Female Headwear

Although Islam enjoins both men and women to cover their hair, people of all religions do so throughout the region. The style of head covering gives a lot of information about the wearer's location - in both time and space, their status, and their religion.

In many cultures women also veil their faces. This can vary from pulling their headscarf across their face to elaborate masks. Veiling is covered in a separate section.

The simplest head covering is to pull part of the other clothing over the head. Examples would include wrapped clothes such as the izar, the hood of the burnous, or the sleeve of some Bedouin thobes. There are also mantles that are pulled over the head such as the haik, chadors and milaya lef.


Palestine 1926.
Izar ,
Palestine 1926
Iran 1957.
Iran 1957
Haik, Algiers 1928.
Algiers 1928
woman in milaya, Cairo 1920s.
Milaya lef
Cairo 1920s
Algeria, 1967.
Woman and child,
Algeria, 1967


The next level is a rectangular scarf which can be pinned around the face, wrapped around the head, held by a headband or formed into a bag. These various scarves can have a range of local names. The general Arabic term for headscarf is khimar. But these are also known as hattah, zurband, shash, qun`ah, mandil and a range of other terms.

Kurds and some coastal women from Oman also wear wrapped scarves like small turbans under a veil.

Al-Muhajabah, Weir, Kennet

khimar Iran 1921.
khimar pinned under chin
and covering hair, Iran 1921
shash Palestine.
Iran 1975.
headscarf with headband
Iran 1975
hatta Egypt 1997.
hatta folded into a bag
Egypt 1997


There are also a range of formed hats. In many places women wear skullcaps (taqiyeh) - sometimes with a veil. In some parts of Palestine, married women and widows wear a tarbush shaped hat covered in coins (shatweh). While to the north they wear a coin covered bonnet (smadeh) and another horseshow shape with more coins (saffeh). In Lebanon married women wore a tantour - like a fairy princess hat. In the rural south of the Arabian Peninsula women (like the men) wear conical straw hats. In Iran unmarried nomads wear pill box hats.

Weir, Eid, Kennet, Anawalt

shatweh, Palestine 1926.
Shatweh covered by veil
Palestine 1926
smadeh, Palestine 1929.
Smadeh and saffeh
Palestine 1929
South Yemen, 1985.
Unisex straw hat over veil
South Yemen 1985

Status Markers

As well as varying by location, headwear is also used to signal marital status, religion and class. For instance, in some Bedouin groups unmarried women wear the hattah like a bag while married women wear it rolled and folded as a headband (`asbeh). In northern Palestine unmarried girls wear a bonnet (malas) while the married women wear long flowing veils. In some areas when the girls reach marriageable age they switch to a wuqa which is like a simple version of the smadeh - basically a bonnet with a few coins.

In Northern Palestine while their neighbours wear scarves (hattah) or trains (zurband) held in place with a headband (`asbeh), Druze women wear white veils only - and the Bedouin women wear dark blue or black veils.

The Palestinian festive veil (tarbi`ah) is very elaborate. It always includes a black piece with fringe and tassels but the village version also has embroidered panel (naqleh) while the town version does not.

Weir, National

Beduoins 1937.
Bedouin married and unmarried women
Palestine, 1926.
Young woman wearing wuqa
Palestine 1938
Palestine, 1929.
Woman with hattah and `asbeh
Palestine 1929

Other general types of clothing:

unmodified lengths    cloaks    sleeveless tunics    skirts    men's headwear    women's headwear

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