An Overview of Middle-Eastern Garments in the Middle Ages


Magistra Rosemounde of Mercia

 1)      Egypt: Most of the upper area now known as Egypt including the Sinai peninsula

a)      Roman: 1st cent. B.C.E.—5th cent. C.E.

i)        Simple tunics with no sleeves, wide and boxy, often with bands of trim in two parallel stripes down front and back (clavi)

ii)       Garment like this is extant—probably a male garment, but women’s would have been similar in design

iii)     Footwear: Sandals and slippers, similar to those of the Romans and Byzantines

iv)     Headdresses

(1)   Women wore veils, little else is known

(2)   Men wore round hats, probably of felt, that fit closely to the head

v)      Jewelry: jewelry of the period was in the style of both the Romans and ancient Egyptians. There are rings, necklaces and earrings. The Egyptian style jewelry often featured depictions of gods and goddesses. Polished stones, especially turquoise, lapis lazuli, emeralds, and corals were used.

b)      Coptic: 5th cent.—10th cent.

i)        Men and women wore linen and wool tunics with long straight sleeves. Women’s were long, and men’s mid-calf length.

ii)       Decorations consisted of woven bands of clavi and woven or embroidered segmentae on the fronts and shoulders. (See sketch)

iii)     Footwear: Many soft shoes and sandals have survived from this period.

iv)     Headdresses

(1)   Women wore large veils over round or pillbox type felt hats

(2)   Men wore the same types of hats without the veils

v)      Jewelry

vi)     Cosmetics

c)      Moslem: 6th-15th cents. Garments mostly of linen in a variety of styles

i)        Linen loop piled shirt found extant 6th-7th cent. Fairly fitted with curved seams and unusual gussets in sleeves.

ii)       The Galabiyeh: found both with and without sleeves. The sleeveless garment was wide like the early Roman tunic. Two others were sleeved and cut in the traditional Middle Eastern pattern. (See hand-out) One had embroidered bands over much of the garment. The other had an inscription on one sleeve, may have been early Tiraz.

iii)     Footwear: sandals were often worn indoors and more substantial shoes outside, much like the Roman tradition.

iv)     Headdresses

(1)   Women wore veils over small felt caps

(2)   Men wore either a head cloth held with a piece of trim or a turban, which was introduced early in the period.

(3)   Jewelry


2)      Arab: 600-1500 C.E. After 1500, the Turkish style of clothing was worn.

a)      Men

i)        Basic Garments

(1)   Mid calf length tunic, belted at the waist. The sleeves were long and had several variations: straight, tapering at the wrist, or flaring down at the wrist to form an “angel wing” effect, of varying lengths. (See handout) Pants were generally worn. They were full at the top and taper to the ankle, with large gussets in the crotch.  The top was turned to the outside and stitched down to form a casing for a drawstring.

ii)       Headdresses

(1)   Turban: A narrow strip of fabric (probably 12-16 inches wide) wound round the head over a felt cap, usually a truncated cone. They could be small or large, which was generally dependant on social class. The large ones could take as much as 40 yards of fabric.

(a)    Sometimes the cloth ends would be decorated either with woven in designs, or possibly, embroidery.

(b)   Directions for tying: Place the strip of fabric over the top of the head, leaving 2 feet hanging down one side. Twist it over the ears. Wrap the long end round and round the head and tuck in the end to secure it.

(2)   Head cloth: the head cloth commonly seen today held in place by a kuffiya, probably only dates back to the beginning of the 19th cent. However, plain head cloths were worn, probably over a round felt cap to which it was secured with pins, or by use of a headband of a strip of trim or cloth.

iii)     Tiraz bands: Tiraz bands were bands that were woven, embroidered, or painted and sewed over one or both shoulders. They were most commonly seen on men’s garments, but were used on women’s as well. They had Arabic script that either designated the owner of the garment (in the case of royalty) or, more often, were a religious phrase.

iv)     Footwear: Men wore sandals or slippers indoors, shoes or low boots outside.

v)      Coats

(1)   Abayeh or aba—a rectangle of fabric, folded at the shoulders and sew up the side, leaving a space at the top as armholes. The Masla is a narrower version of the aba that has had sleeves added.

(2)   Syrian Coat—this coat was a Mongol influenced garment. It crosses over in the front and ties under the arms; one tie inside and one tie outside. They were often quilted or padded to add warmth.

b)      Women

i)        Basic Garments: A long tunic or robe over trousers, both cut the same as the men’s garments. Bands of trim were added on sleeves and hems as decoration. Generally the sleeves were close fitting at the wrist.

(1)   Palestinian robes: These had the long angel wing type sleeves in a variety of configurations

ii)       Headdresses: Veils were the most common. They were generally quite long and were pinned to a cap, probably felt, or a kerchief that was worn beneath. The veils often had decorative bands along the face edge. These could be woven in, applied, or embroidered.

iii)     Majestic Thobe: This was an over garment typical of desert dwelling women. It was a boxy shape, somewhat like the aba, but with a narrow part at the bottom. (See hand out) It was worn both long and loose or belted and hiked up. It would also be decorated with bands at the hem and on the sleeves.

iv)     Footwear: Slippers were worn indoors and shoes or low boots outside. In some pictures you can clearly see what is either a low sock or a knitted cuff attached to a shoe as is traditional to this day in some areas of the region.

v)      Jewelry

3)      North African: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Tuarag

a)      The Haik: This was the standard all-purpose garment of this area. It is a large rectangular piece of fabric that is wrapped around the body and held in place with pins and/or a belt. It was worn by both men and women, but men usually used it as an over garment, while women wore it as a basic garment and as an over garment—but not at the same time.

b)      Men: Men’s basic garments were usually full, long tunics with full sleeves, worn belted. Pants were worn beneath, and turbans worn over felt caps were the predominant headdress. The felt caps could be small, or quite tall and fez-like.

c)      Women

i)        Basic garments—When an under garment was worn beneath the haik; it was usually a long narrow robe with close fitting sleeves. Pants were likely worn but cannot be seen in period illustrations.

ii)       Headdresses

(1)   Veils over hats were the typical style. Some of the hats, like the men’s, were quite tall and looked like a tall fez or truncated cone.

(2)   In later periods, the hair was put up elaborately, sometime held in place with a net, with a band of cloth wrapped around it to hold it in place. Sometime the cloth resembled a small turban, but other times it looked more like a headband or the medieval European barbettes.

iii)     Jewelry—Some jewelry can be seen in period illustrations. There are earrings with long dangles of chain with stones at the end, sometimes two dangles per earring. There are also necklaces of links and stoned worn on the upper chest, and bracelets of similar design.

d)      Tuareg: Nomads of southern Algeria. Both sexes wore haiks over very full shirts and full pants that were snug at the ankle with gussets in the crotch. (See hand out)

4)      Persia and Turkey: These areas were strongly influenced by Asian styles and fabrics.

a)      Sasanian Period 3rd—7th cents. C.E.

i)        Men: A knee length tunic with segmentae and clavi, as well as decorative bands or embroidery at the hem over ankle length pants. A cloak, or chlamys, usually with tablions, in the Byzantine style was worn as an over garment.  A soldier would wear a thick coat that came to the knees that had an overlapping flap in the front. This garment was fitted to the body with curved seams. It had long cuffs that could be worn over the hands or turned back. High leather boots with cloth chaps would complete a soldier’s outfit.

ii)       Women: They wore a long tunic over pants, probably cut like the men’s garments

iii)     Tattooing: Both sexes painted and tattooed their faces.

b)      Later periods

i)        The Persian Coat: This garment was worn both by men and women, often in many layers. They were of fine fabrics, generally fully lined. The outer most layer might be lined in fur for warmth. It was similar in pattern and cut to other Middle Eastern garments, except that it was open down the front. Instead of the “keyhole” neckline typical of other areas, these garments had a round neck opening, but buttoned down the front. The sleeves were generally straight, and often cut overly long, so that they dangled well over the hand. The first layer of a well-dressed Persian was the chemise and pants, always white. Fabrics were silk for the upper classes, cottons and linens for below. Often fabrics were brocade, damask, or embroidered. Patterns and colors were used in contrasting combinations; stripes with plaids and brocades for instance.

ii)       The cloud collar: this garment is actually a large piece of gold work embroidery with colored silk accents. that was attached to the out layer of a garment. It was large and quite ornate. It was worn by both sexes and was a status symbol.

iii)     Men—Men wore the Persian coat as described above, but also wore Mongol style coats, usually only as an outer layer. These coats crossed over the body in the front and tie under the arm. They often had short sleeves. They also wore pants, which were full in the leg and tapering to the ankle with crotch gussets. Narrow belts were worn, and slipper type shoes. The most common headdress was the turban, wrapped over a conical hat. Some Mongol style hat were also seen—a dome top with a turned up brim

(1)   16th cent: The fabrics became much stiffer, and decorative frogging was used on the out most layer. The turbans became taller and had a brush of feathers or horsehair that was attached to the hat beneath, sticking out of the top. Belts became more ornate and wider, often with metal ornaments attached.

(2)   Turkey—the Ottomans were a major influence on costume throughout the region, especially in the 16th cent. The main garment was similar to the Persian coat, but with curved seams on the sides. They also had the Mongol style crossover coat. Turbans were very large. Many of the styles were exaggerations of the Persian fashions that influenced them.

(a)    Footwear: Shoes and both low and high boots, some with curled toes were seen. Slippers were worn indoors.

iv)     Women—fashionable women would wear many layers of coats. They unbuttoned and turned under the outer layers at the neck to show off the layers beneath. They would also leave the outer layers unbuttoned at the bottom to show off their linings and the other layers. Narrow belts were common. Pants were worn beneath, usually white, but sometimes with a second layer of pants in a darker color on top for warmth.

(1)   Headdresses: Veils were the typical headdress, and there was a wide variety over time. Sometime a veil would be tied up on the head like a bandana. Others were very sheer and held on with elaborate headbands. Round straw sunhats with pointed crowns are seen in some drawings.

(2)   16th Cent. The veil became small and was worn more as a kerchief, often with a piece of jewelry like a necklace hanging over the forehead. Scarves were used as belts and headdresses. Frogging was used on the outer layer of garb.

(3)   Jewelry—Strings of pearls dangling from the ears or headdress that passes beneath the chin are seen in many illustrations. Persian women also wore forehead ornaments like the “bindi” of India. Tiaras and head ornaments were worn over the veils or kerchiefs and late in the period, without them. Extant examples of cuff and bangle bracelets have been found as well as necklaces with shaped and polished stones. Faceted stones were not seen until out of period except for Royalty.

(4)   Turkey—This is where the concept of “belly dancing pants” started. The women’s trousers were huge rectangles of fabric with ornately decorated cuffs at the bottom. They continued to wear layers of clothes, and like the men’s, ornate frogging was used to fasten the outer most garment. Generally over garments were shorter, to show off the ones beneath, and also often had shorter sleeves. The fabrics were stuff and the silhouette became stylized. 16th cent. Turkey presents the first pictures done in period of women going veiled in public, though the “veils” are really mesh fabric hanging in front of the face that was attached to a hat. The hat styles also became tall and elaborate, although a small felt pillbox type hat with a veil pinned to the back was also seen

(5)   Footwear: Women are most often depicted in slippers, but wore shoes or low boots when traveling or riding.

5)      Cosmetics

a)      Perfumes: The people of the Middle East were is love with perfume. They scented themselves, their animals, their food, the air with incense, and washed the walls and floors of Mosques with rosewater. Mohammad said that the three things he loved best in life were, “women, children, and perfumes.” Most perfumes in period were single note perfumes in an oil base.

i)        Rose: the rose was the most important flower and perfume in the Middle East. Many types of roses were known, but the Damask Rose was by far the most famous. This plant is still available today and has a distinctive very strong rose scent. Roses had religious meaning to the Moslems, as did the violet.

ii)       Egyptian, Arabian, and North African perfumes included frankincense, myrrh, violet, rose, camphor, spikenard, saffron, calamus (sweet flag), aloes, cinnamon, balsam, bitter orange, musk, patchouli, cyprium (from the flower of the henna plant), clove, and myrtle.

iii)     Persian and Turkish perfumes included all of the above plus tulip, hyacinth, jasmine, and orange blossom.

iv)     By the 15th cent. Combination scent perfumes were used extensively, and alcohol based perfumes were becoming more popular.

b)      Beauty treatments

i)        Creams and ointments to soften and lighten the skin as well as those that were supposed to remove wrinkles.

ii)       Scented massage oils

iii)     Balm of Gilead used since the days of ancient Egypt, is cedarwood oil used after bathing to soften the skin

c)      Cosmetics

i)        Kohl eyeliner was used by virtually all Middle Eastern peoples, both men and women. Kohl is made from antimony and charcoal mixed with water and resins.

ii)       Women painted their hands, feet, breasts, and sometimes faces with henna in most Middle Eastern cultures. Many of the design were Indian, especially in Persia, but uniquely Middle Eastern designs were most often seen. The importance of henna in Middle Eastern culture should not be underestimated. Henna was also rubbed on the nails to color them.

iii)     Painting designs on the face in dark blue paint was practiced by men and women in North Africa and the Arabian Desert.

iv)     Rouges (for cheeks and lips) and powders were used by wealthy women of the cities, especially in Persia and Turkey.

d)      Other

i)        Facial tattooing was seen among North African tribes in both sexes, as well as for Arabian desert peoples.

ii)       Scarification may have been practiced by some Middle Eastern peoples.

iii)     Henna was used to dye hair and for men, beards,




Primary Sources

The Miraculous Journey of Mahomet, Miraj Nameh

Persian Poetry, Painting & Patronage, Marianna Shreve Simpson, 1998

Cut my Cote, Dorothy K. Burnham, Royal Ontario Museum

Islamic Textiles, Patricia Baker, 1995

Timur and the Princely Vision, Glen Lowrey & Thomas W. Lentz, 1989

Renaissance of Islam:  Art of the Mamluks, Esin Atil, 1981

Art of the Persian Courts, Abolala Soudavar Rizzoli, 1992

"The Pattern of a Caftan, Said to Have Been Worn by Selim II (1512-20)," Janet Arnold in Costume, 1-2 (1967-68), pp.63-66

"The Clothing of a 14th Century Nubian Bishop," Elizabeth Crowfoot in Studies in Textile History, Veronika Gervers, ed., 1977, pp. 43-51

"Tiraz Fabrics,"  Veronkia Gervers & L. Golombek in Studies in Textile History, Veronika Gervers, ed., 1977, pp. 82 et.seq.

"A Romano-Egyptian Dress of the First Century B.C.," Elizabeth Crowfoot in Textile History, 20 (1989), pp. 123-128

"A Medieval Face Veil from Egypt," Gilian Eastwood in Costume, 17 (1983), pp. 33-38

"Medieval Garments in the Mediterranean World," Veronika Gervers in Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe, N.B. Harte & K.G. Ponting, eds., 1983, pp. 297-315

Coptic Textiles in the Brooklyn Museum, Deborah Thompson, 1971

"Two Children's Galabiyehs from Quseir al-Qadim, Egypt," Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood in Textile History, 18 (1987), pp. 133-142

Persian Painting, Stuart Cary Welch

Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250, Richard Ettinghausen and Oleg Graber

Islamic Art of Patronage: Treasures of Kuwait, Esin Atul, ed., 1990

The Arts of Islam: Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982

Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Richard Ettinghausen, 1972

Arab Painting, Richard Ettinghausen, 1962

Art of the Arab World, Esin Atil, 1975

Women in Islam, Wiebke Walther, 1981

Tissus D'Egypte, Collection Bouvier, 1993

The Book of Silk, Philippa Scott, 1993

Textiles from Medieval Egypt, A.D. 300 – 1300, Thelma K. Thomas, 1990

Decorative Arts of Arabia, Prisse D’Avennes

Art of Islam, Carel J. Du Ry

20,000 Years of Fashion, Francois Boucher, n.d.

Arab Dress, Yedida Stillman, 2000

Early Islamic Textiles, Clive Rogers, ed., 1983



Secondary Sources

Veccelio's Renaissance Costume Book (16th century), Cesare Vecellio, republished 1977

Costume in Antiquity, James Laver, 1963

Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian & Persian Costume, Mary J. Houston, 1920

The Art of Arabian Costume, Heather Colyer Ross, 1981

Oriental Costumes, Max Tilke, 1922

Palestinian Costume, Shelagh Weir, 1989

The World of Islam, Bernard Lewis, ed.

Women's Costume of the Near and Middle East, Jennifer Scarce

The Cut of Bedouin Jewelry, Heather Colyer Ross

How to Make Your Own Moccasins, Sylvia Grainger

Bedouin Jewelry in Saudi Arabia, Heather Colyer Ross

Behind the Veil, Fatima Mernassi

Costume Pattern and Design, Max Tilke, republished 1990

"The Dress of the Shajevan Tribespeople of Iranian Azerbaijan," by by Nancy Lindisfarn-Tapper in Languages of Dress in the Middle-East, Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper & Bruce Ingham, eds., 1997

“An Ode to Woad”; Spin-off, 21(2): 86-92, Bobbie Irwin, 1997

The Art and Craft of Natural Dying, J. N. Liles  ISBN: 0-87049-670-0., 1990

“Saxon Green: An Introduction”;  Spin-off, 21(2): 83-85, Nancy Skinner, 1997

Arabic Proverbs, with Side by Side English Translations, Joseph Hanke, 1998

The Techniques of Tablet Weaving, Peter Collingwood, 1996.

A History of Hand Knitting, Richard Rutt, 1987.

Scents of Time, Edwin Morris, 1999.

The Romantic Story of Scent, John Trueman, 1975.

Perfume Through the Ages, Roy Genders, 1972.

A History of Make-up, Maggie Angeloglou, 1970.

Customs of Mankind, Lillian Eichler, 1925.

Powder and Paint, Neville Williams, 1957.

The Decorated Body, Robert Brain.

The Romance of Perfume, Richard, Le Gallienne.

Class taught by Guiliana Audaci (SCA name) at Known World A&S 1999 in Boise, ID


Roman tunic: 1st cent. B.C.E. –4th cent. C.E. Simple box tunics without sleeves; men’s with clavi. (extant garment)



Coptic tunic: 5th –10th cent. C.E. Bleached linen tabby woven fabric with tapestry woven decorations in purple wool and linen. (extant garment)


Egyptian shirt: 8th—10th cent. C.E. Weft faced green and black woolen tabby edged with brocaded bands. (extant garment)



Egyptian shirt: 6th—7th cent. C.E. Looped pile shirt cut in the Persian fashion. (extant garment)



Galabiyeh: Egyptian 12th—14th cent. Cotton. (Extant garment)


Child’s galabiyeh: Egyptian, Early Mamluk Period (12th--14th cent. C.E.) with embroidered panels. (extant garment)




Child’s galabiyeh: same period as above Note the placement of a written inscription on the sleeve. (extant garment)





Arab Garments


Abayeh (aba)







Arab tunic

Construction and sleeve variations. All illustrations on this page from Giuliana Audaci’s class. You can reach her at

Arab pants


Directions for tying a turban: Place a strip of fabric (12-16 inches wide and several yards long) over the top of your head back to front leaving 2 feet hanging down the back. Twist the fabric at the top of your forehead, then wrap this end around your head once, snugly, but not too tightly. Continue to wrap around the head, then tuck in the end to secure it.

Syrian Coat 

Majestic Thobe 13th cent. Iraqi illustration and reproduced garment.






North Africa

The Haik

16th century illustration of a woman wearing a haik.

How to wrap a haik


Tuareg pants