To the naked eye, the national dress of Oman seems rather regimented and void of individuality. Men wear a long flowing robe – which is almost always white – known as a dishdash. The women wear similarly long robes that flow even more than the male version. These are commonly called thawb or dishdasha, and almost all of the time, are black. At first glance, I found it all rather bland and unimpressive. It felt as though everyone were wearing a uniform. However, after a few weeks in Oman, I began to notice that, even with such strict and regimented dress codes, there was actually plenty of individuality on show … you just had to look that little bit closer.
Let’s start with the men. The vast majority of their individuality is expressed in their choice of head-dress. There are two options for any suave Omani gent. The first is the more traditional and uniquely Omani, the muzzhar. This is a square piece of fabric that wraps around the head. In simplistic terms, it might be best to describe it as being similar to a turban, but smaller and fastened far more loosely around the head. This item is specific to Oman – it is not commonly worn in other gulf countries – and is a requirement for formal occasions and official photos. All Omanis wear one for their passport and driving license pictures. The muzzhar is possibly the most striking garment in Oman. It creates a very wild, nomadic feel that adds to the country’s impression of being remote and wind-swept.
The other option for Omani men is the kummah. This is an intricately embroidered skull cap. This option is considered a little more modern as it is sported in other gulf states and around the Arab world. It is also seen as a less formal option and is more popular amongst Omani youth. Whilst the cap lacks the wild splendor of the kummah, the patterns embroidered upon it can be rich and delicate.
Omani men also take great pride in their dishdashes. Whilst the dishdash is invariably white and never differs in shape, there is room for the personal touch. This took me a while to really see, as it is only when you get close that you can see the difference in the different outfits. The first item to consider is the embroidery around the cuffs and collar. It is very popular to have a dishdash hand-made by a tailor. And, the quality of the tailoring is best seen in the intricate patterns stitched into the collar and the cuffs. The more twists and turns taken by the needle and the more detailed each stitch, the better it is considered. Some businessmen have even gone as far as to incorporate a little western fashion into their traditional garb. A colleague of mine has had the sleeves of his dishdash finished with a French cuff so as to allow him to wear cufflinks to the office.
The women also show their individuality with a few chic touches to their outfits. Again the collars and cuffs are the major focal point for the thawb. Whereas the embroidery on the male outfits tends to be solely in white, for the women a little splash of color is perfectly fine. Therefore, you lots of bright additions around the wrists – pink and sky blue are both very popular. As pretty as many of these designs can be, the most impressive aspect is the coordination. Many younger Omani women like to match their sleeves with both their head-dress (Waqaya) and their handbags or purses. It is quite common to see pink stitching around the sleeves of the thawb combined with a pink waqaya and a pink purse.
I always find the Omani dress very interesting to see. From a distance, everything seems the same. There are few specks of individuality. However, the closer you get the more interesting it becomes.