Notes on clothing from Social Life under the Abbasids by M.M Ahsan

The Abbasids ruled from 786 to 902 ce.

A note on the Arabic: Social Life uses a modified form of the transliteration system used in the Encyclopedia of Islam. However, I do not have the special characters (such as t-with-a dot-underneath) available to me, so I simply substituted non-dotted letters on this page. For accurate transliteration of the garment names, I refer you to the original text.

Mantles and wrappers

"...made of silk and richly embroidered, a large piece of cloth, sometimes so large as to enfold the whole body of the wearer. The two borders are embroidered (40).

"Unsewn close-fitting garment wrapped round the waist and legs and extending upwards as far as the navel, and downwards as far as the middle of the leg or beyond (34)."

"Smaller type of izar, generally unsewn, which was wrapped around the waist and covered the legs down to the knees (35)."

A cloak worn over the shoulder, covering the shirt. Might also be used over the head or to take the place of a veil to cover the face (36).

A piece of material worn over the shoulders and hanging down from them like a hood thrown back. Might be long enough to cover head, shoulders and back. Eventually became the special clothing of judges (42).

A kerchief or towel. A small mandil was used as a handkerchief. Also used as a table napkin. The larger one was sometimes wrapped around the head or used as a shopping bag (47).

A blanket or wrapper. Usually made of wool and was used in cold weather. Worn by men and women (44).


A shirt with a round opening for the head, no front opening. Full length (36).

This is a chemise worn next to the body. It is the same term used for the garment worn under a mail shirt. Used by men and women alike. Sometimes described as a very light and transparent garment. Indoor clothing (41).


Loose outer garment with sleeves, slit in front, often made of wool, sometimes of brocade (39).

Often used in place of a durra'a. Long outer garment with open front and long sleeves (40).

A close-fitting coat with sleeves, reaching to mid-calf, open in the front and worn overlapped over the chest. Characteristic dress of the Turks (41).

Although this is sometimes called a robe, it can also be a kind of a wrapper or blanket (44).

"A robe resembling a mantle, short and open in the front, with no sleeves but having two holes for the arms to pass through" (44).

A vest (46).


Trousers or drawers worn next to the bare body under other garments. Used by men and women. Women's sirwal were wide and roomy. A sash called a tikka was wrapped around the body and used to hold the sirwal up (45).

Short drawers covering from the naval to the knees (46).


A leather boot usually covered both the ankle and part of the leg (46).
Sometimes the uppers were so long that the tops were folded down. Some were lined with fur. Knives and handkerchiefs were often kept in the boots (47).
Some boots had laces (48).

Ajzam, Maqthu, al-Saq
Adjectives to describe boots that did not cover the ankle (47).

A sandal with thongs. Usually made of leather, but could have a lining of cloth (48).

Ni'al Sindiyya
A very thick and heavy sandal (48).

A light sandal, used indoors and also carried to the baths (49).

Another kind of light sandal(49).

Socks, worn beneath boots and sandals. Some were long enough that a small book could be kept in the top (50).

A legging used in cold weather. It was always worn with the kuff. These leggings were longer than the kuff and had no foot. They could be made of cloth stuffed with cotton and worn beneath the boot-top to keep the leg warm (50).

Elegant men wore the following kinds of shoes: furred shoes from the Yemen, Kanbati (Cambay, in India) shoes of fine leather, shoes of checked leather. Black shoes can be worn with red laces and yellow shoes with black laces. Their socks are of silk or goat-hair and silk (50,51).


Caps and turbans were worn by men from every class (30).

A skullcap or a short fez. Usually had a turban over it (wrapped around in the case of the fez-shape) (30).

qalansuwa thawiila
A taller cap, perhaps made of silk. It was tapered. Probably was cone shaped, or may have been a truncated cone. Its height was supported by an internal frame work of reeds or wood. Eventually the tall form of qalansuwa was reserved for judges (30,31).

The turban was a length of cloth wrapped around the head, sometimes as far down as the ears or cheeks, with a tail hanging down between the shoulders. The tail was usually the length of 4 fingers. The imama was the "main distinctive dress of a man" (32)

Regional differences in dress

Iraqi dress

One traveler to the region now known as Iraq mentioned that "the people there are fond of sartorial dress (63)."
The Iraqis usually wore a taylasan (a robe with a hood in this instance), a qamis (shirt), and long turbans. Their garments were usually linen and they wore sandals. Their cloaks were usually not round (63).

The Arabian Peninsula
People here wore the izaar (wrapper) without the shirt. Cotton was used for clothing and sandals for shoes (64).


Everybody wore the rida (cloak). They used kuff boots in the winter and sandals in the summer. Their taylasan (cloaks) were not cut in round shapes. People in some villages wore only the kisa (wrapper) without sirwal (trousers) (64).

Dress in Iran

The sultan wore the qaba' and the durra'a; the Iranian durra'a being loose with a wide collar. Tall caps were used under the turbans. Girdles (sashes) around the waist. Boots with shorter tops. The taylasan (shawl), rida (cloak), qamis (shirt), jubba (long robe), "unsplit" kuff (boot) (64). Many of the garments were made of silk (65).

Khurasan, Marv and Nishapur (Central Asia)

People here almost never wore sandals, but wore the kuff (boot) all year round (65).

Specific information on women's dress

The distinguishing characteristic of women's dress was the "variety of color and multiplicity of decoration" (67).

Women would not wear a garment of white linen unless it was "altered from being exclusively the garb of men" by perfuming it or dying it. Wearing white was a man's prerogative (66).

Several specific dresses are mentioned in Social Life. Among them are a "smoke coloured chemise" (possible perfumed?) and silk embroidered with round circles (66).

One of the caliph's wives set a fashion for shoes ornamented with precious stones. Another princess wore a fillet set with jewels (67).

Widows and women with skin disease wore black or indigo colored garments. Dancers and singers wore garments dyed rose, red or green. Well-to-do women never wore a garment that had been dyed a second time, while poorer women would wear multiply dyed garments (67).

The sleeves of the qamis were decorated with tiraz bands and other embroideries . There were specific garments that were sleeveless shirts of various lengths (68).

Specific names for women's headgear

Head-cover (67).

Miqna' or Niqab
A veil. Usually worn when going outside (67).


Apparently a wide band tied around the head and richly embroidered and decked with jacinth (an orange colored gem) and pearls (67).


A band to hold the hair in place, sometimes ornamented and sometimes adorned with tiraz inscriptions (67, 68).

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Last revised June 7th., 2006. Comments to: E. A. Young