Black and White


New Kiosks on the ground floor

Last week at the Mall, I took a few mall scenes, trying to surreptitiously capture the locals. Often I find the traditional dress beautiful, but I don’t quite have it in me to ask the black-draped covered women or the men in their crisp whites for close-ups. So I catch them gliding by, peering into phones, waiting in lines.

I really like to people watch and as you can see by the woman looking over the banister, they like to do that too.

Ppl watching

There is some kind of ineffable quality to the traditional dress.

mall walking

Trying to be sneaky

The woman move in this especially elegant way. The way they hold themselves and their designer purses, how they walk with heels poking out of the black silky robes, screams class and sophistication.

The people who live in the area of the Persian Gulf- called here the Arabian Gulf-  typically wear the traditional thwabs and abayas. Thwab is the white male garment, and it has different names in different countries. In the UAE, I have heard it named kandorah or dishdasha most often. It is said that the head dress of the man used to indicate what gulf country he is from, but is now more of a style choice.

GCC is a kind of short hand for the region and way to describe a shared culture of the people.
The countries of the Arabian peninsula are aligned economically through the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC, It includes the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Even though Yemen geographically qualifies it is not part of the GCC. Saudi Arabia makes up 4/5 of the peninsula and includes the ‘Empty Quarter’, ‘Rub’ al Khali’. It is the largest continuous sand desert in the world, and part of the larger Arabian desert.

This satellite image shows the sand dunes in the Empty Quarter:

This is one of the reasons wearing ankle length clothing that covers your arms and legs makes a lot of practical sense. You are protected from the blowing sand and harsh sun.

Now people are not living in the carpeted, nomadic tents of the bedouin tribes they come from.

Men do hunt and dune bash, but the dress is more a source of cultural pride and can be a kind of status symbol. The leading couture designers of the West produce abayas and kandorahs.

Of course the clothing has taken on religious significance and can be very contentious politically.

Here it is just totally normal.


photographs on the sly

I liked the way the line of woman were passing the line of the men in white, with the checkered floor in the back ground.

checkers 2

Saturday shopping

The men and the women have different ways of styling the head scarves. Men have these knitted caps, ghafiyah. It is a Muslim prayer hat, which reminds me of the Jewish one called a kippa. The ghafiya also holds the cloth headscarf in place. The scarf is called guthra and also has a black cord, the egal, that ties everything in place. When they were bedouins, not that long ago, living in the desert, the egal was used to tie up their camel’s feet.

The men’s guthras are typically white or red and white checkered. There are so many ways to wear the guthra, these three pics from the internet are just a small sampling. The top one, ‘cobra style’ is from Stephanie Ravel and her project, “Typology: My ghutra is me” . The second is a press shot about a Omar Borkan Al Gala, an actor who is so handsome, he was kicked out of Saudi Arabia and the third is the Prince of Dubai, Hamdan.

The shayla is the part of the women’s abaya that covers her head and these are also worn in a variety of styles. A large bun is sometimes constructed beneath the shayla to give it more height.

Some younger woman nowadays wear the robe, but leave their hair flowing free.

 Older woman have these bronze pieces that cross their face. It was the traditional style, but I have only seen it on the older woman.

I could never take the photo below, of a woman who covers her whole face, except the eyes, because I wouldn’t have the guts to ask for permission.This is also a common style here and one that makes me much more uncomfortable. Not to say it is wrong. It just makes me personally more uncomfortable. I am also uncomfortable with leggings as pants paired with crop tops, or booty shorts with butt cheeks hanging out. Also high waisted pants. Why are these making a comeback?

A few of these women also wear black gloves to cover their hands. The image below is from a blog titled “Khaleeji Princess”.
Khaleeji is another name for Gulf Arabs. It makes me wonder if that is how George R.R. Martin got the name Khaleesi, for his Dothraki Princess. Khaleesi is currently the number 1 name for newborn girls.
I really have no aversion to the less extreme abayas, where women show their faces, but cover their hair. As stated before, the women look beautiful and elegant in them.
The most extreme version also covers the eyes. These women float through the malls like ghosts
The totally shielded face can be seen on any day here.
Mostly, I was thinking as I walked through the mall, how normal it was for me to see groups of teenagers and families in abayas and kandorahs eating out, drinking coffee, shopping, going to the movies, living their normal lives as normal people.
No big deal, or “NBD”, as Ginger says.
4 floors

4 thoughts on “Black and White

  1. I’ll be trying to do this, too, when I visit Dubai. An attempt at street photography while I wander through the mall on a hot summer day. When I see the fully covered women walking around Eastern Europe, I can’t help but wonder what they think of the Butt Cheek Girls. I’m not a prude, but it’s really such a lack of class (butt cheeks hanging out). As for the women who must cover even the eyes, I’ve run into one or two in Europe. Somehow I find it really offensive. It’s as if they ‘re not supposed to exist in the outside world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It really is interesting how the abaya is so normal to me now and I even find it fashionable. The full eye cover is still very jarring and somehow freaky, to not be able to see the expression in someone’s eyes. They say here that covering the entire face used to just be for royals. A high class thing. I agree that Butt Cheek Girls are not classy and then wonder if I just can’t understand the style of today’s youth! In some ways, being here and still getting news from the U.S about rape culture, school dress code, body image etc., I just start thinking about how the world is all so obsessed with what women wear and women’s bodies. Whether oppressive or skimpy. There is no such attention paid to men. No such obsession or control. You can see the whole spectrum of coverage here.


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