Why do Arabs wear a Kandora?
Thawb. Thobe. Dishdasha. Kandora.
Those are just some of the names for the traditional male robe worn here in the Arabian Gulf. And just like the number of names, they all come in different colours and styles. So for all of you living in the Arabian Peninsula who haven’t gotten around to fulfilling that resolution to finally immerse yourselves into the culture (or are too embarrassed to ask for details), fear not, this is your quick guide to learning about the differences between all the different kandoras in the Gulf.
As you might expect, different GCC countries have slight different dress styles. The key indicator to getting an idea of where someone is from is by paying attention to the collar and sleeves of their kandora.
In general, Emirati Kandora has no collar and usually has a long loose tassel (see grey kandora above) with matching embroidery along the collar and on the sleeves. This is quite similar to the Omani kandora, except the tassel tends to be much shorter and usually more colourful. On the other hand, in Bahrain the kandora is more loose-fitting and traditionally has a soft shirt collar (see white kandora above).
Kandoras in Saudi Arabia, however, are usually more tight fit than their Gulf neighbours. Modern day variations tend to have a two-button band collar and shirt sleeves made to support cufflinks. The Kuwaiti version is not too different from this, except that it features a one-button band collar with a slim fit. In Qatar, the kandora tends to be more shiny and has a long band collar or, even, a shirt pocket.
One of the most common questions tends to be whether the differing colours of the kandora mean anything. Well, we hate to break it to you, but the truth of the matter is that there is no real difference, or significance, to any of the colours worn apart from personal style and logic. While white is by far the favourite, it is normally because it is the coolest colour to wear in the hot desert heat. Summer kandoras are usually made from noticeably lighter materials.
Some people will wear different colours to showcase their style. The winter sees a rise in colourful kandoras, especially darker coloured kandoras like black and brown, which are usually made from a much thicker material.
A common misconception is also that white is used in more formal situations, such as weddings or going to the mosque. Again, this is not the case. Although, with white kandoras by far being more popular, wearing a different colour is normally a good way of making yourself stand out from the crowd.
The traditional headdress worn by Arab men. It too goes by various names, but essentially it is the square cloth, usually made of cotton. For outsiders there can be confusion as to whether the colours (either plain or red-and-white embroidered) represent anything in particular. Again, the answer is similar to the kandora, not really. Whether a man wears a white ghutrah or not is simply down to his style preference, although, it is very rare to have someone from the Arabian Gulf wearing a black-and-white Ghutrah.
Now if we’re going to get technical, you have have seen many local Arabs wearing a dark cloak over the kandora. This is known as the Bisht (see below), and is usually black, brown, beige, cream or grey in colour. Because it is an additional layer it is often mistakenly interpreted as ‘winter wear’ but this is not the case. The Bisht is actually worn for prestige by royalty or important figures and on special occasions such as weddings by the groom, or festivals.