Monday, May 16, 2011

Clothing in Morocco

Are you gonna have to wear a burka? Are you gonna have to wear a head scarf? Do they wear normal clothes there like jeans? What are you gonna do when it gets hot?

These are all questions I received before coming to Morocco along with questions about the actual location of Morocco and general safety. Just to clear the air once and for all, the answer to the first two questions is no and no. There are only a very few Middle Eastern countries that require the wearing of the hijab or the burka. The two main examples are Saudi Arabia(burka/abaya) and Iran(hijab).

I know I was entirely ignorant of the many different styles of veiling before I came to Morocco. I thought there were two kinds; a full head to toe burka with a mesh screen over the eyes and just the head scarf. I was wrong, way wrong.

First, there is the khimar. A khimar is a long head scarf that wraps around the head, covers the neck, shoulders, and chest to just above the waist, but leaves the face uncovered. Khimar is also one of the two words used in the Quran to describe the practice of veiling by the Prophet Mohammed's wives, the word literally means to cover something, there is much debate about what the Quran is referring to when this word is used. Some say it is the literal covering or veiling of women, others say it is a metaphor.

The chador is a large semi circle piece of fabric that is thrown over top a woman's clothing. It is worn over the head and it drops down to her feet. There are no ties, buttons, or arm holes so the woman must hold it closed the entire time while wearing it. Traditionally, this would be accompanied by a long white face veil that was tied over the nose and mouth and would go down to the waist. This style, without the face veil, is most popular in Iran.

Two Meknessi women wearing the Hijab

The al-amira style is a two piece set. The first piece is a very tight fitting under scarf.The second is a scarf that already has the head hole sewn in and it is slipped over the under scarf. Because the under scarf is tight fitting and the over scarf is sewn together, this model is the easiest to slip on and keep on. It requires very little adjusting through out the day.

The shayla is your basic Hollywood style head scarf. The ends are either left loose down the back or if it is a shorter scarf they are tied. In the US, this would be called the Grace Kelly style. Some people do not believe this counts as veiling because the hair is still visible and they refer to this as the non-Muslim hijab. I can somewhat attest to this, as this is my favorite style and I have worn it many times and plan to continue this in the United States. It makes me feel all "old Hollywood glamour." But I have also seen many Muslim women wear this style, because the verses in the Quran are very vague, they have been interpreted many ways and it comes down to each woman's (or husband's, father's, brother's) interpretation of the text.

The woman in the middle is wearing a Moroccan Djellaba
The niqab and the burka are the most controversial of the styles and are wrongly assumed to be the most common style by people in Europe and the United States. There is some debate about what style a niqab actually is, but from what I have seen it most often refers to a style very similar to the khimar. The difference is in the length and in the face. The niqab goes all the way to the thigh or even to the knees and a long voluminous skirt or dress is worn underneath. The niqab also has a face veil that is tied, or has an elastic band, underneath and covers the nose and mouth. "Half-niqab" is a term used to describe just the face veil which can be worn separately with a regular head scarf.

The burka is the full lentgh cloak that covers the body from head to toe and has a mesh screen over the eyes. The term burka is sometimes used to refer to just the eye screen and face scarf, as this can be worn separately with a niqab or other covering. The full cloak with the eye covering is also referred to as an abaya. Abayas are the dress code in Saudi Arabia.

The hijab is the most common style. It wraps around the head and tucks up under the chin, covering the head, neck, and chest. Girls wear this style with everything; sweatshirts, sweaters, traditional garments, modern styles, everything.

Two girls wearing hijabs that match their modern outfits
Women in Morocco wear a mixture of modern and traditional clothing. Most do not wear the full burka, niqab, or chador. Some do, but its mostly older, rural, underprivileged or uneducated women. There is no legal mandate for women in Morocco to veil or to not veil, but there are many social implications. A woman who veils is seen as traditional, modest, marriage material, and religious. She is also old-fashioned and less likely to get a job. Women who do not veil are modern, empowered, and more likely to get hired for a job. They are also considered to be sexually promiscuous, not suitable for marriage, and have no morals. All these things impact a girl's decision to veil or to not veil, as well as her family and her own religious views. While there is no legal enforcement of veiling, often women still do not have a choice because of social and familial pressures.

Tiffany and Alyssa in takshitas for the Amerocco fashion show
The traditional Moroccan clothing is beautiful. The two main styles for women are djellabas and caftans. The djellaba is a long cloak with a hood. It usually has decorative buttons down the front, but doesn't have to. A caftan is similar to a djellaba, the main difference being that it does not have a hood. Caftans and djellabas come in every possible color and pattern combinations you could think of. Most women have two djellabas that they wear over their regular clothes. It acts as a quick modesty fix when you need to run out to the grocery store or anywhere else. Caftans come in many styles and there is a recent trend in designers to make modern versions of the caftan. One version of the caftan, called a takshita, is what women wear to weddings and other big celebrations. A takshita usually has two layers, a wide belt, and maybe a pair of pants, all very ornate and beautiful.

Hannah, in her takshita for her host-brother's wedding
Clothing styles for men also vary from traditional to modern, but from my experience, the differences seem to come with age. The trend for young guys seems to be jeans, a t-shirt, and a fake leather jacket. Middle aged men wear nice suits, or slacks with a button down. Older men wear the traditional men's djellaba which is long and white or cream with vertical stripes.

P.S. my apologies, the original post was much better, blogger has some issues and somehow the post got deleted. 


  1. OMG ! How could you ???
    Taking pictures with no permission ?? and publishing them ?!!!
    Oh what a shaame --'

  2. I must say I am currently in Morocco and I have had such a weird interest into the clothing and styles. I found your blog helpful. Many Thanks xx

  3. oh my god so amazing and pretty- so so nice...

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