14 September 2011

Middle Eastern Man's Garb: A&S50 Challenge: Material Culture 19 and 20

Black and Green Middle Eastern Man’s Ensemble
A&S 50 Challenge: Material Culture 19 and 20
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Coronation of Vladimir and Petranella

An ensemble for a middle-class man in the Middle East, specifically Cairo, during the Fatimid Caliphate (969-1172). Item 19 is the green tunic with a placket. Item 20 is the black wool tunic and matching pants.

Garments from the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages were generally loosely fitted tunics for both men and women, augmented by unseamed rectangular lengths of fabric. Yedida Stillman refers to this as a Pan-Islamic style of dress because the basic elements were the same across communities, excepting Persia.

figure 1 Extant Mamluk tunic with placket and
embroidered "necklace". Ashmolean 1984.353, detail.
Overtunic: Wool twill in a tropical weight, black; stitched with yellow and white silk-wool yarn. The adornments echo extant tunics, with the embroidered “necklace” as the focal point (see fig. 1). The slit-front neck is finished with black bias-cut linen and black cotton thread. The cut of the garment is, according to excavations in Egypt at Nalqun, the most common type of tunic worn by children and adults. Wide, unfitted sleeves are the norm during this period. The yellow and green tiraz (embroidered armbands) showcase a pseudo-script which bears foliated Kufic risers--almost animal-like in their appearance. Approximately 10-16 hours of sewing (purchased tiraz).

Figure 2 outlined extant tiraz. 10th c Iran. Royal
Ontario Museum. item 2008-9753-24, detail.
Tunic: Linen shot tabby fabric in a medium weight, green; stitched with yellow and white silk-wool yarn. The striking contrast of the stitching against the fabric is similar to extant tunics (see fig. 4). On the right sleeve is a single tiraz, outlined for emphasis, and worked directly onto the fabric (see fig. 2). The cut of the garment was selected to match the overtunic. This garment could also be worn alone over a qumîs (undertunic).  Approximately 10-16 hours of sewing.

Figure 3 Extant Mamluk pants, as they
appear in L.A. Mayer Mamluk Costume.

These two garments are nearly the same size so that they move as one garment when layered. In several illuminations a raised arm reveals a lining or a tunic of a complimentary color (see fig. 5). The illuminated garments also appear to be between knee- and ankle-length. Frequently the trouser ends are exposed at the ankles.

Pants: Wool twill to match the overtunic; silk-wool yarn to match as well. Pants are more difficult to research because they’re considered an intimate garment. I know of one extant pair of pants in colored stripes (see fig. 3), and a few illuminations of colored pants; however, most are illuminated as white (see fig. 5). The pattern is derived from the work of Master Rashid, who based his pattern on extant examples. Approximately 8 hours of sewing.

Figure 4 11th c Coptic tunic, wool with complimentary
colored stitching. Neckline finished with linen band.
Christie's Sale 9723 lot 273, detail.
Would-be Accessories: Completing the ensemble would require a few additional pieces. Over a skullcap, men would wear a turban colored to compliment the rest of the clothing, often with tiraz -embellished ends. A belt or sash would not be out of place around the waist, but is not required. Shoes could be plain thong sandals, “ballet” type slippers (see fig. 5), or soft leather short boots. A rectangular wrap would be expected in any sort of formal setting. Finally, all well-dressed men carried a mandil, or handkerchief. The mandil might be tucked into the belt or the sleeve, or simply carried in the hand.

Notes—color choice: Black is a rare color in the Fatimid period, likely because it was the royal color of a rival Caliphate. It is, though, still recorded as a color used for clothing in Fatimid trousseaux, according to Stillman.

Figure 5 1200's illumination. Note
red lining. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
MS Arabe 5847 fol 4v, detail.

Fiber choice: Wool commodities in the Fatimid period were a distant second to linen, but well ahead of silk and cotton, according to S.D. Goitein in his six-volume tome on Mediterranean culture. Examples of fine woolen fabrics have been excavated from the Naqlun cemetery sites in the last decade.

Adornment: Tiraz (inscribed and adorned textiles) in this period were quite varied. While tiraz originally featured formulaic text, over time the inscriptions became less important and pseudo-script became acceptable. It came to follow that increasingly elaborate decoration became the focus, according to Paula Sanders. Tiraz could be woven, embroidered, or painted on to fabrics. Extant tiraz are housed in museums all over the world; a good selection of images can be found at the website Museums with No Frontiers.

Additional embroidered decoration on these garments were inspired by an extant tunic featured in Marianne Ellis’s affordable photo book Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt (see fig. 1).
Figure 6 Fatimid man. Museo Nazionale de San Matteo, no. 130.

Matching fabrics: Extant records show that matched ensembles were quite popular in the Fatimid period. Called hulla, these could include two to eight garments, some of which would be headwear.  Unfortunately, figural imagery from the Fatimid period doesn’t include illuminations. The readily available illuminated manuscripts, from a later time period, are mostly based on the same secular tale; thus featuring recurring images—all with white trousers. Garments for the lower body are seldom discussed in period writings, and few actual articles have been preserved.

Works Cited

Czaja-Szewczak, B., "Burial Tunics from Naqlun", PAM XIV, Reports 2002 (2003), 177-184.

Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. Ashmolean  Museum/University of Oxford, 2001.

Goitein SD. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Vol. 1. Berlkey and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

Mellor, Charles. "Salwar." http://home.earthlink.net/~lilinah/Rashid/salwar.gif (accessed 10/08/2009).

Sanders, Paula. "Robes of Honor in Fatimid Egypt." in Robes and Honor: The Medieval World of Investiture. Edited by Steward Gordon. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 225-239.

Stillman, Yedida K. "Female Attire of Medieval Egypt: According to the Trousseau Lists and Cognate Material from the Cairo Geniza." Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1972. Chicago: unpublished.


  1. You may be interested in some of the images I've posted at my Siquillyah blog.

  2. http://siquillya.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/the-cappella-palatina-muquarnas/

    I saw that on the Middle Eastern list. Thanks for the info.

  3. Working on a garb project myself. This helps a great deal! Thank you!

  4. Hi there! We met last May at Calontir's Kingdom A&S. We are having a Clothier's seminar here in Calontir in a month and I was wondering if I could direct some people to your blog for Fatimid clothing. I only know Persian but I'm hoping to help people find other Middle Eastern cultures to recreate if Persia doesn't grab them. :)

    Mistress Rahil al-Sirhaan