Did you know that, along with the climate, local population occupations, and other customs and traditions, Palestine can be divided into three geographical areas when it comes to clothing traditions? Well, it’s true.
You’ll find very little embroidery incorporated into the folk dress of the people living in the highland regions because the women there have very little time for sewing as they are busy helping farm the fields; on the other hand, in the cities that make up central Palestine, you find very elaborately embroidered outfits because the women there have much more time for crafting intricate designs into traditional clothing. Finally, you’ll find a centuries old Greek influence in the folk dress of the people of coastal Palestine that has lasted since Alexander the Great conquered the area 332 B.C.
Nevertheless, no matter which region we discuss, nearly every city, town or village has its own pattern, color, embroidery technique, fabric, or tazra. Tazra is the traditional Palestinian embroidery that adds a distinctive Palestinian flair to any dress. And, indeed, we cannot talk about Palestinian clothing without speaking of the influence that Palestine’s rich but complicated history has had on its national costume and clothing traditions. So, let take a closer look and learn more about the fascinating world of Palestinian clothes, shall we?
Going back through recorded history, one of the first traditional Palestinian women’s clothing outfits included a wrap-around cloth, a cloak, a headscarf and a shawl. The wrap-around cloth was of white linen or cotton -the izar. Over time, another garment replaced the izar. Khabara, the replacement, was from silk and it came in many colors. This garment covered the ladies’ shoulders and flared out at the bottom like a skirt. Along with the khabara, women wore a cloak called a malliaia, also from silk in matching colors to the khabara. On top of this, they wore a burnous – a waist-long cloak with a hood.
Later on they adopted thobes – loose-fitting dresses or robes. The basic traditional Palestinian thobe was a long loose garment with long sleeves. The cut, design, and embroidery of which depended on where in Palestine the robe originated. There were several kinds of jackets worn with thobes by Palestinian women. This included the taqsireh, the jubbeh, and the jillayeh, among others. Each had different designs and embellishments that depended on the region they originated in as well.
Additionally they also continued to cover their heads and faces with headscarves and veils at this time. Again, the designs of which depended on where in Palestine they were made. Perhaps the most popular of these, however, was the bushnika, a scarf with a floral pattern. Over the bushnika, women typically wore a silk or wool shawl. Married women also sometimes wore a red, fez-like hat called a tarbush. It was decorated with coins and other accessories. Unmarried women tended to wear a bonnet-like head covering. The bushnika, however, was usually the most popular.
Speaking of coins and other accessories, jewelry played a very important role in Palestinian women’s clothing, especially those made of silver. It included necklaces, chokers, bracelets, anklets, rings, nose rings, and the like. Though some of these were imported from neighboring countries like Egypt and Syria, very skilled Palestinian silversmiths could also make absolutely beautiful works of art from silver. Some pieces were used as just ornamentation while others served to bring good fortune. Several of these adornments incorporated chains and coins; others were wide silver bands. However, in the early 20th century, gold jewelry started showing up at the Palestinian markets. Women broke with tradition, stopped using silver and started to use gold instead. Unfortunately, around the time of the 1948 Palestinian exodus many Palestinian women were forced to sell their family jewels to survive. Today, finding vintage pieces of traditional Palestinian silver jewelry is rare.
Men in Palestine traditionally wore an undergarment, a kaftan, baggy trousers, an outer garment, a belt and a headdress. The Palestinian kaftan was a long robe with a rounded collar. It was tight-fitting at the top but widened a bit towards the bottom.
Underneath his kaftan, the Palestinian man wore a long, white or beige, long-sleeved shirt made of cotton or fine wool known as a qamis. Also worn beneath his kaftan were his long, baggy usually black, dark blue or white trousers known as sirwal or shirwal which were tied at the waist with a cord or rope.
Outerwear for Palestinian men included the jubba – a short garment with long, wide sleeves – or the salta which the same as a jubba, only short-sleeved. Another piece of outerwear clothing was a cloak called an abaya. A festive garment made from fine fabric and available in multiple colors, it was worn over the jubba. The abaya came in basically two styles the most popular being among men being the bisht – a short abaya with long sleeves.
To top all of these outfits off, there were several different headdresses. The most famous of which was probably the kuffiyah – a black and white checkered cloth that was the symbol of Palestine and the simple life found there. It served to protect the wearer’s head and neck from the heat of the sun. In addition to the kuffiyah, headgear such as the tarbush with a piece of silk or cotton cloth wrapped around it called a laffah. The hata – the large square piece of cloth held in place with a thick stiff black chord called the agal, along with traditional taqiyyah (a small cotton skull cap) worn underneath, were other headgear also worn by Palestinian men.
As far as accessories and shoes go, Palestinian men wore fabric and leather belts called hizam and wider belts called lavandi. Palestinian men also generally went barefoot until the middle 1900s, when they started wearing simple red or brown leather shoes.
One final interesting fact about Palestinian men’s clothing is that, although he was not as colorfully dressed as his female counterpart, you could generally tell where a Palestinian man was from, his societal status and his age by what he was wearing.
Some of the unique features about traditional Palestinian traditional clothing that we’ve discussed above continue to this day, especially when it comes to what Palestinian women are wearing. The choice of colors used in an outfit can still tell you where the wearer is from. For example, if you see a woman dressed in a maroon-colored dress, you can guess that she is from Ramallah. If the traditional dress is from linen and silk with lines of green and red adorning it, then you know it’s from Nablus. Likewise, as we mentioned in the introduction, the amount of tatriz can often tell you whether the wearer from the mountain or city.
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