Thobes, also known as thawbs, dishdasha and kandura, are quite the interesting piece of men’s wear. The whole history of the thobe is rather vague and unspecified. In a land that was filled with illiterate citizens, it’s fair to assume there was no record of how the thobe became the national dress for Arabs over such a long period of time. Today, the long form men’s robe has so much meaning and underlying symbolism behind it, that it becomes hard to define the thobe as simply a fashion piece. There are many intricate details of how the thobe influences society in the regions where it is worn. There are also specific reasons why it is worn everyday. The thobe is one of the only cultural garbs that has not been replaced by the western suit and tie, we will explain why. You may also be wondering why the thobe is worn around the world and not just in Arabian countries. There are so many interesting facets to the Islamic religious wear and the thobe, which we will go into detail.
Origin of Arabian Clothing: Where Did The Thobe Come From?
The thobe is just a modern form of the thobe that has been worn for millenia. Depictions of early men, in times before the birth of Jesus, show the man’s robe and undergarments which are loosely flowing and extend to the knees and below. This form of attire has existed for ages, due to its comfort, protection from heat and even modesty. Clergymen of Catholic Christians and Sheikhs of Islam both adorn robes which follow the principles of modesty and piety. This attire of the robe cannot be traced to a singular source, rather, the robe is a timeless garb which transcends written history and culture.
The thobe that you see today is not the same as the one worn during the times of tribal Arabia. The kind of material and production tools that are available today allow for us to create the crisp, clean ultrawhite professional thobe which is worn by modern Arabs and Muslims. The robes during the pre-Islamic Arabia would be a light cotton thobe which would be very simple and loosely fit. However, the origin of the modern thobe can be traced to the common men’s wear of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) time. The Thobe, just like the religion of Islam, spread far and wide very quickly. As Arabian traders and Muslims began to expand their business and reach, the people who were influenced by Arabian culture began to wear the robes worn by Arabs. The most prominent example of this would be Ethiopia. During Christian rule of Ethiopia, the king gave asylum to Muslim refugees in Mecca. This began the long standing relationship between Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia. If you visit Ethiopia today, you will see countless people wearing something that looks like a thobe, but you will not be able to distinguish their faith without seeing what symbols they adorn. It is difficult to say whether the Christians influenced Muslim wear or vice versa; nonetheless, the interaction between the two nations shaped cultural wear for the rest of Islamic history.
It is important to remember the thobe or dishdasha is a very loose term, therefore, the article of clothing itself can have many variations. There are several specific styles to the thobe but two major classes or generalized uses for the thobes. One of the types of thobe are casual thobes. These thobes are meant to worn at home, running errands, going to the Masjid on a regular day, visiting your family and so on. These casual thobes are very loose and are made for ease of wear and comfort. You will find these more often worn during the evenings or very early morning. Casual thobes are short sleeve and are often collarless. A great use for these thobes is when you have to work out or play basketball and then pray the next hour; you can just put it over your gym clothes and go to pray. Casual thobes are so comfortable you can wear them at home on a cold day, like a sleeved blanket. The other class of thobe is the formal thobe. These thobe can come in a variety of styles in terms of collars and stitching but they are always long sleeve. The long sleeve simply makes the thobe look more professional. There are a variety of formal long sleeve thobes throughout the Middle East. Each country or region has their own special thobe design.
You might be wondering “Why do men wear a thobe?”. The most simple reason is because it is a good to way to guard your body from extreme heat and intense UV exposure. By wrapping your entire body with white cloth and covering your head with a shemagh, you can easily travel around the hot and dry deserts of Arabia and not be sunburned or heat stroked. Heat is a very prevalent issue in these countries and the clothing has adapted in a way to match the health concerns of the people. Another reason is because the thobe has a religious and pious connotation behind it. It is an attire and style of dress which Muslims have been familiar with for a long time. The thobe has become a symbol of pride to Muslims and so the men who are religiously conscious admire the thobe for its history with muslims. The most unfortunate and somewhat saddening reason for a thobe is the nationalistic mentality of the garb. Many countries have their own variations, as stated earlier, and therefore have a means to identify the nationality of the person without asking them. Someone wearing a Saudi Thobe may be able to distinguish themselves from a Qatari thobe. A tourist or an expatriate can be more readily singled out from a citizen who wears a thobe. Since thobes are common in work, school and social settings, they can be worn everywhere and act as a secondary proof of citizenship or residency. This is not an ideal use of the thobe but it has inadvertently become one of the underlying reasons for wearing a thobe. This is not to say that the people who wear a thobe are somehow bigots or nationalists, but everyone has biases within their own culture and it will take time for humanity as a whole to become more accepting. That being said, if you ever have a chance to visit an Arabian country or a Muslim country, make sure to pack your biggest pants and clothes. You can say Middle Eastern hospitality is the most stressful on your diet. You will never walk around with an empty stomach if you have friends in the Middle East.
Thobes Around Arabia
Saudi thobes are essentially the most traditional and straightforward thobe. The robe simply looks like a button down shirt except that it extends to the ankles. The thobes are also highly sought after for their quality. Another common trait of Saudi thobes are the open cuffs. The sleeves are loose and drape the wrist without any cufflinks or buttons. The thobe is rather plain and therefore more accomodating in day to day activities. Saudi thobe brands are sought after by people all over the world for their comfort and quality.
United Arab Emirates
In the Emirates, the thobe is called by another the name: The Kandoura. The Dubai men’s robe is very similar to the Saudi thobes. The only variations come in the form of material and cuffs. The dubai attire’s cuffs are usually buttoned. This gives the kandoura a much more professional look. These robes are worn daily for work, school, home, social events and more. The collarless variation of the robe has a very low cut V-neck style which is also shortsleeve. These thobes are great for home wear or a quick grocery run. You can see people wear these lounge style thobes everywhere. They also come in very unique prints and patterns while the formal collared robes are usually plain and meant for formal settings.
The iconic omani disdasha is known for the very prominent chest style. The triangle crest of the collarless thobe is a very well known style. It is also very common throughout the world. The modern and fashionable embroidery has carried over well over the years. The thobe is worn with a gutra or shemagh just like the rest of the Middle East. It is such a casual but respectable attire that this disdasha is worn for all causal and formal settings. The Omani thobe is by far the most versatile style in thobes.
The Qatari kandura is also very similar to the Saudi thobe, except that they are bit loser and have more buttons on the placket. However, the Qatari style thobe has a sheen to it. Most likely from the polyester blend used for the material. The cuffs of the kandura are given an empty buttonhole for cuff links. Cufflinks, watches and accessories are a new and interesting trend which has developed recently. This trend has allowed a way for everyone to be unique while wearing a similar outfit.
The Bahrain style kandura is a loose cotton shirt like robe with a similar look to a polo. The collars are not stiff and are very comfortable to wear. The shemagh is also wrapped in a loose and easy flowing butterfly style which allows for free movement unlike some of the other wrapping styles. The style and idea behind Bahrain’s kanduras are ease and comfort. The kanduras are very versatile and are great for traveling as well.
Morrocan thobes are some of the most interesting thobes in the world. They are different from the usual professional white robe. Every thobe has an intricate embroidered design on the plackets or sleeves. The thobe is multicolored and usually has a pattern. The thobes are made of varying materials and color which means everyone can look unique. Not to mention, the thobes are extremely comfortable to wear and great for everyday wear. The hooded morrocan thobes are very fashionable and are worn with a shirt underneath when in a professional setting.