Century Middle Eastern Dance
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Century Middle Eastern Headwear or
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 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.
“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*)
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
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)
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)
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)
“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.
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.”
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.
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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.
following picture is of dervishes dancing.
(From a copy of Husayn Bayqara’s Majalis
al-Ushashaq, 16th century)
They all have cap underneath the
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)
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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.
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.
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.
picture of a Turkish bazaar around 1600 shows several men wearing tall caps.
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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.”
following shows the arrival of an Iranian princess riding in a litter wearing a
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