The Abbasid Caliphate period in Islamic history saw the cultural focus shift from the Arabian Peninsular to Persia, and the rise of the Persian Secretarial class as the fashion trend setters and arbiters of fine taste within the Islamic world. The secretarial class, or Kātib as they were called, were able to draw their preferred fashion from across the Islamic world, and were highly influenced by the older Persian Court dress elements. (Stillman p41)
The Abbassid Caliphate ruled the Muslim East, and North Africa from 750 AD, and claimed universal authority, ruling from the capital of Baghdad in Persia. North Africa was lost to the Fatamids in 969 AD, they lost effective power to the Seljuq and subsequent Turkish Sultanates in 1055 AD and the Abbasid Caliphate eventually fell to the invading Mongols in 1258 AD.(Hourani pp 84-85 & Brett et al p124)
9th Century spotlight – Hārūn al-Rashīd
Hārūn al-Rashīd was the 5th and most celebrated of the Abbasid Caliphs, who ruled from 786 – 809 AD. The details of his reign, and his sumptuous court is forever immortalised in the Tales of 1001 Nights. The lasting legacy he left us for the subject in hand is the detailed inventory of his wardrobe prepared after his death. This inventory formed part of the state assets, and were of immense importance to the finances of the Caliphate.
The inventory records reveal a fascinating and diverse selection of garments that made up a part of a fashionable man’s wardrobe. It lists 4000 embroidered qabā’s, 4000 ridā’s of silk lined with sable, mink and other furs, 10000 qamīses and ghilālas, 10000 khaftāns, 2000 sirwal of different kinds, 4000 imāmas, 1000 hoods, 1000 capes of different kinds, 5000 kerchiefs of different kinds, 1000 special suits of armour, 50000 ordinary suits of armour, 10000 helmets, 4000 pairs of khuff, most lined with sable, mink and other furs, and 4000 pair of jawrab. (Stillman, p43)
A couple of things to note here is that the qabā is specifically differentiated from the khaftan. This leads us to the supposition that the khaftan is most probably not made from brocade materials since we know that qabā’s are specifically identified as being made from brocades, and because of the association with the Persian word cuirass is possibly a front opening quilted coat worn underneath armour, and probably on it’s own as a soldier’s uniform during the 9th Century Abbasid Caliphate. Alternatively, it could be an indication of the style of sleeve and cut of the garment, where the khaftan has a reasonably close fitting sleeve and fits fairly close to the body, and the qabā is more loosely fitted in the sleeve and body. This list also gives a clue to the type of mantle that is described as a ridā. Since the ridā is lined with furs, it is much more probable that it is a cloak variant, than it is to be a wrapper variant, due chiefly to the impractical bulk of using a fur-lined wrapper garment.
10th Century Spotlight – Adīb Abu al-Tayyib Muhammad al-Washashā
Adīb Abu al-Tayyib Muhammad al-Washashā (d 936 AD / 325 AH) devoted several chapters to describing refined tasteful clothing in his book On Elegance and Elegant People.
Several layers were worn by the fashionable man
- Begins with a fine undershirt (ghilāla)
- Over this is worn a heavier lined qamīs
- Both should be of fine linen, either dabīqī (Egyptian manufacture) or jannābī (Fars manufacture).
- Next came a Barajiridi or Alexandrian lined robe (durrā‛a) or a Nishapur jubba of linen, silk or mulham.
- Over the outer garment, when outdoors, would be draped an Adeni rida or a cloak known as mitraf (or mitruf) from Sus which has decorative borders at each end (muhashshāt). The head / turban was covered with a Nishapur taylasān of mulham. The taylasān was probably a cowl.
- Cotton mitrafs, or Armenian manufactured ones of various textiles decorated with figures (al-manqusha al-armaniyya) were also fashionable outerwear.
- Colours shouldn’t clash, and saffron or yellow colours were to be avoided.
- Clothes could be perfumed with powdered musk, rose water solution, ambergris tinctured aloeswood soaked in fermented clove water, royal nadd (compound scent of aloeswood, musk and ambergris) and ‛abir (compound containing saffron).
- Ambergris perfume was used for slave girls, not the fashion plate.
- Shoes included various shoes and sandals
- East African sandals (al-ni‛āl al-zanjiyya)
- Thick shoes from Cambay in India
- Yemeni furry shoes (musha‛‛ara)
- Fine sandals (al-hadhw al-litāf)
- Light checkered shoes (al-mukhattama al-khifāf)
- Hashimi boots (al-khifāf al-hāshimiyya)
- Curved shoes of the Secretarial class (al-maksūra al-kuttābiyya)
- Shoes could be coloured in black / red and yellow / black.
- Boots of red or black leather are also stylish.
- Stockings (jawrab – from the Persian gūrab) of khazz and qazz silk and goats wool was also worn.
- The tikka (sirwal drawstring) was made from the finest silks such as ibrīsim and khazz. They were sometimes given as tokens of affection by a lady to an admirer.
Overview of the style
The key thing for the clothing of this period is layers. The typical arrangement for the fashionable person appears to be an under layer, a middle layer, an outer layer, covered by a mantle when venturing outdoors. There is also some form of head covering, and foot coverings of various types. For the working classes, the arrangement appears to be under layer, outer layer, head covering and mantle.
The under layer for the person of means was the ghilāla, a fine sheer undershirt. The ghilāla was typically linen, and most probably possessed a simple neck opening. We do not know the cut details for a ghilāla, however a basic tunic pattern is most likely, with the length most probably being minimum knee-length for men and full-length for women. Full length in this period being ankle length. (Ahsan p26) The lower half of the body was covered by sirwāl, full length trousers with a tikka (drawstring) at the waist.
The poor and working classes do not appear to have used the ghilāla, and just used the qamīs as the body shirt layer, however it was considered extremely uncouth to not wear sirwāl, tubbān (short trousers), or mi’zar (knee-length wrapped waist cloth) to cover the lower part of the body. (Stillman p51) In contrast to the the more affluent classes, the body shirt was frequently much shorter for the working classes, a typical length being to the knees.
For the fashionable person of means, the qamīs was worn over the ghilāla. It was typically of fine linen, and usually lined. Like the ghilāla it is assumed to be a body shirt made with a basic tunic cut, and of similar lengths. It is also more usual that the qamīs was full length for men.
The outer layer shows the greatest diversity of styles, being either a robe of some sort (durrā‛a, or khaftān or qabā), or a fine jubba (tunic). Fabrics could be either silk, linen or mulham, with various decorative treatments. One garment specifically identified with the poor or working class was the khirqa, the rough woollen robe, which is also closely associated with the Sufis. Wool is consistently identified as the fabric of the lower classes. The individual period spotlights provide more detail on styles for these garments.
Mantles can be of 2 forms, a cloak variant and a wrapper variant. The cloak variants are the ridā and the mitraf. The wrapper variants are the izār, mulā’a, shamla, kisā’ or milhafa. The first 2 are larger sheet-like mantles, identified with fashionable persons, the last 3 are shorter mantles identified with the working classes. Another working class mantle, typically worn by the Bedouin and the poor was the ‛abā’, a sleeveless square-cut mantle-like coat open in front, usually made from wool. (Stillman p51)
The ghilāla, qamīs and jubba all use a tunic pattern in their construction. Length for these garments could be from knee length to full length. It should be noted that full length should be no longer than the heel.
The ghilāla was most definitely made from very fine linen, due to commonly being noted as so sheer that you can see through it. As a piece of underwear, we can assume it had either a slit neck or simple round neck hole.
The qamīs is typically lined, and also usually made from linen. One of the features of the Abbasid qamīs is the use of a wide sleeve becoming a signifier of a well-dressed affluent man. The sleeves were typically of 3 spans in width, and were frequently used as pockets. (Ashan p37) It also appears that there may be an actual pocket in the sleeve due to the types of items recorded as being kept there. The neck opening could be the same as the ghilāla, but a qamīs with a vertical round collar is recorded as being worn by the Barmakid wazir Ja’far b. Yahyā (767–803 AD).
The jubba is the outer tunic, and is recorded as being made from a variety of materials such as linen, wool, mulham (fabric with silk warp and weft of other yarn type) and silk, including the very finest of fabrics. The jubba appears to be front opening, and it is uncertain regarding whether it used a collar or not.
Robes and Coats
We have 3 general types of robes or coats, the durrā‛a, or qabā or khaftān.
The durrā‛a is the more general term for a robe and specifically seems to refer to a wide ample lined robe slit in front, with wide long sleeves leaving part of the arm uncovered. The ones made in Barajirid or Alexandria being particularly prized during the Abbasid period. Fabrics used for the durrā‛a seem to have included wool, linen, brocades, silk or mulham. There are records indicating they were also embroidered (sometimes heavily) and in some cases embroidered with red gold, as well as being studded with rubies and pearls. The front closure is not readily apparent from images, but the vizier’s ceremonial durrā‛a is noted as having buttons and loops.
The qabā is a robe specifically noted as being made from brocade fabric, and is more close fitting than the durrā‛a, and is specifically noted as being of Persian provenance. With the rise in Persian influence during this period, the qabā may be a descendent of the Sassanian Persian riding coat. It may or may not have buttons, or sometimes has some form of overlap in front. They also sometimes featured embroidery. The qabā is closely associated with ceremonial robes issued as part of an official’s investiture, and is thus more probably worn to indicate status as an official office holder, or royal personage. It was also lined, and is noted as being completely open in front. (Noted in Ashan p41, that if a man tears his qamīs from the neck to the foot it becomes a qabā.) On the whole, the qabā is typically made from expensive fabric and is a high status garment.
The khaftān is another robe associated with a Persian provenance, and is specifically associated with military use, deriving from the Persian word for cuirass. The khaftān is usually noted and being front opening, close fitting and with button closures. Its also frequently identified as being quilted, indicating it’s probable original use as a padded coat to be worn as protection in battle or under mail. Brocade materials as usually noted for the khaftāns issued to high level officials, or when worn as part of the royal wardrobe.
The ridā seems to be an all-purpose term for a cloak work on the shoulders as an outer covering. It’s also noted as being used as head covering by women, or worn over the head for protection against the weather. They were sometimes embroidered and possessed decorative borders, and others are noted as being lined with fur. They were more probably made using a half circle pattern, or the rectangular blanket type.
Mantles are the toga-like garments wrapped around the body as an outer covering, and could be called either izār, mulā’a, shamla, kisā’ or milhafa, the first two being much longer than the last three.
Pants & Leg Coverings
The lower half of the body was always covered by some form such as sirwāl (trousers), tubbān (short trousers), or mi’zar (knee-length wrapped waist cloth). These garments were considered to be underclothes, and was considered to be very uncouth to venture out without wearing them.
What was worn as socks is pure guesswork, due to the lack of actual information. They may have been knitted socks similar to those found in Egypt, or some form of legging.
The imāma or turban cloth is typically made of a fine fabric, and accounts show it was a wide variety of fabric types such as linen, silk or mulham. The turban was always worn over a cap, or around the qalansuwa hat.
The main hat appears to have been the qalansuwa or taller qalansuwa tawila which is described as being shaped like a sugar loaf, or inverted amphora. It consisted of a frame of reed or wood covered by silk or other fabric, or fur in the case of the qalansuwa.
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