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People's Democratic Republic of Algeria
Also known as: Al-Jumhūriyyah al-Jazāʾiriyyah al-Dīmuqrāṭiyyah al-Shaʿbiyyah
Clothing traditions go back centuries
The Algerian clothing traditions are influenced by the country's rich history and cultural heritage. It varies among different regions and communities within Algeria. They have been, for centuries, at the crossroads of three worlds: Arab, Mediterranean and African, and their fashion reflects the fact of its unique location, and that they have been a place of historic meetings, exchanges and trade for a long time. The different versions of these traditional garments have also succeeded in combining the cultural traditions that inspired them, with the influence of the climate in the country.
They have maintained their original style for centuries. These forms of traditional clothing are still used today, and not only as testimony of how comfortable and how suited for the climate they are. They also portray the pride that Algerians take in the tradition of their ancestors, and the importance of preserving their cultural identity in the modern world.
In the main cities, Algerians usually dress in the western style- but in the remote areas, specially the rural class, people still continue the tradition of using traditional Algerian attires for daily life. Wedding (and celebration) attire is notable, as it is still customary to wear by everyone, even in the big cities. As an Islamic country, there are limits and dress codes. Most Algerians follow Islamic dress codes, and dress modestly, particularly women- they avoid exposing their shoulders, knees or chest.
Clothing for men and women
Traditionally, the men of Algeria wear a Gandoura (and also a burnous made of white or brown wool). Underneath, they wear another longer shirt. This is made of a type of fabric named lawn in the summer, and with heavier wool in the winter. Some examples sometimes have captivating embroidery and various design patterns and some are more plain in style, but they still show incredible craftmanship. These garments can also be worn by women, but they differ in style to the men's.
The Burnous are elegant traditional sleeveless and hooded coats, made of sheep, goat, or camel hair. They are worn by both men and women at special ceremonies, including weddings, where it is used at the start of the traditional procession to cover the bride as she leaves her parents‘ house for her new life in a separate home. It is usually embroidered, with each region having its own style, but there is also a less refined and heavier type used in mountain areas to protect people against the elements, which can be very harsh in the winter. This typical and traditional garment is also emblematic of local traditions.. It can be black in Western Algeria, brown in the steppe and high plateaus region- like Djelfa, and white in the mountains of Kabylia, in North Central Algeria.
One of the most common traditional garments for both men and women in Algeria is called djellaba, a long loose-fitting robe that usually reaches down to the ankles. It is made from many different types of fabric, such as cotton or wool. The djellaba usually has long sleeves and a hood, and often worn over other clothing.
Another version of a typical women's attire starts with a veil known as Haik, made with sheer fabric. The typical one is a large rectangular piece of white cloth (but it can also be of any color, including black), that the wearer holds around the waist with an embroidered belt and over the shoulders using some sort of clasp, either decorative pins or brooches. The name for this veil can also vary from one region to the next, with Hayek being typical of central Algeria, while the Constantine region and most of North Eastern Algeria naming it M‘laya. It usually covers the woman's complete body, quite literally from head to toe. Veils come in different styles of embroidery, and examples are made from a variety of materials, including plain linen, but also fine wool and silk depending on the occasion. They are of Andalusi Arab origin. They were typically worn as to preserve the woman‘s modesty, but also for a practical reason: being covered as such would protect her from the harsh sun in the desert. They also help the wearer hide any precious jewelry they might be wearing under it, effectively protecting them from any unwanted attention. Under this outer layer, they wear loose fitting trousers.
Islamic influence can be seen in the way people dress in Algeria, as it is mostly the women that cover their heads with headdresses, but in the traditional popular narrative the use of veils and head coverings for both men and women, of all classes and cultures that make the country, has always been seen as the great equalizer- and a symbol of unity, because it has helped to blur the regional and social differences between people.
The traditional wedding dress is a very sophisticated attire, and even today the women of Algeria wear these traditional dresses, made in many intricate and elegant patterns that vary by region.
Both men and women's traditional clothing can be very bold. The women‘s attire is successful at combining flamboyant designs, without compromising utility or elegance. There is a strong emphasis on intricate embroidery decoration of very saturated colors. Different shades of Red, yellow, green and blue- as well as many other color combinations, are finely embroidered with gold and silver threads. This traditional use of colorful fabrics, seems to help them stand out against the predominant surrounding earth tones that are an integral part of their environment. Modern Algerian women seem to have kept the ancestral love for brightly colored patterns that their ancestors had.
Clothing examples and their different names (source)
The Karakou is a typical traditional dress and incorporates a velvet jacket embroidered in gold and silver worn with the traditional saroual (Arab style pants) and comes from Algiers, the capital of Algeria.
The Blouza from Oran, West Algeria, a full length, straight-cut dress made from lace with a sequined chest.
The Chedda of Tlemcen, a traditional caftan made with velvet and golden thread, and decorated with pearls, and many necklaces. It is considered as the most beautiful and most expensive dress, and it is worn by brides on their wedding day (but the other women would also wear it at these same weddings, as it is a celebratory dress).
The Djeba of Constantine: this traditional dress comes from Constantine in the eastern side of the country. It is always made with velvet and embroidered using gold and silver threads. The sleeves sometimes are made of lace. In the central region of Tizi-ouzou, the dress is mainly made from cotton and is completely embroidered at the neck and bodice as well as at the wrists. However, it is at weddings and other special occasions that these traditional dresses shine. Very distinctive jewelry is also worn with it.
Chaoui Dress: known in eastern Algeria as L‘Haf Chaoui, is a traditional dress made of black cloth embroidered with multicolored wool threads. This dress can be a one-piece or two-piece. The modern Chaoui Dresses are often worn with wide comfortable pants, or with traditional pants known as serwal or saroual. Also known as Melhfa chaouia.
Kabyle dress: the ethnic northeastern Algerian dress, is a traditional Amazigh robe. There are symbols and shapes drawn on the fabric, used to express the feelings of a Kabyle woman, such as anger, depression, sadness, pessimism, and joy. The Kabyle dress consisted of a belt, frock, and the piece (a towel) that the woman ties to her waist and over the robe. How they tie it depends on the marital status of the wearer, with married women wearing the towel around her waist, and single girls wearing it either on their right or left sides. This towel is not only for decoration, it is also an essential tool for tribal women during the olive harvest season. Modern examples can be seen here.
Stay tuned for more information on Algeria's culture, its people and the arts in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.