The black aghal (head loop) has performed a complete fashion about face. Originally, it was the double loop or rope used to hobble grazing camels. When it was not in use, the bedouin stored it on his head where it became a visible sign of his vocation – a fact which may explain why it was not previously popular among city Arabs. For many years the aghal was always white, it being not considered ‘proper’ to wear a black one, but the black aghal is now accepted dress and is another accessory which can be individualised.
True nonconformists will wear their aghal rakishly tilted over one eye, or it can be pulled well forward towards the eyebrows or perched precariously, crownlike, on the tip of the head. Originally Qatari, but now popular with teenagers and young men Gulfwide is the ‘young fashion’ of an aghal with long cords which hang down the centre back and end in two silk tassels.
The length of Arab dress is normally exactly calculated to the ankle bone although a strongly religious Arab will than one button, and cuffs are kept simple for normal wear or turned back to show a special pair of cufflinks for more formal occasions.
The ‘fashion thobe’ is also practical. It is made with two deep side pockets, often cord or braid-trimmed, and one breast ‘pen pocket’. Thus it is now ‘old-fashioned’ to wear a light satin striped waistcoat over the thobe mainly for the pockets it provides.
A modern thobe may offer limitless variation to the fashion conscious, but the traditional bisht, a voluminous cloak, has remained steadfast. In summer, the bisht is made of light transparent wool either in brown or black. In winter it is made of camel hair, angora or thick wool. Trimmed with gold braid, a bisht is de rigeur for all formal or official occasions and even at the height of summer every Gulf gentleman will keep his bisht neatly folded in his office for use should VIPs drop in.
The wearing of a padded coat, the shorten his skirt following the belief that clothes which brush the ground may carry dirt from the street into the mosque. In a similar vein, the same person will wear only a white halo to keep his ghutra in place. Although adults do not use embroidery on their thobes, it is employed for children. A young boy’s thobe may have embroidered patterns on either shoulder and, instead of buttons, tie at the neck with a tassel, which is placed in the centre in Bahrain, and to the sides in the Emirates and Oman.
The national dress now worn by the Gulf Arabs is a far cry from the legendary fineries of the court of the Queen of Sheba or of the gorgeously clad figures who people the 1,001 Tales of the Arabian Nights, but it is nevertheless a fine link with tradition.
An officially encouraged movement towards the wearing of national dress is now apparent throughout the Gulf States. The thobe is the living symbol of their heritage, the proudest dress they could adopt in keeping with a growing sense of identity, hyperlipidemia symptoms and the individual, unique, position which the Gulf States occupy in the 20th century.