Egyptian traditional clothing incorporates a lot of different elements from the different groups of people that influenced their tradition, including Ottoman Turks, Europeans, Nubians, but also from other Middle Eastern countries.
On top of that, Egypt’s national dress does also depend on where in Egypt you are, as some of the different groups of people, like Bedouin and Nubians, will wear different clothing items to Egyptians living in the bigger cities.
- 1. Ancient Egyptian Traditional Clothing
- 2. Egyptian National Dress in More Modern Times
- 3. Egyptian Bedouin Traditional Clothing
Ancient Egyptian Traditional Clothing
When you visit Egypt, you’ll see a lot of the ancient Egyptian traditional clothing depicted in the murals and artwork.
Men wore loincloths or skirts at the time, as well as long shirts tied around the waist. The skirts were made from linen, and were a rectangular piece of cloth folded and tied around the waist.
Women are usually seen to have been wearing dresses that were wrapped around, or close-fitting sheaths.
Both men and women are seen being barefoot or wearing shoes, and shoes in ancient Egypt were made of papyrus and leather. Being barefoot didn’t necessarily mean that you couldn’t afford shoes, and many wealthy people were shown to be barefoot in depictions of the time too.
Both men and women wore jewelry in ancient Egypt. You’ll see pictures of men and women with strings of beads, amulets, and bracelets. The more or bigger the jewelry the better, with amulets playing an especially large role as they were seen to protect the wearer. Make-up was also common in both men and women, eyeliner in particular.
Egyptian National Dress in More Modern Times
Not a lot of the elements of ancient Egyptian clothing have been taken into the more modern traditional Egyptian dress. Under Ottoman Rule, Egyptians wore traditional dress throughout the country, with variations between different tribes and communities. And until today, the gallibaya in particular is an item that you’ll still see both men and women wearing in Egypt.
Egyptian Traditional Men’s Clothing
Today, Egyptian men wear an outfit that includes both a long shirt or robe, also known as a gallibaya, which often comes with trousers underneath, a headdress (usually a turban), and shoes.
The gallibaya has a long-standing tradition in Egypt, worn throughout the country, and is the national dress. This gallibaya is often covered by a kaftan, a longer piece of clothing that acts as a coat and has long sleeves. This kaftan is often made from striped cloth (sometimes silk, or cotton, or even brocade), and provides extra warmth in the cooler evenings or during the colder months.
The gallibaya isn’t only worn in Egypt, as it is a popular item of clothing in neighboring Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea too. It is different from the Arabic thawb in that it has no collar, usually no buttons, and a slightly wider cut as well as wider sleeves. This is because the gallibaya is often worn by farmers meaning it needed to be comfortable and easy to move around in. They often had pockets sown into the gallibaya too, which were used to put tobacco or other items in.
Summer gallibayas are usually white, while thicker fabrics are used to create them for the winter, which are also often darker colors such as grey, dark olive, or blue. In winter you’ll also see men wearing scarves on top of these, usually in darker patterns.
The trousers that men sometimes wear underneath the gallibaya are known as sserual. Depending on the time of year and the region, men can also wear more outer garments on top of the kaftan and the gallibaya. This could include a binish, which is a dark fabric overcoat with wide sleeves, or a djubbeh, which is also an overcoat with long sleeves, but which consists of a more complicated pattern, as there are more different panels of cloth making it wider than the binish. However, all of these overcoats are traditionally relatively wide-fitting.
The headdress that men traditionally wear protects from the sun as well as sand (and the other weather extremities, keeping you warm in winter for example) are very useful depending on where in Egypt you are. There are a few different varieties of headdress — a taqiyah, a tarboosh, or a turban (also known as an ‘emma). A taqiyah is more like a skullcap, often worn under the tarboosh or turban in the winter, while a tarboosh is more like a fez, and a turban is a long piece of fabric which is twisted around the head.
While traditionally a part of the Egyptian national dress for men, allegedly only approximately 5 percent of Cairo’s population wear a turban these days. This number was much higher in the past, partly because the wearing of some kind of headdress was in line with Islamic tradition, which has relaxed somewhat in Egypt.
Egyptian Traditional Women’s Clothing
Egyptian women usually wear clothing that is both layered and loose-fitting. Part of this is connected to their religion (because Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country), and part of this is related to the climate. Women do tend to cover up most of their bodies (as do men, as you’ll have read above), and women also tend to cover their head in accordance with the Islamic faith.
Women in Egypt also traditionally wear the gallibaya, just like men. While women’s gallibaya are slightly different to the men’s versions, they are also a baggy, long shirt, and are worn with baggy trousers, several layers of outer wear depending on the time of year and the region they’re in, and a headdress. The trousers that women wear are known as tshalvar or shintijan, and usually come to the ankle or a little longer in the winter.
In the summer, the women’s gallibaya is made of cotton, while in winter it is usually made of a thicker cotton or alternatively of wool to stay warm. A big difference between men and women’s gallibaya is also in the colors of the fabric used, as women’s gallibaya are generally more colorful, made of brightly designed fabrics and sometimes even embellished. Not everybody will wear the gallibaya in a colorful way though, as many women in Egypt do just wear plain black.
There are also slight differences depending on whether you’re in the city or the countryside as to how the gallibaya is worn by women. Women in the countryside use it as their main garment, while women in the cities tend to wear it as an indoor piece of clothing or as an undergarment, wearing different outerwear pieces on top. Another piece of clothing women in the city often wear on their top half is a tob sebleh, which is a wide, cotton, full-length dress.
Women in Egypt will also traditionally wear some form of a headscarf, with most Egyptian women covering at least half of their hair with the hijab, a Muslim headscarf. This is not mandatory in Egypt, but most Egyptians do decide to cover their hair whenever they are out in public. As there are no laws in Egypt surrounding the hijab, you’ll see a lot of variations on this headdress in Egypt. Some women wear a face veil, while others wear a loose headscarf, or a scarf wrapped only around their hair at the back.
When it comes to jewelry, women often wear a jakid necklace (a longer necklace with six flat discs of gold) or earrings for festivals and weddings.
Traditional Egyptian Bedouin Clothing
Some groups of people wear different clothes in Egypt, for example the Bedouin tribes of the South Sinai Peninsula. These are a group of communities that live in the desert and the rough mountains, with women traditionally grazing sheep and goats, while the men go out to fish. Their clothing reflects this unique lifestyle.
Bedouin women in Egypt traditionally wear black dresses which are often embroidered in colourful cross stitch. Their clothing also reflects their social standing and whether or not they are married. You’ll see women wearing a black cloth around their forehead if they are married.
A Bedouin man in Egypt will wear a gallibaya, similar to the traditional Egyptian wear, but where their clothing differs is that they also wear a kufiyya, a square of cloth worn around the head, which indicates the wearer’s position in the community.
Even Egyptian Bedouin woman’s hair is different from traditional Egyptians, who would usually wear a headscarf, in that a woman’s hair has two plaits which cross at the forehead. Once a woman is married, this hairstyle changes to indicate that she has been married.
Traditional Egyptian Nubian Clothing
Another group of people in Egypt that wear different clothing and have different traditions are the Nubians, who were originally located on the narrow floodplain of the Nile (between southern Egypt and northern Sudan) and had to move after the Aswan Dam was built, which flooded their land.
Most of the Nubian people were moved onto Egyptian soil (50,000 of them) in the 1960s and 1970s, and while they now have Egyptian citizenship, they are different from Egyptians in their identity, language, and their cultural history. Their clothing also reflects this, as the Nubian men wear white robes and turbans, or light linen wrap-around skirts, while the women wear black long dresses on top of more colorful garments worn underneath.
What to Wear When you Visit Egypt
While you’re not expected to wear traditional Egyptian clothing on your visit to Egypt, you do need to keep in mind that you’ll need to dress somewhat conservatively and for the hot weather. Women especially need to cover up a little more, and you will draw less attention if you are covering your shoulders and knees.
This is why we recommend longer, loose-fitting trousers and dresses, as well as fabrics like linen and cotton which are best to take the heat. Packing a scarf to cover your head if you’re visiting a mosque is also a good idea.
The evenings can get a little chilly even in the summer, so make sure to bring an extra layer to wrap up with. We also recommend leaving clothing that is very white at home, as the desert dust will gather quickly on it, especially if you’re exploring pyramids and tombs!
Read more about How to Dress Properly in Egypt
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