and tooling were developed as decorative techniques. A related industry made saddles and trappings for riding animals such as donkeys, horses, camels, and elephants. The finest examples were made for court ceremonies. Furs, mainly imported from Asian forests, including Rus trade routes along the Volga, were used to edge and line winter garments such as shoes and mantles. Sable, ermine, and less luxurious pelts were used as the wearer’s budget allowed, and courtly dress often featured the finest furs.
Abbasid Era Clothing . The Sunnah influenced the styles of garments that persisted over the long term, especially with the gradual spread of Islam among the population. Because modesty was required in private and in public among men and women, loose-fitting, dignified overgarments, undergarments, and head coverings became standard characteristics of men’s and women’s dress in Muslim regions, but such garments had a wide variety of shapes and appearances. By the Abbasid era, the shapeless, rustic garments of the early Muslims had faded into disuse. The rough, woolen robe of the Arabian peninsula known as the khirka came to mean a “rag” or “dishcloth” in Abbasid-era vernacular. The rustic tunic called the midra’a came to be associated only with the extremely poor. The poor also wore a shamla, a woolen robe that doubled as a blanket. Workingmen in hot weather wore the tubban, or short trousers that came to the knee, and sandals made of coarse fiber. Hunters, fish sellers, builders, and other laborers wore similar garments. Bedouins wore the aba’a in wool. Some garments were common to all classes but varied in the quality of material. The izar continued in use as a common wrap in fabrics of varying weights. It might be used as a head covering, waist wrap, or apron. Under Indian influence, the longer version of the izar became known as i futa (sheet), which when made of fine fabric resembles an Indian sari. As a waist wrap, the izar was a mandatory minimum garment in public baths and was worn by both men and women, who were separated by gender. Almost everyone wore a ghilala (light chemise) and sirwal (loose, long or short pants with a drawstring) as undergarments and by themselves in private. Women considered it inelegant to wear white garments, so their underclothes were often grayish or pastel in tone. The kamis had wide sleeves often with an inside pocket big enough to hold a book, coins, or writing supplies. At the palace, one had to wear the durra’, a fancy, sleeved outer garment that was often highly decorated with embroidery or even precious stones. Women wore wide-sleeved dresses with drawstrings to pull the neckline together for a high bodice. They wore an enveloping wrap for public outings, as well as a futa. Women wore a black headdress similar to a turban together with a fine face veil. Fashionable footwear consisted of sandals, leather slippers, or leather ankle boots, which were also used to carry things. The materials used in women’s footwear ranged from fur-lined and jeweled to rough leather or bast. Men as well as women covered their heads. A man most often wore a turban, which was given a lot of importance during Abbasid times as an emblem of Islam and a requirement for a man’s dignified appearance. Some wore felt caps under their turbans. A sort of Persian hat called a tall kalansuwa, or danniyya, came into fashion for a while; one of its names is derived from the word dann (an amphora-shaped storage jug). The Persian secretarial class employed by the Abbasid state influenced Muslim manners (adab\) literary tastes, and clothing. Socks and colorful shoes became common under Persian influence, though clashing colors were considered in poor taste. A well-known garment that entered courtly and urban fashions from Persia during the Abbasid period was the khaftan, a robe made from fine material with buttons down the front. (It was named after a cuirass, or armored breastplate). Under the Turkish influence that began in the twelfth century, this garment became a typical Turkish coat and acquired its common name of caftan.
Courtly Dress . The khalifah’s robes, banded with embroidered inscriptions in Arabic, came to be viewed as robes of office, and black was the official Abbasid color. The burda (going back to a mantle worn by the Prophet), the staff, and sword were further insignia of office. The kalansuwa (cap) worn with a turban was the equivalent of a crown. Servants of the Abbasid state wore black as a sign of duty and loyalty. Jurists wore sober versions of prevailing formal garments, including the danniyya, and wore the tay-lasan, a long piece of cloth draped across the shoulders. This garment of office evolved into the doctoral hood that is worn by western scholars with Ph.D.s, one of the many results of the medieval academic connections between Europe and Muslim scholarship. State ministers and secretaries wore the durra’ overcoat, and a khatib or preacher, wore a turban and carried a staff. For the Friday sermon he might also wear a long izar wrapped around him instead of wide pants. Poets favored bright colors, gold-worked clothing, and silken robes. Fantastic descriptions of courtly robes for men and women are found in adab literature. Harun al-Rashid and his wife Zubaidah are said to have possessed jewel-encrusted shoes and belts, a fantastic number of brocaded robes (a Byzantine emperor once sent him three hundred), jeweled tiaras, rings, necklaces, and other jewelry. Diaphanous silks, gold-worked velvet, fur-trimmed jackets and coats, and the finest undergarments and shirts are mentioned in the lore of khalifal wardrobe excess. When the state was at the height of its wealth and power and Baghdad was a trade hub for the Eastern Hemisphere, such accounts may not have been much exaggerated. A well-known court fabric was a gold-worked silk called washi, produced in centers such as Yemen and Syria. The Abbasids’ extravagance extended to their courtiers and other lucky people. Abbasid khalifahs bestowed robes of honor (khila’)on scholars, scientists, poets, singers, military leaders, visiting dignitaries, and diplomats. An entire outfit rather than just a robe, the khila included a lined coat or cloak (mubattana), a sleeved robe (durra’), a body shirt (gamis), pants or drawers (sarwaf), and a turban (’imama).All these garments were made of fine cloth and court workmanship, though khalifal stores included suits of varying degrees of luxury. On occasion special honor was conferred by giving a robe worn by the khalifah himself, instead of a “standard issue” suit from the khalifal storehouses. Twice-yearly gifts of a suit of clothes were given after the fast of Ramadan as an obligation of the court to its officials. This tradition, which probably pre-dates Islam, percolated down through the social classes of society to include households with servants, and gifts from the head of the household to wives and children. Clothing was the most expensive of the basic necessities, so it was carefully stored and worn and patched and mended until it could no longer be worn. Then it was cut up for cushions, coverlets, and other uses.
Fatimid-Era Clothing . When the Fatimid dynasty came to power in Egypt in 973, Egyptians had produced textiles for millennia, and linen remained an important fiber crop. Fatimid Egyptian artisans exported techniques and luxury textiles to other Muslim lands and to Europe. A well-known example is the gold-embroidered red-silk robe with an Arabic inscription at the hem that the Norman ruler Roger II wore for his coronation as king of Sicily in 1130. Tiraz fabrics of linen, silk, and wool set the style in the Mediterranean and influenced the developing Italian textile industry so profoundly that Italian silk-brocade designs are indistinguishable from their Islamic models. The name Dar al-Kiswa given to Fatimid tiraz manufacture refers to the black brocaded kiswa, heavily
embroidered with gold and silver Qur’an verses, made as a covering for the Ka’bah and taken on the annual pilgrimage to Makkah in an ornate camel litter. A government ministry oversaw production and storage of costumes and fabrics. The Fatimid khalifah, who wore splendid white clothing embroidered in gold and silver on ceremonial occasions, topped his costume with an enormous turban of fine fabric wound over a cap and decorated with jewels and silk bands. Twice a year in season, every government official from the highest minister to the lowliest clerk or servant in livery received a badla, or outfit that consisted of a dozen garments. The quality, color, and cut of the costume differed according to the recipient’s rank. Fabulous textiles produced in Egypt included khmrawani (royal brocade, named after the Persian shah Khusraw Parwiz, who ruled the Sasanid empire in 591-628), siglaton (gold brocade), and linens from transparent gossamers to heavy fabrics. Goods were usually named after the place of production, such as dumyati (Damietta) and rashidi (Rosetta), and garments were embellished with the ruler’s name, attributes, and a blessing woven or embroidered onto tiraz bands. The basic garments differed little from those of the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, an assortment of wraps, tunics, mantles, dresses, and typical undergarments accompanied by shawls, veils, scarves, belts, and turbans. These articles became common parts of Islamic costume in cosmopolitan Muslim cities almost everywhere. As the well-known traveler Ibn Battuta (1304 -circa 1378) moved from place to place receiving gifts of garments, he was able to identify them by place of export, accepting and wearing them as customary clothing, without any sense that they were strange or ill suited.
Common Egyptian Dress in the Fatimid Period . Ordinary people in Egypt during the Fatimid period (973–1171) wore similar garments whether they were Muslim, Christian, or Jewish and followed courtly styles as closely as their means allowed. The custom of giving complete outfits and the use of tiraz-like decorative elements was practiced on a smaller but proportionately ostentatious scale in the households of wealthy and middle-class Egyptians. A valuable source of information about Fatimid-era costumes worn by the bourgeoisie are the Geniza documents, some of which list bridal trousseaus in detail. Written by Jewish residents of Cairo, these documents also provide evidence that sumptuary laws were not enforced. The urban poor wore clothing similar in coverage to that of other Egyptians but consisting of fewer garments and coarser fabrics. Beyond the cities, regional styles remained distinctive long after the spread of Islam into the countryside. Traditional dress included shirred black sari-style wraps for women, basic cotton print wide dresses over pants, and the tarhah, a fine black veil worn over a mandil, or scarf. The people of the Sinai and the Libyan desert also continued to wear their traditional costumes. Variations among towns and religious groups were noticeable, but Egyptian men’s dress was probably more like the basic universal Muslim costume of the cities, with local variations and stylistic panache.
Turkish Influence under the Saljuks, Ayyubids, and Mamluks . During the tenth century, Abbasid rulers began to rely heavily on Turkish soldiers, who brought new influences on costume from their exuberant pastoral tradition. Their stylistic influence spread gradually with their growing military power and the increasing in-migration of Turkic groups. The Turks, who accepted Islam and established dynasties in various parts of the Muslim lands from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries, were influenced by Muslim dress but also introduced new garments and a distinctive sense of style, shape, and color. The central Asian styles they introduced included ceremonial court dress and military outfits suited for fighting from horseback. Turkish women also rode horses, necessitating clothing that was less voluminous and sparer, though not less colorful or elaborately decorated. Long or short coats were worn over the usual undergarments, and the body shirt was cut longer to show under the coat. The front of a new style of “Turkish coat,” modeled perhaps on a Chinese style, crossed the chest diagonally to the waist and was preferred by Saljuk and Ayyubid rulers from the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries and on through the period of Turkic ascendancy. The Mamluks wrapped their coats left side over right, as typical men’s shirts in the West button today. Wide belts or cummerbunds were worn over the coat. Mamluk princes wore belts of decorated metal plaques linked together. The Turks introduced the custom of ranking a person by the width of his sleeves, which reached below the hands in length. A turban was worn over a red or yellow kalawta cap. Turkish soldiers wore native headgear called the sharbush, a stiff cap with a triangular front often trimmed with fur. A short-sleeved coat called a bughlutak, made of fine fabrics and sometimes trimmed with fur, was sometimes worn with an outer coat. As Turkish influence grew, many urbanites adopted the full-length caftan, and women wore a closer-fitting coat called a yelek. Most other articles of clothing remained the same but acquired Turkish names.
Maghrib and Andalusia . Since the Arab conquest in the seventh century, the Muslim lands in northwestern Africa and the Iberian peninsula were known for their special styles of dress, built on traditions of the Berbers and combining Punic, late Roman, and Christian influences. Major eastern Muslim influences, such as Persian and Turkic, reached the West only gradually and indirectly, and even then only in coastal cities and the Iberian Peninsula. One type of pre-Islamic Berber man’s dress was a short, wide tunic worn without a belt. Another group wore the burnous, a long mantle with straight panels, sleeves, and a peaked hood that was edged with wool or silk-braided cord and embroidery, later worn with a kamis under it. In the Altas Mountains, woolen mantles or capes of rough Berber weave were wrapped or draped over the shoulders. The capes sometimes carried a design in the shape of a large eye on the bottom. Women’s native dress was similar to eastern Arab desert dress, often an izar cloth wrapped around the body and over the head. Fancy woven belts of wool and much silver jewelry were used to decorate the simple pieces. During the Islamic period, Egyptian influences spread westward. Syrian ruling classes brought Eastern tastes in clothing, furnishings, and fabrics to the Iberian peninsula. The well-known Iraqi singer Ziryab, a trendsetter in the Umayyad court at Cordoba during the mid ninth century, successfully transplanted influences in dress and manners from the eastern cities to Andalusia. Ziryab wore different clothes in each season, introducing the djubba (a wide, long outer garment with an open front and sleeves cut into the garment) for both men and women, and defining the cut and color of robes. The Persian tall cap called the kalan-suwa and the taylasan were worn more widely in Andalusia after Ziryab arrived. Women’s dress was fashionable. Covering the head was not taken as seriously in Andalusia as in other parts of the Muslim world until after the Almohad period (1130–1269), though the same forms of veils appeared there as in other Muslim regions. Peasant dress remained similar to pre-Islamic styles, and influence from the Christian north continued. Instead of the turbans, which were seldom seen, men wore a soft felt hat similar to a pillbox that was usually red or green. Styles and colors of dress changed as Andalusia became an important silk-weaving center and known especially for a gilded silk called washy that was made in Almeria, Murcia, and Malaga.
West Africa . Between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries, when Islamic influence became marked in the region and the wealth of the Niger bend region increased through trade, garments worn by Muslim rulers and dignitaries of West African cities took on new form and meaning. The indigenous weaving used native cotton on narrow looms with strips sewn together edge to edge to form larger widths. The caftan-like, one-piece garment for men that evolved from this fabric was long and extremely wide, with sleeves reaching nearly to the hem. The neck was slit open vertically, creating a v-neck front and back that added to the drape of the garment. On one side of this style of clothing was a large elaborately embroidered pocket. Wider looms, silk weaving, and embroidery were introduced by Muslim traders and West African Muslims who made the hajj. In the growing cities of the Niger bend, ruling families sponsored scholarship and commerce. There emerged a class of scholar-tailors who supported their Qur’anic studies by weaving and
embroidering dignified garments. Though Ibn Battuta in the fourteenth century complained that West African women were too scantily clad, they became more observant of Islamic requirements for coverage. Women wore head wraps and wide, long dresses made of colorful resist-dyed cotton fabrics, as well as imported fabrics that came across the Sahara. Gradually, with Portuguese explorations along the West African coast during the late 1400s, the first European-influenced fabrics, not yet mainly of European manufacture, began to arrive. There was also a tradition of unraveling and reweaving imported fabrics to create brilliant plaid and striped designs, perhaps because of the desire to work in colors for which indigenous dyes were not available.
East Africa . Because this region was in contact with Yemen, Egypt, and the lands around the northern rim of the Indian Ocean, it was exposed to a wide range of styles, fabrics, and goods from as far away as China. Ibn Battuta mentioned, for example, receiving from the sultan of Mogadishu a traditional robe of honor made from Jerusalem fabric. As in many trading centers of the Muslim world, cloth and finished garments were virtually a form of currency. The ceremonial dress the sultan and his retinue wore for Friday prayer featured voluminous robes, embroidery, and rich colors. Madagascar, whose island population included people of African, Malay, and Arab descent, knew how to weave shawls from a native type of silk using treadle looms to create weft-and-warp striped patterns. (The lengthwise threads on a loom are called the warp, and the crosswise threads are the weft.)The name for raffia fiber—from which plush, tufted cushions and fine mats were woven—came from a word in their language (rofia).
Central Asia . The region from the Caspian Sea to the borders of China included settled oasis cities such as Bukhara, Samarqand, and Tashkent, as well as the arid steppe and grasslands to the north. Across this huge area, pastoral people possessed a long history of tribal textiles made from the wool of their herds, and an exuberant sense of design and color. Felt and leather work were highly developed decorative arts, in addition to carpet and tapestry weaving in geometric, animal, and vegetal designs. Influences from Iran and China moved back and forth along the Silk Roads, bringing refined, courtly styles and elegant modes of dress. Among the most typical fabrics for coats was ikat, warp-dyed silk woven on cotton. These brightly colored fabrics with bold designs were made into gowns and sleeved coats that might be worn in layers to display the owner’s wealth. Ikat fabrics had as many as seven colors—red, blue, yellow, green, and purple, as well as black and white. Warp dyeing gave the design a vibrant quality because the edges of the motif were not sharply defined. The ikat technique was also used in some tiraz inscriptions, particularly in the Yemen. Other distinctive garments were the embroidered caps worn by men and boys, as well as unmarried girls, who wore them with a veil. In the western lands of Central Asia, specific types of embroidery were attached to tribal and regional groupings.
Mongol Influences . Central Asian styles that influenced Muslim fashions include mandarin short-sleeved robes with decorations on front and back and with a long-sleeved tunic worn underneath, a fur-trimmed, peaked felt cap, and fur-trimmed robes. Silk and jeweled hats built on a light frame were the fashion for Mongol princesses, who wore sheer veils and feathers atop such hats. In the Timurid period of the fifteenth century, closer-fitting garments came in, including a long, open coat with braided-frog closures, and a kumar band (cummerbund sash) worn around the waist. This elegant sword belt, originally for military use, is still worn with European-style men’s formal and semiformal dress. The coats—with long or short sleeves or sleeveless— were made of elegant fabrics such as velvet, brocade, and fine wool and often worn in layers over the kamis.
Muhammad M. Ahsan, Social Life Under the Abbasids, 786-902 A.D. (London & New York: Longman, 1979).
Andre Clot, Harun al-Rashid and the World of the Thousand and One Nights, translated by John Howe (New York: New Amsterdam Press, 1989).
Jennifer Harris, ed., Textiles, S000 Years: An International History and Illustrated Survey (New York: Abrams, 1993).
T. Majda, “Libas,” in Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-ROM version (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Clive Rogers, ed. Early Islamic Textiles (Brighton, U.K.: Rogers & Pod-more, 1983).