For many, the native dress of Arab peoples is odd if not absurd to their modern sense of styles. Somehow they tend to see this as proof of backwardness of Arab society. However, such thinking is in itself very flawed and narrow. If we can see other cultures such as Japanese, Pakistani, or places in Russia, South America, and where culture still plays a strong role in families, people can still be seen wearing traditional clothing. The question should be asked why? Often we find that clothing not only fulfills an identity but also practical solutuions.
Palestinians typically wear clothing with traditional cross stitch needle work, which is very intricate and valued. Within Saudi Arabia, women from the Asir region will wear a different type of dress compared to those of the Hijaz. Several of the dresses are interesting and different in design. Many women in Islamic countries increasingly choose to wear the hijab or scarf. And while in places like Saudi Arabia where the face cover is expected of Saudi women, many of the practicing Muslim women choose to do so of their own free will out of a sense of piety. When women go out they typically wear an Abyaya to cover normal clothes like jeans and t-shirts or maybe fancy dresses. This again is to protect the woman’s modesty and high honor in society.
As for the men, most men wear some kind of Thobe, or long white garment similar to a shirt with thin cotton pants underneath. The Thobe is perfectly suited for the hot desert climate of Saudi Arabia. The design allows air flow to cool the body. Additionally most men wear the Ghutra or Smagh which is a square scarf, made of cotton or blends, folded in a triangle and worn over the Tagiyah (a white cap). It is either all white or red and white checked. There is no significance placed on which kind the man wears. The Quran states that a man should be judged by his deeds not on his appearance so the Thobe also expresses equality.
The traditional dress may seem outdated in these ‘modern’ days, however living in this environment will quickly show any person that the long clothing protects the body from the elements and sand, and when caught in an unexpected sand storm the Ghutra protects the face and nose from the harsh elements. One soon learns to see the Thobe as an elegant form of clothing, and hey, try to keep them sparkling white day after day as they do!