Oman Traditions of Dress: Where Culture Meets Couture
Oman is a wonderful country. As a tourist, your journeys will lead you across its gorgeous deserts and through its bustling city streets. All the while you’ll see the wonderful Omani people. You will see the women in their embroidered abayas and the men in their long white dishdashas smiling kindly as you drive by. Indeed, you’ll find traditional Omani dress both as intriguing and as beautiful as the people who wear them.
Traditional Attire for Omani Men
While visiting Oman, you’ll no doubt notice most of the men wearing an ankle-length, collarless robe called a dishdasha (or sometimes also called a kandura). The dishdasha comes in a variety of colors including white, black, blue, green and brown. White, cotton dishdashas are traditionally worn in summer and at formal occasions. Dishdashas made of imported Kashmirian wool are worn in the winter time. Omani dishdasha designs occasionally include a decorative tassel (a tarbousha or furakha) at the neckline which was traditionally scented. For formal occasions, the men sometimes also wear a bisht – a beige cloak with an elaborate gold lining.
Wrapped around their waists is a belt called a shal. Along with holding the dishdasha together, also holds the ceremonial dagger (the khanjar). Once with the purpose of weapons, they are now a sign of virility worn by young men showing that they’ve finally reached adulthood. Omani men usually wear them during ceremonies, weddings, and religious holidays.
An additional accessory of the traditional Omani clothes for men is the assa or khaizaran. This is the bamboo cane that’s for shepherding or riding camels and horses or even while dancing traditional Omani dances.
Head covers for Omani men
Topping all of this off is the Omani headgear. This is a wool turban (a mussar ) and a cap (kummah). Typically worn by Omani men at work to protect their heads during summer (and keep warm in winter). Underneath this mussar, Omani men generally wear the kummah cap. Also from Kashmirian wool, it also features intricate embroidery designs known as tanjeem. There are traditionally embroidered by the women of the household, making each cap one-of-a-kind.
However, in rural parts of Oman, some men wear a traditional headband called the mahfif.
Traditional Attire for Omani Women
As Oman is a Muslim country, women often wear attire that will cover them from head to toe; therefore, out of modesty, you will find that many Omani women wore indigo burqas to cover themselves. Why indigo instead of the traditional black worn by women from most other Middle Eastern countries? Well, indigo was prefered because they believed that this color will protect them from evil spirits and bad luck. Additionally, depending on where you’re traveling in the country, you’ll find different styles of burqa. For example, the Al Batinah version followed the style of burqa women wear in the Gulf. While the Al Malik burqa is for Bedouin women.
Omani women usually opt for a long tunic that falls to their ankles (the thobe) and loose-fitting trousers (sirwal ). These are for special occasions and holidays like Eid. However, these weren’t designed to be just beautiful outfits for women to wear. Rather, they had a practical purpose. In ancient times, women could carry spices in a knot of their headscarf and currency in the long pockets of their trousers.
Head covers for Omani women
And speaking of headscarves, most Omani women wear a headdress – the lihaf. This covers their head, neck or their face. However, in modern times it is not necessary for women to cover their faces. Even the Sultan of Oman forbids women who hold public office to cover their faces. Anyway, some of these lihafs are plain while others are beautifully decorated with stunning sequins and elaborate embroidery patterns.
Accessories Omani women wear
Like most women around the world, Omani women also love their accessories. They complete their outfits with beautiful accessories like the silver coins that decorate their foreheads. They also wear a mafrah – a large head ornament with a heart-shaped center. In their ears they wear circular hoops (halq), silver necklaces (manthura) around their necks, beautifully crafted bangles and bracelets on their arms and decorate their palms in delicate patterns with henna.
Finally, in the old days, Omani women traditionally wore wooden platform shoes under their long tunics. However, these days it’s not uncommon for them to wear more modern sandals and flat shoes in place of these.
Attire then and now
In Oman, clothing, colors, and fabrics represented the traditions of Omani tribes. However, nowadays this no longer seems to be the case. What modern Omanis wear today, though keeping with their traditional roots, is for both their visual appeal and practicality, keeping the locals looking good and feeling cool (or warm) at the same time.
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