Linda's Thread

Basic Medieval Middle Eastern Clothing

Simple, classic clothing that is suitable for any time period in the Middle East.
Halima al-Rakkasa, GoA

Clothing is generally loose, dark on the outside layers, and light on the inside. Persians and others who may live where weather can be cool often have tighter sleeves (which may be long enough to be ruched up the wrist). Note that nobles at leisure, in later periods, have longer sleeves (even angel wings) and more layers of gowns; those at play and at work may only wear tunic and pants, with a head-covering, sash, and possibly footwear.

From the outside, inwards, the most outer layers being optional:

Burnoose - hooded wool cloak made with a rectangle and two quarter-circles
Aba/Abaaya - cloak/coat made with rectangles; may be wool, silk, brocade
Cote/Aba - in this case, a short-sleeved coat made with rectangles; this kamis pattern can be used, with the addition of a front opening and shorter sleeves
Yelek/Anteri - one or more, with various length sleeves and hemlines, opening to show each layer, with the lowest layer most closed and/or long; it seems the Mongols brought wrapped garments into common usage
Kamis/Gomlek - chemise of fine cotton, linen, silk or wool, wrist-length sleeves, ankle length or longer, closed at throat; this is my pattern (see another version in color).
Chalvar/Sirwaal - pants, full at the waist/hip and tapering to be snug at the ankle; may be any fabric, but metallic brocades are worn over a softer layer; so-called Turkish pants (voluminous pantaloons of belly dancers, vikings and mongols) are shown in 11th-12th century Egyptian carvings, during the same time as the Iraqi straight-leg pants

Sash - plain or with contrasting stripes running crosswise on the the band; sash ends may be tucked into waist
Head cover - a light-weight cotton square, 39-42", folded once into a triangle, held on with a strip of fabric; suitable for both men and women; turbans were also worn, color sometimes dependent upon religion, but were frowned on for women (who seemed to like a small turban). Some working men preferred to wear a small-brimmed wool hat resembling the modern hat blank.
Pouch - cotton, linen, or wool; shape resembling a tube sock; OR a rounded purse with a 5-sided top flap that has the lower 3 corners tasseled.
Satchel/Scrip - may be a small square about the size of the palm of the hand, tied to the belt or sash; or a square that could hold a large book, hung from the shoulder with a long strap; probably leather, but all have a triangular to flap to close it.
Footwear - Desert people went barefoot, or wore riding boots tied just under the knee; "wearers of slippers" wore slippers, often with turned up toes, sandals, and low boots.

Wool, Mohair (from goat), Linen, Nettle, Cotton, Silk; note that Jews avoided mixes such as wool with linen. Silk was usually a heavier weight than that used for our modern blouses.
Weaving patterns included tabby, twill, and point twills, all easily reproduced today.
Patterns also developed from the use of colored warp and weft; they range from simple stripes, and window-pane checks of red and blue, to small patterns sprinkled thoroughly over the fabric.
The brocades, a more lengthy production, resembled today's inexpensive Chinese brocades.

Natural materials often became ground colors: white, cream, brown, black. Indigo dye can be pounded into fabric (useful when water is at a premium). Madder root gave various shades of rust-orange, red, and brown depending on the mordant used. The love of color may be one of the distinctions of the Middle and Near East to the point where, in our eyes, colors clash. Period colors may be subtle, deep, or vibrant; avoid neons. Consider reds, blues, greens (color of The Prophet), soft oranges, yellows, black and white.

Embellishment was most common on the "fancy" clothes; among the nomads, everyday clothing was worn until it fell off, while townsfolk might not be so constrained in acquisition and storage. Embroidered sections of old clothes might be appliquéed to new ones. Embroidery includes: running, cross, blanket/buttonhole, and chain stitches, all in various configurations, often en masse. All openings should have some stitchery to prevent demons from entering (usually blue in early period and red later; or both colors).

Dangling jewelry and tassels distract demons from doing harm, and add color and movement.

For details, examine images in contemporary Korans, books of poetry and teaching (history, science), and images from "schools of art" such as the Herat school. Art books were the sources for my notes on headwear, cotes, and dancing clothes.

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Last update: May 14, 2005