Traditional Clothing in Kuwait & the Gulf
By Dr. Teresa Lesher
The visitor to Kuwait will notice a great variety in clothing, which is home to more than 100 different nationalities. Westerners, Asians, Africans, Indians and Arabs wear the clothing of their choice and furthermore, can easily find in the markets clothing from around the world. Although the lifestyles of many young Kuwaitis are changing due to Western influences, most Kuwaiti men and women wear traditional costumes whose style has changed little over the past 14 centuries.
Kuwaiti Dress for Men
Most Kuwaiti men wear a dishdasha, which is long-sleeved, floor length with a button – down opening to the waist. Light materials in white or ivory are typical in summer, while heavier choices in gray, beige or blue are common in winter. Long or short white cotton pants are worn under the dishdasha. The long side pockets are sufficient for their paraphernalia: mobile phone, wallet, misbaah (prayer beads), and so forth.
The headdress of the Kuwaiti male consists of three parts. First a gahfiya, or a close fitting knit white cap, is worn. It prevents the main cloth, or gutra, from slipping. The gutra is a square piece of cloth that is folded into a triangle and placed so that the ends hang down equally over the shoulders. White is usually worn in summer, and a heavier red and white in winter. It is held in a place by an ogal, a double circlet of twisted black cord. One or both ends of the gutra can also be placed backwards over the egal.
On formal occasions, a man may wear a bisht over his dishdasha, which is a spacious cloak made of gauzy cotton (for summer) or wool (for winter), usually trimmed with gold thread. Men generally do not wear jewelry except for a watch.
Kuwaiti dress for Women
There is much more variety in the Kuwaiti woman’s dress. The traditional Kuwaiti woman wears a long-sleeved, loose, floor length dress or daraa’. On festive occasions, it may be covered with a sheer, sequined or embroidered dress called a thobe. However, for daily outings, the abaya is popular; it is a silky head -to- toe black cloak that covers the traditional daraa’s as well as Western fashion that is gaining popularity. A multitude of styles and colors of headscarves, called hejab, are worn by many Muslim women in Kuwait.
Women of Bedouin origin often adopt a fuller face covering, such as burqa, which is a short black veil that leaves the eyes and forehead exposed, or a bushiya, which is a semi-transparent veil that covers the entire face. Those who do so are fiercely proud of their right to be protected from the gaze of men.
Kuwaiti Dress for Children
Children wear a variety of clothing with ease. One will sometimes see groups of young boys in dishdashas playing football, with the hems pulled upwards, then wrapped and tucked at the waist to free the legs for serious play. Especially in holidays, young boys will wear the Kuwaiti headdress, and young girls will wear bukniks over their colorful daraa’s. A buknik is a headscarf that fits around the face and covers the hair, chest and back. Trimmed with gold and sequins, nowadays it is worn on festive occasions.
Origin in Islam
Traditional Kuwaiti clothing is based on the Islamic principle of modesty, which is enjoined for both men and women. God says: “And tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity. That is purer for them. Indeed, God is acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not display their beauty except that which must appear…”Qur’an (24:30-31)
Muslim women wear whatever they like among family and female friends, but they dress more modestly in public while keeping a graceful and elegant look. The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said that modesty brings nothing but to speech and behavior as well.
Hejab: A Woman’s Perspective
“I wore hejab of my own choice after marriage. Far from feeling oppressed by my simple, draping clothes, I felt truly free for the first time in my life. Free from the eyes that measure, compare and speculate. Free from the discomfort of tight waistbands and high heels. Free from competition, suspicions and jealousy from women. More than that, I was free from the expectations I had of myself to be attractive to anyone who happen to see me. In public, all one sees of me is my hands and my face, representing the skills I have to serve the community and my personality, plain and simple. The hijab has given me a degree of comfort and self-respect I never expected.”