Medieval Islamic Clothing

Juli 15, 2008 amitamit

When speaking of ‘fashion photography’, we usually refer to a very specific branch of this profession, the kind normally associated with glossy’s and fashion shows. We tend to automatically block out all the other kinds of ‘fashion’ that gets photographed for (mostly) commercial purposes: religious apparel, all kinds of uniforms, ceremonial dresses, judicial robes, expedition clothing, astronaut’s outfits, etc. etc. Thanks to the internet we now have access to these ‘other’ kinds of fashion, so why not take a look at what’s out there? is a good place to start and that is where I found the link to, with tons of references where to buy Amish, Mennonite, Latter Day Saints, Islamic, Jewish, Ethnic African, Indian, Middle Eastern and even organic & fair trade style modest clothing and accessories. Most sites will offer photo’s of what’s on sale as well, which is what interested us in the first place. Noteworthy in terms of photography was the section Trendy Islamic Clothing, apparently a fast growing market, in which I found this…

(available from and

… and this image, a distant echo of Rineke Dijkstra iconographic bather’s series:

(available at

Queendom Hijabs, specialising in hijabs for the sporty Canadian muslima’s, even offers an flashy green eco hijab partly made from organic soy. – But don’t forget the other sections as well, or you’ll miss last year’s Vogue magazine debut of Plainly Dressed, a company “specializing in traditional Amish, Mennonite, Plain & Other Conservative Clothing Styles & Headcoverings”, or the many and varied ways in which companies avoid showing the faces of people modelling the clothes or even doing away with live models alltogether.

(Note: Mrs. Deane in no way connected to any of the companies which are only are mentioned by way of reference and examplification.)

Medieval Islamic Clothing


Because the Islamic Empire occupied mostly hot places, people living in the Islamic Empire mostly dressed to protect themselves from the sun. They didn’t have any sunscreen then, so the best way to keep from getting sunburns was to keep all your skin covered with cloth as much as possible. At the same time, people also believed that God wanted them to be covered up, especially women, so that men would not see their bodies. People said that women would be safer if their bodies were hidden under layers of cloth.

Islamic lady


So women in the Islamic Empire wore long, loose tunics, like T-shirts that reached down to your knees, usually made of linen or cotton, and sometimes made of silk. Women also wore loose pants under their tunics. And over their tunics, they wore veils, made of one large piece of cotton, linen, or silk cloth, which they wrapped around them however was most convenient. But if they were out in a crowd, or wanted to seem especially modest, they pulled the veil across their face so no-one could see them. The veil was actually very useful not only for modesty and for keeping the sun off your head, but also for a lot of other purposes: you always had a handkerchief available, or you could use your veil as a baby sling, or a picnic tablecloth, or a bandage, or a little tent, or a light blanket.

Persian miniature from Herat (1400’s AD)
Islamic men generally dressed a lot the same as women. They also wore tunics, sometimes long but generally only to their knees, and they also sometimes wore loose pants under their tunics. Over the top they had a

large piece of cloth, like the veil, but men would call it a cloak. It could be used to keep off the sun or the rain, to keep you warm if it was cold in the desert at night, or as a blanket or a tablecloth, or as a backpack, or to hide your face if you didn’t want people to know who you were. Or even as a baby sling sometimes. Often men also wore another, smaller piece of cloth wrapped around their heads like a turban, to keep off the sun. There were a lot of different ways to wind a turban, and each one showed something about who you were and what group of people you belonged to.

It was in the Islamic period that silk first became a common fabric in Western Asia. During the Roman and Sassanian Empires, only the Chinese knew how to make silk cloth, and if you wanted to wear silk clothes you had to get a trader to bring them all the way from China. So they were very expensive. About 650 AD, however, people in West Asia started a local silk industry. Soon silk became much cheaper, and so more people wore it. And the traders of the Islamic empire did good business selling the silk clothes to the people of France, England, Italy and Germany, where mulberry trees would not grow because it was too cold.

Cotton, also, first came to West Asia from India during the Islamic Empire. And, like silk, for a long time cotton was not produced in Europe, and instead the Arabs sold cotton cloth to Europeans.

Medieval European clothing
Indian clothing
Islamic food
Main Islam page
Main clothing page


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