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1. Pre-17th Century Middle Eastern Dance
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2.     Pre-17th Century Middle Eastern Headwear or

       SCA Period Middle Eastern and Indian Headwear

                Table of Contents:

                Skip to Chapter 1: The Veil

                Skip to Chapter 2: Turbans

                Skip to Chapter 3: Caps & Hats

                Skip to Chapter 4: Royal Headwear

                Skip to Sources


            (*Where possible, I have included the names of the paintings featured, so that if you wish to find them elsewhere, you may.  Please also note that the compilation of this research is my property and if you use the information, I expect to get credit for the compilation.)

During the SCA time period (pre-1600), headwear was a key part of clothing, both indoors and outdoors.  Islam, though not the only religion in these regions, was quite influential in the clothing of men and women, and headwear was an important part.  Several laws were written about headwear, which gives us insight into what people wore and then upon which restrictions were placed. Wiebke Walther (1999) notes, “judging by the miniatures, it seems that female headgear was more influenced by fashion than were other garments.  It was often an indication of social status.”  This compilation will discuss some of the different types of headwear represented in paintings and written descriptions of this time period.

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The Veil

The veil is one of the most commonly thought of pieces of headwear in the Middle East and India.  In most cases, Islamic women were required to veil their heads and face when out in public.  When indoors, they left their faces unveiled.  Although Jewish and Christian women were not always required to go outside veiled, they often did to conform to the norm.  Walther names various types of veils worn around 1471: “a black one of a kind of netting, of which either covered the entire face or had holes for the eyes, and the burqu’, a white or black veil which covered the face up to the eyes.


However, “it is known that noble ladies of the trading city of Mecca wore veils even before Islam. … If we were to use miniatures as documentary evidence, we must conclude that even high-ranking ladies did not always strictly adhere to the wearing of veils, not only in the urban society of thirteenth century Iraq, but also fifteenth-century Iran.  We often find examples of distinguished ladies without veils meeting with freemen who were not related to them, at least in their own gardens and palaces, but not only there.  Admittedly, these miniatures are illustrations to literary texts, but one may assume that the painters were inspired by their environment.  Moreover, reports by European travelers confirm these observations, for fifteenth-century Iran in any case.  When visiting the mosque and also when female aristocrats mixed with the people, the hair and the lower part of the face were certainly always covered.  But when ladies of noble houses appear without veils on Indian miniatures of the Mughal period, we know that these ladies did not sit for the portraits themselves; one of their female slaves did it for them.”  (Walther 70)


One Egyptian painting displays a woman with the veil around her head and under her chin. (Figure 1*)

This Egyptian painting displays a woman with the veil around her head and under her chin.

“Fourteenth-century fashions may be traced in a series of dated Persian miniatures.  The Birth of the Prophet Mohammed * from the Jami al-Tawarikh or World History of Rashid al-Din dated 1306 naturally portrays women in an interior environment and consequently unveiled. [Their faces are unveiled.]  … All the women wear similar headdresses in the form of long rectangular scarves whose decorated and sometimes fringed edges enable the line of the draping to be traced.  First one end is pulled across the breast wound tightly round the head, crossed again under the chin and then folded over the head so that the other end hangs over the shoulder, giving the effect of a close-fitting wimple.  A miniature from the Al-Athar al-Bagiya of Al Biruni dated 1307 of a couple feasting confirms the style of … a tightly wound head shawl for women, though the representation is more impressionistic and careless of detail.  Both manuscripts are also informative about outdoor dress which follows the main lines of development outlined for the thirteenth century.  Women cover themselves from head the foot on long chadars, which could be pulled tightly together and swathed across the face at will.  … As an alternative to the head shawl, women are sometimes shown with their hair arranged to from the face coiled from a central parting and then extending in long plaits down their backs.  This hairstyle might be ornamented with strings of jewelry covered with a fluttering long scarf pinned lightly to the top of the head.” (Scarce 138-139)


The Birth of the Prophet Mohammed.


“The plates below, (both titled Rustam Rescuing Bizhan from the Well, and both are from a manuscript of the Shahnameh of Firdausi) of mid-sixteenth century Persia, in which the hero of the Shanameh, Rustam, rescues Bizhan from the pit also show Manizeh watching his progress.  She is clearly shown closely wrapped in her chadar… while her face veil conceals her from nose to chin. …  An alternative to the all-enveloping chadar and face veil is seen in a miniature dated c. 1556-65 illustrating the arrival of Auleikha the heroine of Jami’s most popular and frequently illustrated poem Yusyf and Zuleikha.  While ladies peering out from the castle wall are muffled in chadar and veil, Zuleikha’s attendants have merely tied a brief face veil over the scarves of heir headdresses.  This fashion was probably short-lived, as there seems to be no evidence of it in later pictorial and written sources.  [The following was] noted by the Venetian ambassador to Shah Tahmasp in 1571, Vincentio d’Alessandri, ‘And I saw the mother of the Sultan Mustafa Mirisce … come out with her face covered with a black veil, riding like a man, accompanied by four slaves and six men of foot’.” (Scarce 151-153)

Rustam Rescuing Bizhan from the Well, and both are from a manuscript of the Shahnameh of Firdausi


The figure below is from a costume book of 1588.  “A Turkish woman wearing outdoor costume is depicted. … Her headdress is concealed by two while veils, one draped and secured over the pillbox cap having the appearance of a pleated toque, the other covering the face from nose to chin and fastened at the back of the head.  Collectively the two veils form the yasmak.  (Scarce 49)   

Turkish outdoor dress.

Indian Gypsies such as the Kutchi and Sorathi Rabaris wore large rectangular veils.  These covered their backs for modesty since their kapadu (blouses) were backless.  The veils and clothing these Gypsies wear today can be traced back to the 11th century.  The veils in India became larger with the coming of Islam.  This was for a show of modesty. (See picture below)

Rabaris Women wearing veils.


            “At times, certain men, such as social revolutionaries who appeared in the garb of a prophet, also wore veils. … In most later miniatures, the Prophet Muhammad is shown with a veil over his face, but it is not like the veil worn by women, as the eyes were covered.”  (Walther 71)     The plate below is of Muhammad visiting his future wife Khadija with his face fully veiled.  Beside it, Muhammad and his prophets.
Muhammad visiting Khadija Muhammad and his prophets.


Berber men are veiled.  They believe that men are more susceptible to hosting evil spirits, so they must cover the orifices on their heads.  Since they believe women are closer to the earth, they are more protected and do not have to worry about this. 

            There were those who opposed the veil.  “… The free-thinker Jahiz in the ninth century … [has] pointed out that while on a pilgrimage, one of the ‘pillars’ of Islamic faith – in the state of ihram, (ritual consecration), as it is called – men and women are required to uncover face and hands.”  (Walther 70) 

            Dancers transgressed the “basic tenet of Islam … that women should not display their bodies in the presence of strangers… and appeared unveiled in public.”  (Buonaventura 50)

            One accessory that was most likely worn with veils was a headband.  “Ulayya, the beautiful half-sister of the Abbasid Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, is said to have created the fashion of wearing headbands, the aim being to conceal a birth mark she had.  The headbands were often ornamented with jewels, and also with verses or quotations from the Koran embroidered in silver or gold thread.  The following lines are said to have been embroidered on the headband of one of Harun ar-Rashid’s female slaves:  Tyrant, you were cruel to me in love, May God judge what happened between us!” (Walther 190) See plates below.

   Khusraw's portrait shown to shirin, 1495.

note that some of the headbands are tied in the front, and some the back.  Also note the corkscrew curls on some of the women.

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            Turbans on men are featured in quite a few paintings from Turkey, Persia and India.  (Top left: Princess Duvulrani Riding, from the manuscript of the romance Mihru Mishtari, Persia 1596) Sometimes, they have a cap in the middle, perhaps to serve as a base for the rest of the headdress.  Most likely, the bigger the turban, the higher the status of the man.           

Top left: Princess Duvulrani Riding, from the manuscript of the romance Mihru Mishtari, Persia 1596.  Bottom Right: Turkish Bridal precession with paiges leading the way.  Bottom left: the Mosque

The following picture is of dervishes dancing.  (From a copy of Husayn Bayqara’s Majalis al-Ushashaq, 16th century) They all have cap underneath the turban.
  From a copy of Husayn Bayqara’s Majalis al-Ushashaq, 16th century

Women in Turkey wore small turbans and plaited their hair into 5, 7, or 9 braids.

 On their turbans, upper class women wore jewels of diamonds, sapphires, pearls, emeralds, and other precious jewels.


 The slave-sultana Shajarat ad-Durr, was found wearing a “cloth wound into a turban” after she was murdered by the girls in her harem.  [Though, this was certainly not because she was wearing the turban. J]  “The wearing of turbans by women frequently met with the disapproval of religious scholars, but repeated utterances on this subject show that this fashion was followed regularly by women.”  (Walther 190)  Walter reports that “from the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, the constantly growing influence of the Indian environment on Mogul culture became increasingly apparent in fashion as well …  Here, too, at this time, the head coverings of the ladies were symbols of rank.  ‘Some of these princesses wear turbans by the king’s permission.  On the turban is a valuable aigrette, surrounded by pearls and precious stones … During festivities, such as balls and the like, there are dancing-women who have the same privilege’.  This shows the regard in which dancers were held at Court.”


            “Evidence of the development of women’s costume during the late thirteenth and fourteenth century is sporadic and in the main dependent on representations in miniature paintings.  The illustrated frontispiece [plate below] to a manuscript of the Kitab al-diriyak of mid-thirteenth century date depicting entertainments and processions of court life portrays women in both indoor and outdoor dress.  The flat schematized style of painting at least enables the basic shapes of the garments to be understood. … Hair is dressed in long thick braids which fall over shoulders and back and is swathed in striped or plain turbans.” (Scarce 138)

The illustrated frontispiece to a manuscript of the Kitab al-diriyak of mid-thirteenth century


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            Men and women also wore caps.  The picture below to the left pictures a Turkish woman wearing a yelik and large cap.

  Turkish woman dressing   A lady of the harem is unwell

The picture to the right of the Turkish woman features women wearing caps with veils attached to the top.  The caps appear to have a rigid band attached to the top of the cap. Two Iranian dancing girls are wearing caps in the next picture. (Wall painting Jausak palace, Samarra, Iraq, 836-9) They seem to be non-rigid in structure and conform to the shape of the head. frontispiece to the Kitab al-Aghani showing a ruler with attendants, Iraq, c. 1218-19.


The picture next to the dancing girls had several women wearing caps and braids. (The frontispiece to the Kitab al-Aghani showing a ruler with attendants, Iraq, c. 1218-19.)  Their caps seem similar in structure to the dancing girls.   Farhad brought before Shirin (bottom left below) features a servant wearing one.  Plate 36 (from Women in Islam…) (upper right, below) shows a Mugul lady wearing a tall hat with a feather very similar to the Indian dancer’s cap.

  Mugul lady wearing a tall hat   Indian Dancer

Farhad brought before Shirin


This picture of a Turkish bazaar around 1600 shows several men wearing tall caps. Turkish bazzar around 1600


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Royal Headwear

According to Walther (1999), “in the Mongol period, princesses and ladies of the Court indulged in an exceptionally extravagant piece of headgear, the botaq.  It may be assumed that ladies with this bush of feathers on their heads could walk only in a stilted fashion …The taj-kulah- literally the “crown hat”- was worn by Persian princesses in about 1550.  In the beginning, it consisted of a narrow crown worn over a flat cap.”

The following shows the arrival of an Iranian princess riding in a litter wearing a “crown hat”. arrival of an Iranian princess riding in a litter wearing a “crown hat”. Seated Princess, Persia, c. 1540
The painting next to the arriving princess features an Iranian princess  (Seated Princess, Persia, c. 1540) also wearing the crown hat. The following (Iskandar and the Indian Princess, from a manuscript of the Iskandarnameh of Nizami; Shiraz, c. 1440) features an Indian princess