Keeping traditions alive with Qatari attire
Traditional clothing and a strong sense of national identity go hand in hand in the Gulf. And although clothes like the djelabia and battoulah might be in decline, the national dress remains a matter of deep-rooted pride for Qataris.
Qatar might be a melting pot of cultures and nationalities but you will easily be able to spot a Qatari national in the bustling and busy streets by simply looking at their clothes.
This is because Qatari men and women will usually shun Western, more ‘modern’ clothes, opting for traditional attire instead. For men, this is usually a crisp white thobe and for women, it is the abaya and hijab (or shaylah, depending on your region).
The reason could be due to the deep rooted pride that Qataris feel towards their customs and culture, which extends to their attire and appearance. Another reason could be due to modesty, as traditional Qatari clothes are made to cover up the body and shape.
Qataris are known to be conservative and their traditions form the basis of their dress. Although there have been many shifts in the fashion industry, with more Western designers catering to the needs of the Arab people, their attire still remains in the confines of what is traditional.
Then there is practicality — countries in the Gulf can reach scorching high temperatures and so wearing jeans or cargo pants would not be practical. Traditional Qatari clothes are made to accommodate the weather.
Traditional Qatar clothes for men
Most Qatari men will wear the thobe, which is a long garment, shaped similar to a shirt. Functionality over fashion, the thobe is designed to keep the wearer cool in hot climates like the Middle East.
Younger boys traditionally wear an embroidered cap called a gahfeya on their heads.
To complement their thobe, men in Qatar will also wear a ghotra, which is a square piece of fabric, usually checkered with red and white or black and white squares. In winter the men sometimes opt for a cream cashmere ghotra in order to keep warm.
Qatari’s are distinguishable by the style of ghotra that they wear. Known as the cobra, it is inspired by the snake look, as it is sharp and pointy from the front.
The ghotra is held in place by a twice looped coil called the iqal. Traditionally the iqal had a dual purpose — it was used by Bedouin men to secure their camel’s feet at night while sleeping.
What women wear…
Qatari women are most known for wearing abayas, which is a long black cloak worn over clothing.
Even younger girls, who wear Western clothes, might choose to wear the abaya on top as a sign of respect and modesty.
Older generations might choose to wear the more traditional djelabia garment, which is usually concealed by an abaya. The djelabia is a long dress, often cotton in material. They are usually embroidered at the neck and cuff, or some have shorter sleeves. This traditional garment will likely still be worn by older women but is not as common any more. Traditionally the djelabia would be worn with baggy, ankle-length trousers known as the sirwal, but again, these are not as commonly worn any more.
The flowy silhouette and cotton material of the djelabia made it an ideal choice for those living in the hot, barren desert many years ago and was ideal to travel and move around in, especially for the Bedouin women.
A traditional accessory, still favoured by elder Qatari women is the battoulah. It is shaped like a mask and is worn over the mouth and nose. Most of them have a metallic appearance but are in actual fact made of a thick calico material which is dyed with indigo and beaten to achieve this look.
Historically the battoulah was a form of hijab that covered the face from the tip of the nose. It was attached to the head by laces or ribbon at the forehead.
The Thobe Al-Nashal
When the occasion calls for it, Qatari women will wear a thobe al-nashal, which is an ornate, sheer garment made to be worn over any thobe. The thobe al-nashal will traditionally have extravagant beading and sequins and elaborate embroidery on sheer chiffon fabric. This garment is worn during special occasions, over a thobe, due to the sheer material.
Women in Qatar can also be seen donning the shaylah: a black headdress.
The younger generation may tend to wear the material loosely over their heads, whereas the older generation of Qatari women are seen using the shaylah to cover their faces.
Photos: Adriane de Souza
CLOTHES: Dar Zir