Palestinian Traditional Clothing

Palestine displays a wide range of clothing styles depending on locality, whether the person is a villager or Bedouin or townsperson, their martial status and the time period. Shelagh Weir's "Palestinian Costume" which provides much of this information concentrates on 1918-1948.
Palestine 1926.
Izar ,
Palestine 1926
palestine thobe 1926.
Woman in thobe and
smadeh 1926
Married woman 1926.
Married woman
Bethlehem 1938.
City men
Bethlehem 1938
Bedouin, 1937.
Bedouin man


Village women 1929.
Village women 1929
Generally women traditionally wore either coats over shirts and pants or thobes with a veil - usually hanging loose down their backs.

There are distinct differences in dress between the north and south, and between village women, city women and Bedouin women. Religion also influences clothing as does class.

One constant is that in all regions the body garments were worn with a girdle. However its shape and decoration is specific to an area.

Women - Northern Palestine

Nazarene girl in futton 1929.
Nazarene girl in futton 1929
Initially in the north (around Nazareth & Galilee) the main garment for village women was a front opening brightly coloured coat which could be plain (dura`ah) or ornamented (jillayeh). Later (1950s) this was replaced by a different style of coat - the qumbaz - which had log sleeves and long side slits. These were worn over a long sleeved shirt (qamis) and ankle-length pants (elbas or sirwal). The pants were initially narrow and embroidered on the lower leg. With the uptake of the Turkish qumbaz the looser Turkish style of pants were also adopted.

Bedouin women in the north, by contrast wore a blue or black thobe or shirsh with long tight sleeves and a long neck opening. Decoration includes embroidery along the seams, above the hem and around the neck or four or five horizontal lines embroidered bands above the hem. (This style is similar to villages in Syria and northern Jordon). (More on Bedouin women)


Women - Southern Palestine

Southern village women did not wear coats but rather dresses called thobes or jillayeh. Necklines varied with region and could be round with chest slits, V-necked or scoop necked. Sleeves could be full or tight. Early examples had full skirts but this became tighter over time. Colours could be white or black depending on the region. White underdresses - or later European styled fustans and undecorated, long pants were worn under the dresses.

There is also a tradition of rich trousseau and festive dresses. In addition to embroidery these are embellished by patchwork, appliqué, and trim. The chest panel (qabbeh) is a distinctive feature of Palestinian and Syrian dresses.

Southern Bedouin women wore a similar shaped, but more voluminous, light blue or black dress (thobe) with winged sleeves. These sleeves narrowed by the 1960s. From the 1930s they also included cross stitched embroidery but in a different style to the villagers. The embroidery is usally red for women and blue for unmarried girls. Brightly coloured and patterned dresses (fustan) were worn under the overdresses.

Some of these thobes - especially around Jericho - were more than twice the length of a person and was hitched up to creating three layers and the sleeve used as a veil. Here is a clip of a women wrapping a tob'ob from the 1920s.

Palestinian dress.
Village woman
Christian woman with embroidered dress 1926.
Embroidered festive dress (1926)
Bedouin woman 1926.
Bedouin woman (1926)
bedouin big thobe 1937.
Bedouin big thobes (1937)

Traditional Palestinian Female Headwear

Palestine, 1929.
Woman with hattah and `asbeh
In Northern Palestine most village married women wear scarves (hattah) or trains (zurband) held in place with a headband (`asbeh), Druze women wear white veils only - and the Bedouin women wear dark blue or black veils. In the cities the veils are also black.

In some parts of Palestine, married women and widows wear a tarbush shaped hat covered in coins (shatweh). While to the north they wear a coin covered bonnet (smadeh) and another horseshow shape with more coins (saffeh).

The unmarried village girls wear a bonnet (malas). In some areas when the girls reach marriageable age they switch to a wuqa which is like a simple version of the smadeh - basically a bonnet with a few coins.

While unmarried Bedouin girls wear Hattah like a bag, married women roll it like a headband.

shatweh, Palestine 1926.
Shatweh covered by veil (1926)
smadeh, Palestine 1929.
Smadeh and saffeh (1929)
Palestine, 1926.
Wuqa & khimar (1938)
Beduoins 1937.
Bedouin married and unmarried
women (1937)


The basic garment is the thobe - which is a bit like a long shirt. This is similar to the Egyptian galabia. Before the 1900s it was white or blue - usually to knees - but sometimes to ankles. For working men it was hitched at waist with a leather belt. Only the men of the leisured class wore it loose and flapping. These belts also served a practical purpose and held a range of equipment. The sleeves were tied back with a cord. The sleeves were quite narrow for village men but large and triangular for Bedouins.

After WWI the thobes were replaced by European styled white qamis.

Palestinian man 1926.
Sheik (1929).
Palestinian man 1938.
Bedouins 1923.
Bedouins wearing kufiya -
ghoutra & `iqal. (1923)

Men wore a range of overcoats including

From 1900s men also wore the Turkish qumbaz which had long narrow sleeves. Initially this was only worn in the city. However, as the city men adopted European trousers and jackets, the village men adopted this Turkish coat and baggy sirwal. However Bedouin remained bare legged.

In addition there are a range of traditional jackets (salta), waistcoats (sidriyeh) and long sleeved jackets (mintiyan).

Traditional Palestinian Male Headwear

Fez 1938.
Tarbush istambuli
Palestine, 1926.
Palestine, 1938.

Prior to 1930s village men wore several layers of headwear. First a white cotton skull cap (taqiyeh), then white or grey felt cap (libbadeh or kubb`ah) then soft, rounded tarbush maghribi with a tassel.

Urban men and Ottoman officials wore tarbush istambuli - tall and stiff.

The tarbush was wrapped with a plain white cloth then the laffeh (turban) on top. The turban colour signified such things as the wearer was a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (green), a Samaritan (red), or a Jew (black). But the most common colours were yellow, brown and orange. Older men tended to wear white.

From 1930s village men adopted the Bedouin keffiyeh as a symbol of nationalism. Initially these were white but later black and white or red and white checks became common. After 1967 Arafats's black and white keffiyeh adopted widely.

Bedouins do not wear turbans but rather hattah or keffiyeh. Sometimes with a taqiyeh.

Boys only wore taqiyeh - or in some villages more elaborate caps.

References: Keohane, National, Weir

Also see:
Bedouin Clothing

Return to "Middle Eastern Background" page
Return to

© Copyright 2008
Updated by JEWEL