Cultural Exchange / Study Abroad / Travel / Uncategorized

Omani Culture 101—Lookin’ Dapper

I’m currently writing this post in Word, because our hotel has this fun little deal where they changed the internet access password every 7 days, and each code is for one device only—and I have not yet gotten one to work for me of the three the front desk has given our room so far. Always expect some hassle in the Middle East, good friends. Always.

That aside, as I mentioned previously, I love the different styles seen in Omani (and other Middle Eastern countries) clothing, and thus went a little nutty at Bait Al Zubair museum in the exhibits explaining the different styles of dress, and thought I’d share some knowledge (and pictures when I can find them) with anyone interested in cultural aspects, or learning names of clothing pieces. NOTE: Since this isn’t a boring update about my life and I have an actual point, this is going to be a longer post.

Let’s start with the men’s clothing, shall we? (Edit: Post was ridicu-long, so I’m doing a separate one for women’s clothing.)

Typical getup.

Bread and butter: the Dishdasha ( الدشداشة ).  In Oman and the rest of the khaleej, the man’s basic garment is what looks like a very long shirt—comparable to a nightshirt from back in the day—with long sleeves, and going down to the ankle.  These are typically white, but in Oman I have also seen other neutral colors (the boldest I’ve seen was a navy blue).  From what I was told once by an Australian expat living in Oman, you can change the color of the dishdasha, and depending on the wearer’s origins sometimes there is a little bit of simply embroidery, but at the end of the day one does not adorn it in order to dispel any ideas of being superior to others.  Equality in a nightshirt, kiddos.  All dishdashas that I have seen in Oman (can’t speak for other Gulf countries) have a little tassel hanging from the neckpiece, which is often sprayed with cologne, and I have NEVER seen one without creases that seem to imply that the garment is brand new out of a package—by which I mean everything is incredibly crisp and clean-pressed. Honestly Omani men are so neat and tidy in their dress it’s like walking around with a bunch of guys in the Arab version of a well-tailored suit. It’s AWESOME. (Similar garments, without tassels, are worn in other countries and known as “thobes”.  Never seen any quite as snappy as here though.)

He looks unusually serious and angry for an Omani…

Kuma ( كومة؟ ): There are two main types of headwear worn by Omani’s, and the more popular (and from what I understand, slightly less formal) is a little circular cap called a kuma that just sort of perches on top of the man’s head.  These feature all kinds of geometric patterns and color variations. I brought some of these homes for gifts last time I was in town…  the cool thing about Kumas is that they are somewhat flexible and malleable, and so men are able to stylize them by creasing, flattening, or pushing up the tops in certain directions.  The most popular style I have seen involves pushing up on the top in the front, creating something of a point like a WAY less exaggerated pope-hat.

Stylin’ little head, eh?

MuSarr (Mussar?) ( المصر )—Firstly, pardon that awkward transliteration.  Anyhow, the muSarr is the second head cover used here, sometimes seen daily and sometimes for more formal events.  This holds more resemblance to other Arab countries, at it is essentially a head scarf.  However, unlike the kefiyyah/shmaagh/whatever else you want to call it, the muSarr is not left to drape or hang down in anyway, instead being wrapped neatly around the head to make what I can only describe as a turban, although I hate to use that word because it conjures up stereotypes of Arabs that in general are far from the truth.  Apparently regional styles for tying this are used, and the few Yemenis I have seen in my life do a similar thing but let the corners of the scarves drape down on one side of the face to a little above the shoulder.  These also vary widely in colors and patterns. I have zero idea what makes one more fashionable than the other, if that’s even a thing.

This classy fella even MATCHES!

Hizaaq boy.

Shaal and hizaaq ( الشال و الحزاق )—In Oman, men traditionally used to carry hook-shaped knives called khanjaar, which can be seen on currency, decorations, etc today and are still worn ceremoniously.  In order to hold said knives, given that even with pockets in dishdashas (which I imagine is a modern touch) one does not want to carry them in one’s pocket, men wear a sash called a shaal wrapped several times around the waist with the khanjaar tucked in.  Boys not yet old enough to carry the khanjaar wear a Hizaaq, which is more like a belt. Or at least, it said so in the museum, but I keep finding pictures of boys/older men wearing this belt WITH a khanjaar… (Again, this is traditional/ceremonious, to my knowledge. I have yet to see one in every day life, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong.)

Hogwarts gone Arab?

Bisht ( البشت ) —Another DEFINITELY formal or ceremonial clothing piece (think portraits of royal leaders, etc) the bisht is (typically) a long black, semi-sheer cloak with gold (or sometimes silver) trim.  If you see a man wearing this, something big is going on…or he’s a fairly important fella.

There are, of course, more decorative pieces, but I couldn’t write down everything. One question that came to mind while I was writing this, however, was…pants?  White dishdashas are…well, white, and you can clearly see a very long undershirt worn underneath.  However dishdashas sort of balloon out starting at the waist and go down practically do the ground, so you can’t see where the undershirt stops, nor can you see if there are any pants underneath…I’m sure the internet has answers, or I could be really awkward and just ask someone. I’ll get back to you all on that.

Edit: Found it on this great site that has even more info up than I do!

Hopefully I’ll have the ladies’ dress post up soon!

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