Kuwait Culture: How the “Bride of the Gulf” Dresses

Gary Greer 4/15/2020
Arabic Grammar

Kuwait as a country is a dichotomy. It is a small emirate that sits in one of the driest and most inhospitable deserts in the world. Yet, its coastline on Kuwait Bay has one of the deepest harbors in the Persian Gulf. In Kuwait City, you’ll find both Western liberalism and Islamic culture. You’ll see high-rise buildings and luxurious hotels next to stunning mosques and majestic palaces. Kuwait is, in fact, a fascinating country with much celebrated architecture and a superb culinary tradition. It is inhabited by warm, welcoming people. The fact that it may seem to be a little less extravagant than its neighbors means it can feel like a haven for traditional Arab culture. Indeed, the culture and traditions of Kuwait are an amalgam of Western and Arab. The mix of traditional and modern shows in the clothing the people.

National Dress Code

Kuwait has no compulsory dress code, Islamic or otherwise, for men or women nor for nationals or expats.  Generally, you’ll see Kuwaiti men wearing their traditional thobe. Women will wear their traditional abaya.

What Kuwaiti Men Wear

Throughout the country, you’ll generally find men wearing the Kuwaiti dishdasha, also known as a thobe. The thobe is a cotton, ankle-length tunic that comes in many colors. However, you’ll find that most men in Kuwait prefer to wear white as it reflects the hot Kuwaiti sun better. There are also many types of thobes, for business or everyday use. For special occasions, an outer cloak called a bisht is usually worn over the thobe.

The Kuwaiti male, much like the males in his neighboring countries typically wears headdress consisting of three parts. The first is a close fitting cap that keeps the main cloth, or gutra, from slipping called a gahfiya. The gutra is a square piece of cloth that folds into a triangle, the ends hang down over the shoulders equally. In summer it is usually white while in winter a heavier red and white checkered pattern is worn. All of this is held in a place by an agal, a double circlet of twisted black cord. 

How Kuwaiti Ladies Dress

As mentioned before there are no Kuwait rules for ladies or gentlemen regarding what they should wear; however, you’ll find a woman who follows Kuwait traditions usually wears a long-sleeved, loose, floor length dress or daraa’.  For celebratory occasions, the daraa’ may be covered with a sheer, sequined or embroidered dress called a thobe.  However, the abaya – a silky, head-to-toe, black cloak that covers the traditional daraa or the increasingly popular Western fashion that women are wearing underneath.

The traditional hijabs headscarves come in a variety of patterns and colors. However, Bedouin women who live in more rural areas might opt to wear the burqa. This covers the lower part of the face from the nose down. You might see the bushiya – a somewhat transparent black veil that covers the entire face.

Kuwaiti Dress for Children

Boys and girls wear a variety of clothing in Kuwait. You’ll often see boys wearing dishdasha like their fathers and uncles. On special occasions and holidays, you’ll see young Kuwaiti boys wearing headdresses, too. All the while young Kuwaiti girls wear colorful bukniks – a headscarf trimmed with gold and sequins that fits around the face and covers the hair, chest and back.

If You Go…

Although Kuwait is often seen as a conservative country, the rules are not far too different from other Muslim countries. Just keep your knees and shoulders covered and you should be fine in Kuwait. For modesty, but more for comfort given Kuwait’s notoriously hot weather, ladies should wear loose-fitting outfits made from materials like cotton and linen. If you are wearing tight dresses, short skirts or tank tops, nothing will really happen. Maybe you’ll just attract a lot of unwanted attention. However, keep in mind that a little bit of respect for local customs goes a long way in having a great time in Kuwait.

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