Costume and Dress

“Eat whatever you like, but dress to please others and to show them who you are,” is an Arab saying. This proverb expresses the essence of costumes. Of course, the subject of costume and dress from the WANA region is a subject that could easily fill a complete website and not just one page. The images here for instance, only represent a few of the Egyptian costumes styles, not even those of the entire country.


In general in Egypt, women’s costume consists of a basic dress, an over garment of some kind and a head cover. These three elements are fairly ubiquitous, although the details of the different elements change according to location and what group you belong to. There are some general pointers though: Bedouin populations will wear face veils, while African populations and peoples wear a wrap around body veil or a head scarf. The Berber people from the Maghreb for instance wear a scarf as veil and no burqa or niqab. By using these pointers you can get an initial understanding of costume from the region.

Besides these pratical pointers for understanding costume in the region, there are other - more general - ideas about the subject as well. There are particular forces at work when it comes to costume and dress, as first noted by anthropologists like Koeber, around the turn of the twentieth century. Forces that do not have anything to do with fashion, but rather with the ideas of a people deeply rooted in their culture. The popularity of a particular style of costume can be subject to fluctuations in fashion over a period of decades, but there are also more important, larger movements in a culture that change and shift only over hundreds of years.

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