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The male national dress consists primarily of the Kandura, also known as dishdasha. This is a long white cloak. The color of the garment originates from Bedouin culture, as it is perfect to reflect the sun’s rays. Browns and grays are also worn more in the winter months. It is common for Emirati men to own over 50 Kanduras and to change them throughout the day, in order to keep their look crease-free and fresh.
Men also wear the Guthra, a headscarf. The most common colors are white or white and red checks. The Guthra is also an item originating in Bedouin culture, as it protected men against the sand of the desert. The Guthra can be worn in different ways to indicate status and importance.
Full national dress involves several other items, such as the Agal, the black rope tied around the Guthra. This was originally used by Bedouins to tie their camels’ feet at night when they were traveling. The Ghafiyah is headwear that looks exactly like the Muslim prayer hat but is hardly seen, as it is worn underneath the headscarf. Other common items are the Faneela, a vest worn underneath the Kandura; the Woozar, a piece of white cloth worn around the waist under the Kandura; and the Bisht, a garment similar to a jacket, typically worn on special occasions or by those in power.
On their feet, Emarati men wear the Na-aal, traditional sandals. It’s said that Dubai locals are more likely to wear shoes, whereas those from Abu Dhabi tend to wear sandals.
Women in the UAE traditionally wear the Abaya. This is a long flowing black gown and can be plain or decorated with impressive designs. Abayas cost anywhere from 100 AED to 2500 AED (US$27-680). It is worn as a sign of modesty. However, it’s common for women to wear completely Western outfits under their Abayas.
Women also wear a headscarf called the Shela, to cover their hair. This is normally black and made of very light material. Many women opt for designer scarves, such as Givenchy or Dior, which can even be matched to their handbags. For more traditional women, the Gishwa is an option. This black veil covers the entire face; it is thin enough to see out of, although nobody can see their faces. A third option is the Burqa, which only shows the eyes. Together these women’s garments are known as the Hijab, which essentially means head covering.
Although modesty is the goal, women still enjoy accentuating their visible features through make up, traditionally Kohl used on the eyes like eyeliner. Another way of embellishing their look is through henna, a temporary tattoo typically applied to a woman’s hands. Henna is made from dried leaves, and the designs made with it are beautiful.
Women in the UAE love their jewelry, making this an essential part of their national dress. In the past, women carried all their savings in the form of jewelry, in the absence of banks. Women wear everything, including gold and silver bracelets, earrings, rings, anklets and more.