Traditional dress from the Gulf States, and its origins

This is from the latest book by Christopher M. Davidson, After the Sheikhs:

Another prominent mechanism for guarding and preserving the social base of national elites in the Gulf monarchies has been the adoption of a “national dress” code.  There are significant variations across the region, with men and women in Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait wearing several different styles of garments, and with the younger generations in all six Gulf monarchies increasingly wearing western clothes during their leisure time.  For the most part the older generations in all these countries, and most citizens — young and old — in the wealthiest of the Gulf monarchies tend to wear a fairly strict uniform of white thobes or dishdashas (men) or black abayas (women).  Such quotidian sartorial choices allow the observer to differentiate instantly between a citizen and an expatriate, which helps the former to access the aforementioned privileges associated with citizenship and the concomitant elevated social status they bring.  In those monarchies such as Qatar or the UAE where the material rewards of citizenship are the greatest and where the expatriate component of the total resident population is the highest, adherence to the dress code is most prevalent.  As one recent study put it, “it is no mere fashion that leads all Qatar national men to wear their traditional thoh at all times…the emir and his government have perpetuated these neo-traditional myths of authenticity, allowing the creation of a citizen autocracy.”  Certainly it is very important to note that this dress code is primarily a product of the oil era and the rentier state: although sometimes referred to as “traditional dress” or even “Islamic dress” by foreigners, the current national dress code in these Gulf monarchies has few roots in tradition or religion, with early pre-oil photographs from the region demonstrating that the indigenous populations once wore a variety of colours and styles.

As for the book as a whole, I don’t think the author makes a convincing case for his extremely pessimistic forecasts, but still it is an interesting read.


Comments for this post are closed