The history of Iraqi fashion is incredibly diverse. This is due to the different cultures and influences since Iraq became an independent state in the late 1950s. Back then, most men and women in the country wore Western clothing. This was done to show their independent progressive stance both in the Arab culture world and around the globe, as well. However, within the last two decades, there have been groups of Islamic religious insurgents that attempted to dictate what clothing Iraqis, and especially Iraqi women, should wear. As a result, women who did not wear Iraqi fashion traditional clothing including the abaya or the hijab received death threats and unwanted negative attention from members of these groups.
Most women, however, still wear Western-style clothing. You can see this is especially in the bigger cities of Erbil, Baghdad, and Basra. Even conservative Iraqi women who wear the abaya and hijab outside of the home wear jeans, t-shirts, and other Western or Iraqi fashion when out the public eye of unrelated male relatives and in the comfort of their home with their friends and family members.
Of course, Iraqi men are also in the know about what’s fashionable. Most recently, tattoos have become a popular trend – something you would have never seen during the mid-90s. Men’s fashion is also between traditional and Western-style. The traditional style consists of a long gown (the thawb) and traditional headwear similar to the Palestinian keffiyeh (the shmack). A circular black cord that holds the shmack in on to the head (an aygal).
Nowadays, as the sociopolitical situation in Iraq begins to stabilize, public scrutiny by the “fashion police” has subsided and you’ll see more men wearing jeans. You’ll also see fewer hijabs and more jeans women wear. Even the more conservative women wear Western-style clothing topped off with a headscarf.
The exception to this new liberal trend, however, is the Islamic holidays. During Ramadan, for example, men and women dress more conservatively out of respect for their religion and its celebrated holidays. Women wear abayas and headscarves in public. Actually, they must wear them should they want to enter mosques and attend religious services during Islamic holidays.
Likewise, don’t mistake this liberal shift in attitude for an act of rebellion by the Iraqi people; rather it is much the same as it was nearly a half-century ago, a show of both solidarity and an independent progressive stance by a proud and deserving people.
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