Iraqi clothing styles

December 2, 2008 at 3:13 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

July 8, 2008

As we drive around we see a bewildering array of clothing styles, just by looking at how a person dresses you can tell a lot about that person without ever talking to them, their religious beliefs, where they are from, and their status in life. I thought I would share these cultural tidbits with you.

This is a picture of a minor Sheikh in Basrah. Sheikh are important tribal leaders and they, in some cases, have more influence over the local population than the national or provincial government. In other words the government could not survive if it does not have the support of the sheikh’s. I can tell that this man is a sheikh because of his traditional dress; the head scarf or yishamagh with the the black cords, agha, holding it in place. The sheikh is also wearing a dishdash, or man dress as the soldiers call it. Finally the thing that sets this man apart as a sheikh is the black cape that he is wearing. I’ve been told that the cape is called an abaya which is also what the woman’s black covering is called as well.

The yishmagh itself can hold several clues about a person. I have been told there are several explanations for the coloring of the yishamagh. First of all I’ve been told that the yishamagh has color, either red or black, because the wearer has been on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and that the color denotes whether he comes from a country that has an elected government or a monarchy. Since you see both colors in Iraq, with an elected government, that is not strictly true, one of the interpreters tells me that in Iraq it is a better indication of where a person is from. Evidently traditionalists from the predominately Shiite south prefer the black checkered pattern and the traditionalists from the predominately Sunni west prefer the red checkered pattern and those from around Baghdad prefer a plain white one. The interpreter also says that in Iraq it is also not a good indicator if the man has been on hajj or not.
This picture is a good example of the mix of western and traditional styles that we see in Iraq. The men on the left are dressed in traditional western style casual wear, khakis and polo shirts while the woman on the left are wearing the traditional black robes and dress with the head scarves. As you can tell from the three women, women’s clothing varies as much in Iraq as it does in the states. In Baghdad it is not unusual to see women wearing traditional western women’s business attire and working at the bank or university or just walking along the streets and shopping. You will also western style clothes on women in Basrah but it typically only around the university district and the business/banking district. I’ve been around the university in Basrah but it seems that I always either forget my camera or it’s our last stop and the batteries on the camera are low, so you’ll have to wait for those types of pictures until later. In these areas it also likely to see women who do wear traditional clothes but they are made from bright colored cloth rather than black. We typically call those women who wear bright colored clothing “Power Rangers” and those who wear the all black robes with the black abaya as “Ninjas”. Like I’ve said before no amount cultural or sensitivity training can keep a soldier from being a soldier.

The women pictured here are probably not from very religiously conservative families. If they were you would see no splash of color, as it is it unusual to see a woman showing as much color as the one with the red handbag in the areas we work in Basrah. You are more likely to see a different colored head scarf or to see the edges of the abaya and dresses embroidered with designs like the woman on the far right.
This the typical school girl uniform across all of Iraq. These girls are probably 10-12 years old and are on their way home from school for the day. Notice that they still wear a head covering but do not wear the all black abaya or robes, just a white shirt and a black jumper dress or skirt. Contrast that with the next picture of the girl holding the little boys hand. This girl is approximately the same age as the school girl but is probably from a poorer more religiously conservative family and likely doesn’t go to school because of her family’s status. Both pictures were taken about the same time of day in neighborhoods close to each other.

The girl wearing the abaya was actually pretty interesting. She came up to me and one of our Marines in a crowd of other children while we were standing guard outside a meeting between the brigade commander, our team chie,f and some local town leaders . I was trying to figure out how the kids were related to each other, or even if they were related using my poor Arabic and their just as poor English when an older male saw the girl talking to us and yelled at her to get away (I didn’t understand the Arabic, but from her reaction and the tone of voice it was apparent that was the message.) Even though she was warned off the girl continued to hang around the edge of the crowd and when I took this picture I think she was actually flirting with the young Iraqi soldiers in the HMMWV in front of us, albeit from a safe distance. I tried to offer her and her brother some bottled water and some granola bars I had but she wouldn’t come any closer than in the picture and I didn’t want to call any more attention to her by throwing them to her, so her and her brother never got the goodies I was trying to give them.
As you can see there is no special dress for the young kids. The boys typically wear soccer themed shirts and the girls wear dresses. Very young girls will also wear head scarves but those are typically very bright colors like purple and I’ve even seen neon green, or in animal prints like tiger stripe or leopard spots.
You’ve seen plenty of pictures of Iraqi soldiers with the differing types of uniforms that they wear (woodland camouflage, DCU pattern camouflage, desert “chocolate chip” camouflage, and tan nomex jumpsuits). Well here is a picture of an Iraqi police man. The Iraqi Police are much better than the Iraqi Army about only having one uniform. Your typical patrol policemen wears an outfit that looks like this or a blue digital pattern camouflage that is starting to replace this uniform. Traffic police wear navy slacks and a white shirt. They’ve even got some motorcycle cops that dress like the Traffic police but with a motorcycle helmet. I’m still trying to get a picture of them.
Well that is a look at the different clothing styles of Iraq. I hope everyone enjoyed the lesson.

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1 Comment »

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  1. Thank you. I found you through google images and it was just what I needed. I am in a project to send clothes to an orphanage in Northern Iraq but wasn’t quite sure what to send – the kids are under 10 so you gave me some good ideas :-) Thank you.


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