I did have to chuckle while checking the search engine terms people used which led them to this site. Some people were looking for information about Arab dress, especially the “red checkered cloth thing Arabs wear on their head”. So I guessed I should try to answer some of those questions about how Arab men put on those “red checkered cloth things” :)
First of all the red and white ones are called shemagh, while the white ones are called ghutra. The caps that are worn under neath which help to stablize the gutra, are called kufi, taqiyah or tarboush.
young saudi trys on new shemagh for eid
The black ring that holds it all in place is called the igal. However, this type has been in use for maybe the past fifty years, and before that was an igal that was more decorative as seen in pictures of Saudi King ‘Abdul Aziz. Some men do not prefere to wear the igal.
The young men today have different ways of putting the shemagh or gutra on, and each person finds the look that suits him the most, almost like a fashion, and often you can hear them teasing each other, “oh you are cobra style today?” It is important to be neatly pressed and have a crease in the middle. Often the ends are flipped over the back of the head which is what creates the “cobra” look. Here we can see the one side flipped over the back of the head covering the igal.
There is no significance as far as I know if one is wearing the red or the plain white, but rather a personal choice, and sometimes also of location as most from the Gulf countries like UAE seem to wear mainly the white ghutra.
Below I have taken information from the Saudi Embassy site which you will find simple and complete. Enjoy.
Like Japanese who wear Kimono as a traditional costume, Saudi people also have traditional costumes. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia includes a variety of costumes because of its large area. As the Kingdom is consisted of 13 administrative regions, in almost each region there is a special traditional costume which is derived form from its area.
Saudi men wear a full-length, loose garment with long sleeved called thawb. The normal color is white. It is made from cotton or a a polyester mix. However, this color is commonly changed into darker colors such as brown, navy blue, black during the winter. Winter’s thawb are made from wool.
The collar of the thawb comes in different styles. Some come in a rounded shape and others come in a triangular shape. Some of the thawb sleeves have a loose cuffs while others have tight ones. The tight cuffs are open and closed by placing a Kabak ( cuff buttons). Kabak comes in a variety of shapes and can be made of many different materials. Some are made by silver and decorated with diamonds or precious stones. Usually the style of the sleeve’s cuff matches with the style of the collar.
Underneath the thawb, men wear a long or short capacious white pant with sash to draw in waistline known as sirwal. Short sirwals are mainly worn by most of the Saudi Men. Men of the Western Region usually wear long sirwal
Taqiyah or Kufeya
It is a white cotton hat which is worn directly over the hair. Wearing the taqiyah keeps the Ghutrah or Shumagh form slipping off the head. There are different styles of Kufeya, some are perforated and some are knitted. In some countries like Egypt and Sudan, men wear Taqiyah without anything on the top. This kind of Kufeya comes in different colors.
Ghutra is a square shaped cotton fabric. It is folded diagonally to form a triangular shape. When it is worn, Gutrah is also folded from the front. Men wear gutrah on the top of Kufeya. Some men wear ghutra directly over the head without any Taqiya. The typical color of Gutrah is white.
Shumagh is the same as Ghutra. It is folded into a triangular shape and placed on the top of the head. The difference between shumagh and ghutra is that shumagh is embroidered with white and red threads.
On the top of Ghutra or Shumag, doubled black rope-like cord called igal is worn in order to hold ghutra in place. Igal is generally made of tightly woven black goat-hair and sheep’s wool. Igal should not wrap around the forehead as kufeya do.
It is another style of headdress which is worn by Hijazi townsmen (men from the western region). It is a long or large textile which is folded many times around the head.
Bisht or Mishlah
Mishlah is a traditional cloak worn by men on the top of the thawb. It is usually made from cotton or camel/sheep wool. In special occasions like wedding, the groom wears bisht over the thawb. Mishlah comes in many colors like black, brown, gray, and cream color. Bishts are trimmed with beautiful golden embroidery. It comes with a standard or a free size that can be adjusted. When wearing the Mishlah, the right side of the bisht is tucked under the left arm.
Na’al or Madas
Madas is the traditional sandals worn by men. It is made of leather material which may has a variety of patterns. However, European-style shoes are common.
In general, all women have to wear Abaya on the top of there clothes when they go outside. Abaya looks like a black long dress with long sleaves. Saudi women have to cover their hair because of relegious reasons. The traditional Abaya covers the body fro the top of the head until the ankles. The traditional color of Abaya is known to be black. However, nowdays, Abaya became more fasionable and colorful.Some Abayas are embroidered with silver threads, cristals, lace and many other materials. Some Abaya are made form the jeans material, and some of them are totally made from the lace material and lined with a silk material.
Many women cover their faces in front of foreign men and this mainly due to traditions and customs. Women cover their faces with (Burga or Niqab) which is a veil or mask that covers the face except the eyes.
abaya ras or head abaya
Almost in each region in the Kingdom there is a special custom. In the old days, Women used to wear these traditional dresses, but now, not all women wear this kind of costumes everyday. Today’s girls usually wear the western clothes and wear the traditional dresses in some traditional occasions like Ghomra( the night before the wedding night), or in Ramadan occasions when they visit each other and have Iftar (breaking the fast) together.
This is an antique Thawb (gown) (Left) which is made from apurple silk embroidered with Qasab (golden threads). This kind of Thawb is found in Najd, which is the central region of the Kingdom. It is worn by a married woman in important social events.
This dress (Right) is found in the hills of Abha region which is located in the southern region of the Kingdom. It is made of a fabric printed in floral patterns. When working on the land, the women of Abha used to tie their hems around their waists to keep them clean. They also wear a pantalets which is embroidered near the ankles to protect her against the mountain chill. To protect her form the harsh sun, Abha’s woman wear a straw hat on the top of a colorful scarf.
This gown (left) is found in the Sulaym tribe who lives near Al-Madinah. It is an embroidered dress which has a quilted hem to protect against thorny bushes.
(Right) The traditional costumes worn by the town’s women of the Hijaz (western Region) concentrates a great deal of attention on the embellishment of the “Sidaireeya” (under blouse) and “Sirwal” (long pants) as these are designed to be worn only with the sheer Thawb, also known as Kurtah. The traditional headgear of Hijaz women is known as “Mihramah and Mudawwarah”. It is composed of three pieces : the triangular “Shambar”, the rectangular “Mihramah” and the square “Mudawwarah”. On special occasions, elaborate diamond-studded brooches are often set at every top of the “Mihramah and Mudawwarah”.
Found in Al-Jahdaly tribe (Right) which lives between Laith town , on the coast of the Red Sea, and Makkah. This Thawb is made from a local dyed red muslin and imported brown muslin. the gown is lined with rough fabrics salvaged from flour sacks.
This Thawb (Left) is worn by women of Hodhayl tribe in the city of Taif. It is made form patterned muslin. Each pattern has its name and its accompanying headdress.