Thobe – Arabic Clothing for Men and Women


When it comes to Arabian dresses for men we visualize them in long, loose full length dresses that look like robes or tunics usually white in color. These ankle length garments with long sleeves are called Thobes. Dishdasha, Kandura or Suriyah are other names used for this dress in different regions of the world. The word Thobe is an Arabic word which means ‘a garment’. It is also spelled as thawb. It is a favorite traditional Arab dress which imparts a unique identity to the men of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf. People in East Africa also dress up in thobes. Thobes are a favourite throughout the Middle East.

Thobes shaped as long tunics can be worn in different lengths – short ones represent modesty whereas long thobes are a symbol of royalty, high social status and prosperity. The favorite fabric used for a thobe is cotton; however, woolen material is also used in cold weather. Thobes are made in polyester, georgette or any lightweight fabric. Thobes made from lighter fabric are considered casual and are usually worn as dresses for everyday use in the comfortable environment of ones home.

Men in Arabian Gulf, Iraq, Jordan and other Muslim countries wear a thobe in their own distinctive style. These full-length garments offer versatility to Muslim men. A thobe or dishdasha can be made from embroidered or printed fabric too. Most popular is some sparkling embroidery around the neck and cuffs. Formal thobes can have sequined details to make the dress look special and formal. A very formal form of a thobe is called “bisht” which is worn by men of status and wealth on very essentially formal occasions such as a wedding, Eid or other important ceremonies. A “bisht” usually is made in Syria, Jordan and Iraq and is a popular dress in these regions.

Thobe styles can be distinguished from their designs and cuts. Men’s head gears worn with thobes also vary from region to region and they indicate style and individuality. Men in Morocco wear shorter sleeves that make their thobe look like an ankle length T-shirt. They call it a gandora. The neckline is also more open and their breast pocket is embroidered. Kuwaiti thobes have a one button collar and are a slim fit. Omanis wear a Mussar as head gear with a dishdasha. Their thobe has no collar and is often colorful. Bahraini Kandura has a soft shirt collar and is loose fitting. It has shirt pockets just like ordinary shirts. Men in Qatar prefer shiny and fine fabric for their thobes. Their dress has a long tassel and a shirt pocket. Men in the UAE do not wear a kandura with a collar but they appreciate some fine embroidery on the sleeves of their dress. Saudis often wear a checkered head gear with a thobe. Their garments are well fitting with a buttoned collar and formal shirt sleeves designed to have cufflinks. Hence Arab men from different regions wear thobes in different styles.

The word thobe does not only refer to men’s wear; it is also used for some similar traditional dress for Palestinian women. Women’s thobe is made of fine georgette, silk or chiffon and is worn in fresh and bright colors. It brings to mind a large flared full length garment which is heavily embroidered at the front and has a billowing back. It is also named as a “Khaleeji dress” and is worn on traditional ceremonies. A thobe, worn by a man or a woman, is considered a distinguishing garment from the Arab world where it either represents comfort, royalty, and status or elegance, taste and style.

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