Moroccan culture: Moroccan women’s dress, fashion, and beauty 101

During my 11 months in Morocco, I have enjoyed learning about Morocco women’s dress, fashion, and beauty. I find Moroccan traditional dress beautiful. I especially love the buttons. Before I had my own caftans, my friends lent me theirs and did my hair and make-up. It was super fun! As a child, I loved to play dress up and it felt like that because I am not used to wearing djellabas and caftans.

I especially like the modern style djellabas that have bright colors and prints and are shorter. Look at the modern djellabas in this popular Moroccan artist’s, Saad Lamjarred, music video.

I don’t wear head coverings but do djellabas, caftans, taqsetas, and bilgas on special occasions. I think it would be inauthentic if I wore a djellaba every day. My goals are not to assimilate, but integrate. I am a Westerner. I wear Western clothing but just more modest clothing i.e. I don’t show my arms, legs, or butt when I am at site.

In this post, I will describe traditional Moroccan women’s clothing through my Moroccan friends and my personal experience with it.

 

Head coverings for women and Moroccan hair

These are 7 common types of head coverings in Islam:

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In Morocco some women don’t cover their hair but I think most wear a hijab. Then there are those that wear an al-amira, khimar, or niqab. I have never seen a chador or a burka in Morocco; they are found in Iran and Afghanistan. I asked my female friends when they first started wearing the hijab and most said around the age of 16. I asked them why and they said the Quran tells women to cover their hair:

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (most ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women…” (Verse 31 in Surah 24 An-Nur)

They never said that their mothers or fathers forced them to. Women pair their hijabs with their outfits. There are so many ways to wrap the hijab! Many of my friends say they search on Google, Youtube, and Facebook to learn new styles. My friends Fatima and Chaima’s favorite resource is a page on Facebook called “Keep Calm and Wear Hijab.”

Underneath the hijab, I have found that many of my friends have long, black, beautiful hair. Long hair is considered sexy by men here. I’m not sure what women consider sexy. Most Moroccan hair is not straight but wavy or curly. They lather it with olive and argan oil to keep it from drying out and have it up in a bun except when they have it straightened and blow-dried for celebrations and then move it back and forth with the music. It is absolutely mesmerizing!

 

Djellaba and pajamas

In my village girls tend to wear Western clothing- i.e., loose shirts, pants, jeans, sweatshirts, sneakers, etc.. Tank tops, t-shirts, and shorts are considered immodest. I have never seen a Moroccan woman in what are considered more liberal cities like Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Rabat in them. The majority of men and women get their clothes at used clothing sellers at the weekly souq at my site because they are low income. Sellers buy huge canvas bags of used clothing from Spain and France and dump them out on tables and yell out prices. In Fez on Sundays there’s a big used clothing market and on Mondays in Marrakesh. I have been to both and found great stuff- including clothing from the popular Western chains Zara, H&M, and Mango.

If people are going to buy their clothes new they get them from souqs or small clothing stores. In Morocco, there are few clothing chain stores. One women’s chain store is called Marwa, a common Moroccan name.

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Women (mostly 18 and up) wear the traditional Moroccan long, loose robe called the djellaba, which has a hood. They are made from different materials (cotton, wool, cashmere, silk) based on the season and are all types of amazing colors and patterns. Djellabas can be casual for everyday wear or fancy for celebrations. My neighbors got new djellabas for Ramadan and Eid Kabir. I bought some cloth in Spain to have one made this summer by the mother of a friend, Hakima, who is a seamstress. Most people buy their cloth from the souq or stores in cities. People here say that the best cloth comes from Spain, which is why I got it there. There are many seamstresses in my village but in general most Moroccan women know how to sew because they are taught from a young age to do these typical household tasks. Hakima has a sewing machine in their garage. People bring her their cloth and then depending on what it is and its color she goes into Marrakesh to buy matching buttons that are made by someone else. To my knowledge, no one makes buttons in my site. The buttons are also as varied as the materials.

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When I wore my djellaba for Eid Kabir everyone went crazy. They said I am Moroccan now. It was cooler than my long sleeve shirt or tunic and pants in the intense heat of the summer though a bit constricting at the bottom. I couldn’t spread my legs out as much as I am used to when walking.

Underneath the djellaba women wear their pajamas. They sometimes even keep their apron on where they store their change purse because some djellabas have slits on the side. Pajamas are a big deal in Morocco for women because they spend most of their time in them- cooking, cleaning, watching TV, hanging out with family and friends, etc. For Ramadan and Eid Kabir my neighbors also got new pairs. For the winter, they wear fuzzy pajamas to keep warm. I also have some and they are so cozy!

 

Caftan, Takshita, henna, and make-up

The caftan is a long, loose dress and the takshita is also a long, loose dress but it has two pieces. The takshita also almost always has a belt. Caftans and takshitas are worn at births, deaths, weddings, and other special celebrations that merit dressing up.

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I bought a caftan in the medina of Fez with my host mom and grandma for my Peace Corps swearing in ceremony. It was hard to find one that fit. Most women have them made to their size. The material is meant for winter and so along with the djellaba, I had Hakima make a summer caftan. I wore it for the first time to my Mudir Anaas’s wedding ceremony recently.

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Before the wedding, I got my hair blow-dried and make-up done at the only hairdresser in town. A woman called Miriem owns it and she has two chairs and blow driers with mirrors to cut hair and one chair and mirror to do makeup. The floor and walls are concrete. Miriem also rents out caftans and takshitas. She doesn’t wash hair but just sprays water on it to cut it or blow-dry it I am not sure why.

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There were two weddings going on in town and the hairdresser was packed with everyone getting their hair blow-dried and straightened and make-up done. I chatted with some of the family members of the Mudir’s wife that had come in from the duar (farming village) while I was sitting on the couch waiting in line. Most of them had henna done on their hands and feet. Women do all types of henna designs at all times of the year- it doesn’t have to be a special occasion though for weddings the bride and groom have separate, elaborate henna parties with family and friends. Sometimes women do it on their own and sometimes they pay an artist to do it. The family members of the Mudir’s wife were busy painting their nails to match their caftans and takshitas. I don’t think the hairdresser paints nails.

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The blow dry went well but when I asked the hairdresser to not put on lots of foundation and powder because I wanted to look natural, she did! That is the norm here. Many people have commented on my skin color during my time in Morocco. They touch my face or grab my hands and say, “Oh you’re so white” “White is beautiful” “I want to be white like you” which makes me really uncomfortable. I normally tell them that I think dark and white are the same and beautiful. The other day though I asked my friend Fatima why white is beautiful and she didn’t she just said “because it is.” Women also put on lots of natural eyeliner called kohl. Kohl is made from rubbing a sulfite mineral called stibnite. You can get it at the souq as well as the henna.

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Bilgas

Bilgas are a traditional Moroccan shoe that has a pointed end and no back. Some people wear them everyday. They are normally made out of leather. My host grandmother in Fez got me a pair of blue ones for my swearing in to go with my winter caftan and my friend Hajiba got me a pair of silver, sparkly ones for my birthday to go with my summer caftan!

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I have learned through my Moroccan friends that you can still be stylish and be modest. Before I came here, I was nervous about what I was going to wear for two years. I had been to Turkey and Palestine before and I knew that I had to dress modestly out of respect for the Islamic religion and culture, but that was only for a couple of summers, not for two years. I was worried I was going to lose my sense of style. I have always loved fashion and looking good. Back home, in the United States, I didn’t wear low-neck lines or short shorts but I did wear tank tops, t-shirts, and shorts. Style though is not showing skin. It’s about the design- and I have added cool tunics, a funky djellaba, and classy caftans to my collection of clothing. Maybe I’ll wear my caftan at an American wedding.

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