When most people hear the words “traditional Egyptian clothing”, they go back to the days of the Pharaohs and the linen wrap-around garments. However, nowadays, the folk dress of modern Egypt could not be any more different than that of Ancient Egyptian clothing. For instance, since the 16th century, Egyptians have had a propensity to thoroughly cover nearly every part of their bodies. Locals embraced many clothing characteristics of the Ottoman Turks, Europeans, and other surrounding Muslim countries. So, as we take a look at modern Egyptian traditional clothing, we can forget about the old Pharaoh clothing. (And who knows, maybe you’ll learn Egyptian Arabic, or at least a little of it, along the way.)
At the base of the Egyptian man’s traditional folk outfit is the galabiya (or jalabeya in some Arabic dialects). They can wear it alone or with trousers, a headdress, shoes, and one or more other outer garments.
The galabiya has long narrows sleeves and a triangular neckline. However, there is also another version: the kamis (or gamis, again in some local Arabic dialects). It is wider with even wider sleeves and mostly worn by Egyptian farmers, or fellahin in the Egyptian dialect.
An optional choice is to wear traditional Egyptian pants (sserual) under the galabiya and overtop a kaftan. The kaftan is a long, coat-like, garment with stripes, from half-silk, cotton, satin, brocade, or the like. It has long, wide sleeves, in front with a sash known as a hizan.
In different areas of the country, you can find various other outer garments people wear over the kaftan. For example, the binish, a dark fabric overcoat with wide sleeves and simple cut. There’s also the djubbeh, an overcoat with long sleeves and more intricately designed than the binish. Also, there is the jubbah, a long wide-sleeved overcoat with buttons only halfway down the front. Although the descriptions of each of these sound very similar, each one certainly has its own unique features.
To top all of this off are three main types of headgear Egyptian men traditionally wear. They usually have the purpose of protecting their heads from the hot sun and sand or other adverse weather. It has a skullcap, a tarboosh, and a turban. The skullcap (or taqiyah) is a small, round cotton cap often under a tarboosh – a red, cylindrical, brimless fez-like cap – or turban.
Multi-layered, light and loose clothing is the preference of Egyptian women. Since most of them are Muslims, they tend to cover their entire bodies from head to toe. The traditional female outfit in Egypt is the feminine version of galabiya: the gallebaya. Women wear it with baggy trousers used as an undergarment, several layers of outerwear, a headdress, and shoes.
The gallebaya is an ankle-length robe with long sleeves. The women who live in rural areas wear it as their primary garment. In the cities, however, women only wear gallebaya inside the house or as an undergarment. For outside wear, Egyptian women wear a tob sebleh which is basically a light and loose cotton dress. Additionally, in the big cities of Alexandria and Cairo, women sometimes wear a melaya luf, a large wrap with the purpose of covering up their body, for warmth, and to carry things.
Underneath their robes, women in Egypt wear thin, cotton, baggy pants: the tshalvar or shintijan . These are tied at the ankle.
Female outerwear includes several garments. For example, there is the yelek, a tighter-fitting, longer-sleeved version of the male kaftan. Women always wear it over the gallebaya and tshalvar or shintijan. It has an open neck with buttons down from the bosom to the waist. The hem of the garment has slits on both sides.
Over the yelek, Egyptian women traditionally wear overcoats called binnish or djubbeh. These are similar to the binish and the djubbeh that men traditionally wear. However, the ladies’ versions are more delicate and feature a more feminine design.
The headdresses worn by Egyptian women are more diverse than those worn by the Egyptian men; however, for the most part they wear different variety of veils: a hijab, a niqab, a burqa. A hijab is a scarf that comes in many styles and colors and covers the head and neck but leaves the face visible. The niqab is a veil that covers the face, leaving only the area around the eyes open and is worn with an accompanying headscarf. The burqa, the most concealing of all Islamic veils, covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen to see through. A beautiful, delicately lacy veil that differs from all of the other headdresses is called a mandil, a rectangular, sometimes extremely long, veil that covers the lower part of a female face.
As you can see, Egypt has come a long way from the times of King Tutankhamen’s wrap-around kilts. Today, Egypt is even adopting styles of the West as part of their ever-changing fashion traditions, and it will be interesting to see how these traditions have adapted and changed in the next thousand or so years.
Did you like this article on Egyptian clothing? Well, if you want to learn more about Arab culture or even learn to speak Arabic in the Egyptian dialect, we’ve got you covered. Recent studies have shown that the best way to learn Arabic is through downloadable Arabic learning apps, so while you’re there, why not download the Kaleela Arabic learning app to your IOS or Android mobile device?