MYTH 14: ALL WOMEN WEAR POOFY HAREM PANTS
Women in the SCA commonly wear big full pants with vast wide ankles gathered by drawstrings or elastic. Yet, these are not historically accurate for women anywhere in the Near East within SCA time frame. While they are a "Middle Eastern" stereotype, they are out of period.
Shalvar (also written salwar) as worn in the Persian and Ottoman Empires in SCA-period are narrow at the ankles and wide at the top.
Sirwal (plural: sarawil) are worn in Arabic cultures. They are similar to pyjama bottoms having legs that are the same width from waist to ankle, but not excessively wide, and with a commodious gusset for comfort and movement.
No poofy pants. Maybe i should make that into a bumper sticker...
MYTH 15: A GHAWAZEE COAT IS PERIOD GARB
People often don't even know how to spell this word. I've seen "ghawazee" - most common; "ghawazi" - an accurate spelling variation; and more rarely, "ghawazy". And inaccurately: gawazee, gawzee, gawhazee, gahwazee, gawahzee. I understand, it's an unfamiliar and foreign word and easy to spell (and pronounce) wrong. Note that "gh" is pronounced rather like the French "r" sound and the word has three syllables, although the first can be rather short. Most easily, you could say: gah-WAH-zee (where the "h" indicates a particular pronunciation of the "a" and is not pronounced.)
But however you spell it, there was, in fact, no such thing as a "Ghawazee coat". Not within SCA-period. Not out of SCA period anywhere in the Ottoman Empire. Not out of SCA period anywhere in the "the Middle East".
Not until the "Tribal Dance" movement of the 1970s.
Genuine ethnically Ghawazee dancers are not the issue here - but most of what is known of them is 19th and 20th century.
The so-called "Ghawazee coat" is actually an Ottoman entari worn by female ethnic Ghawzi dancers in mid-19th century Egypt. And the 19th century entari is significantly different from that of the 15th and 16th centuries in many ways.
The Ghawazi people migrated from South Asia through Persia to Egypt, but there's no clear information on where they were in SCA-period or if they wore any coat-like garments - which they may have done in Persia. If they were in Egypt within SCA period, they would either be wearing their own traditional clothing or Egyptian clothing. There is clear information that Ottoman garments were not adopted by other cultural groups within the Ottoman Empire until outside the SCA-period.
In the late 20th century, when some Middle Eastern dancers in the US saw pictures of Ghawazi dancers from 19th c. Egypt, they liked what they saw. Without enough historical knowledge, they tried to re-create what they saw or to re-invent it. Many of these attempts, as interesting and exotic as they may have been, were not even accurate for the 19th century.
Around the same time Middle Eastern dancers who were in the SCA started sharing this modern adaptation of a 19th century Ottoman garment. Not realizing what it was, they also took the name "Ghawazee coat" and spread the mis-contructed garment.
Now we know where it came from, what it is, and that it is NOT period. But we also know about period garments.
So, proudly wear an Ottoman entari, not a "Ghawazee coat". An example of an SCA-period based pattern, see Persian coat patterns by Rashid, and fit them more snugly in the torso by taking in the side seams. There's no center back seam in the actual garments, nor are there darts or tucks - garments made like this are fine for 21st century dancers, but are not even close to SCA period construction.
MYTH 16: TASSEL BELTS ARE PERIOD
Tassel belts look great and do a nice job of accentuating movement on modern Near Eastern dancers. But to the best of my knowledge, tassel belts on dancers is a late 20th century phenomenon. At which time some dancers saw all those great tasselled decorations for camels and horses and decided to incorporate them into a dance costume. I have no problem with them on 21st century dancers. But they don't belong in the SCA - they're 400 years too late.
A few years ago someone taught a class at Pennsic saying that tassel belts were period Persian. Dozens of people came back spreading the word. The teacher had used a photograph of a piece of art showing two musicians wearing what appear to be tassel belts. She had dated it to within SCA period, claiming it was Persian.
Alas, the art - which someone shared with me - is actually a low relief carved on stone -- from Zinjirli, a site in what is now Syria -- and dates to the 8th century... BCE!!! The photo is illus. 356, on page 304 of The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient by Henri Frankfort, a volume in the Pelican History of Art series. The relief depicts two entertainers, one a bearded male, the other beardless but probably also male. They are playing what appear to be hand drums - the type often called frame drums. Because of the stylization of the art, it's hard to tell if they are meant to be standing side by side or if the beardless one is actually standing on the shoulders of the bearded one. Around their waists are wide belts and hanging from these belts may well be tassels. While i have seen no official start date for the SCA, the consensual time is "the Fall of Rome" - which is either the late 5th or mid-6th century CE, depending on which of Rome's Falls you prefer. But this art is from 1,400 years before that. It is highly unlikely that female dancers within SCA-period were wearing similar tassel belts fourteen centuries later.
If you really want something to accent your hip movements as you dance, let me help you a little: in 16th century Istanbul, a professional male dancer - köçek - wore a little item that would serve well to accentuate hip movements. It's a very mini-skirt, very full and quite gathered, which is worn over the male dancer's outfit or entari tucked into a long full gathered skirt - with this mini skirt on top.
Here's a late-16th century painting of köçekler dancing in the costume that was regulated by law. Reconstructing History offers their pattern 407, which includes a gömlek (undertunic), entari (coat-like garment), shalvar (trousers), fustan (skirt), and mini-skirt - there are some gross inaccuracies in the cuts of the entari, shalvar, and gömlek in the pattern, but it is an excellent place to start, and not difficult to improve upon.
By the late-17th century female dancers adopted this outfit . So while it may be out-of-period for female dancers, it did exist in the 16th century, and even the mid-17th century is a lot closer to SCA period than either the late 20th century CE or the 8th century BCE is...
MYTH 17: A CHOLI IS PERIOD MIDDLE-EASTERN GARB
Near Eastern women did not wear anything like a choli, bra-top, or mini-vest in the Near East within SCA time frame. No exposed midriff.
The choli is Indian. And some forms of the choli were worn at some times in SCA-period India. So if you wear one, you are obviously portraying a woman from South Asia, not from the Near East, since India is NOT in the Near or Middle East.
Also, a choli does not belong with poofy harem pants (which are out of period anyway). A South Asian woman would wear a choli with a full skirt and leg-hugging pants, or with a sari or a dhoti, but not with poofy 19th century Ottoman harem pants.
So if you are Near Eastern, no choli. If you want to wear a choli, make a period South Asian outfit.
MYTH 18: MIDDLE EASTERN DANCERS EXPOSED THEIR SKIN
Nope. No flesh exposure. No belly showing. No bust showing. No legs showing through slits in a tunic or pants. Exposed flesh - other than hands, feet, face, and neck - is very inappropriate for anywhere in the Near East. Muslim women are enjoined by the Qur'an to be modest, and cover their hair and chests. Jewish women were also modest in public. And in Near Eastern cultures, Christian women were modest, too. Even in the home, a woman wore a long-sleeved tunic and pants, which, while sometimes quite sheer, covered them from wrist to wrist and from neck to ankles. Indian women might have more flesh exposure, depending on what ethnic group they were from, what religion they followed, and where and when they lived, but they aren't Near or Middle Eastern.
MYTH 19: MIDDLE EASTERN WOMEN WEAR LOTS OF COINS...
...all over hats, headdresses, bras, belts, etc.
Not likely. And so far I've found very little evidence for this practice in period. While coins were common in urban centers, there was so much political and economic disruption that they were not the primary source of trade, especially among the semi-nomadic Bedouin. I have seen a few items of jewelry made with coins: gold coins set in bezels, not drilled and suspended by jump-rings. I have seen decorative dangly shapes made by jewelers, and it is possible that these were replaced by coins in the 19th century.
MYTH 20: MIDDLE EASTERN WOMEN WORE CROSS-STITCH COVERED GARMENTS
The most commonly known cross-stitch covered garments are lovely Palestinian women's thobes. These date from the 19th and 20th centuries. On most of these garments, the embroidery is specifically carefully-counted equal-armed cross-stitch. This type of cross stitch was not common in SCA period, and rarely shows up in surviving Near Eastern embroidery - and when it does, it's usually a single line of stitches, not covering acres of cloth.
One surviving SCA-period tunic front has a range of stitches, including brick stitch, openwork, pattern darning, stem stitch, and chain stitch. But no cross stitch. Other surviving tunics are adorned only with pattern darning. Others have complex designs in chain stitch. Most of these are easy to do.
Why not learn how to do them and decorate your tunic with period embroidery.
MYTH 21: ALL WOMEN HID THEIR FACES BEHIND VEILS
The word "veil" can be very misleading in the Near Eastern context. To me, a veil is a cloth that covers the head, and, in most of SCA period, European women wore such veils, too. To me, a special face covering is not a veil, especially since they are made rather differently from head cloths and there is such a range of different types.
There was no universal face covering and no universal names for face coverings in SCA-period Muslim cultures. In fact, the Qur'an actually does not require women to cover their faces, only to be modest, as men are enjoined as well, and to cover their hair and their chests.
It is important to bear in mind that there are a number of different kinds of face coverings. And they have specific names in different times, places, and languages. Additionally, the same item might have different names in different cultures or times. And finally, the same name could be used for very different facial coverings in different times or places.
And not all women wore a mask-like covering over their faces. Rural or nomadic women were, in fact, the least likely to cover their faces with a separate item when they were engaged in farming or herding. On the other hand, women from urban harems were much more likely to cover their faces in some way when out in public. Yet, in some times and places, such as some eras in al-Andalus, many women went out in public without covering their faces at all.
The big "body bag" worn by women in modern Afghanistan (the chadour, sometimes called a "burka") was not common in period. It may have been used in some times and places, such as the Eastern Persian Empire, but it is a very regional item of limited use.
The burka, burqa, or burga, is most often, a mask-like item, not a veil. It was most common in some - but not all - parts of the Arabian Peninsula. A long rectangle of cloth covers the face from just below the eyes to the chin or to the sternum. It is attached to a head band by short supporting strips at the nose and each temple. It was not the most common form of female modesty throughout Dar al-Islam. Some examples of this have been found in 14th century Quseir al-Qadim, an Egyptian Red Sea port.
The litham is a rectangle of cloth that covers the face from the bridge of the nose to below the chin, and in width extends only to the ears. It is anchored by pins or ties, and is often of sheer cloth. During the reign of the Almohads in al-Andalus - from the 12th century to the early 13th - it was worn *only* by Almohad men - not by women, not by other men.
ibn Jelal of Lochac pointed out that some Maghribi men wore the Tagelmoust, the headwrap worn by Tuareg men of N. Africa. A part of the way that turban is tied is that it leaves the face covered, as if they were wearing a litham. It wasn't actually a proper litham veil, even though they were referred to as "al-mulaththamun". This was the litham of the Almohad men, and not a separate face covering.
And sometimes to cover the face, a woman wore a square of cloth folded diagonally covering from the bridge of the nose to below the chin, and with the folded corners tied behind the head - yup, like a cowboy bandit's bandana.
Some sort of mask which covered the eye area, but left the lower face exposed, was worn in other places. For example, in Persia, women wore a stiff rectangular mask that covered the eye area from temple to temple woven of black horsehair - these can be seen pushed up on women's foreheads in some paintings.
It was more common in many places for a woman to wear a rectangle of cloth over her head, and in situations that required more modesty, she held it closed with one hand at the chin so it covered her lower face, and possibly one eye.
So if you want to wear a facial covering, it is very useful to try to find the appropriate style for the time, place, and ethnic group of your persona or your garb.
MYTH 22: ALL MEN AND SOME WOMEN WORE TURBANS
There is a tendency for us modern Americans to call every head covering made of a narrow strip of cloth wound around the head a turban. But turbans were actually quite specific types of head wraps worn chiefly by royalty and religious figures of a certain status. Men wore many different head wraps that were not turbans. And not all men wore head wraps. The Qur'an enjoins all Muslims to be modest and cover their heads, men and women alike, and often men just wore a cap of some sort.
Sure, women may sometimes have worn turbans, but generally they did not. Whether they wore a head wrap of some sort would depend on their culture. Often they did not. They might wear a cap much like a man's or just a cloth draped over their head and shoulders with their hair drawn back in braids.
Women absolutely did not wear turbans in the Ottoman Empire within SCA-period. Clothing was closely regulated by laws which were enforced. And in al-Maghrib or al-Andalus turbans, even on men, were not common, although there are some traditional male head wraps.
Not all Near Easterners, not even all men, wore turbans. Don't let the turban become a cliché. Wear an appropriate head wrap, but only wear a turban if you are an important Imam or the Caliph, Sultan, or Shah.
MYTH 23: ALL MEN WORE KEFFIYAS WITH AGALS
There is no evidence for the styles used now - for the keffiya or head cloth with bright color patterns on a white cloth which is typical of the Levant and Saudi Arabia, nor the big thick black agal - the head band - which is typical of 20th century Saudi Arabia. I have seen some evidence for men wearing a plain white head cloth with a simple narrow filet, but not the colorful head cloths with the elaborate agals.
Don't let a modern keffiyya mar an otherwise plausibly period outfit. If you want a cloth over your head, you can't go wrong with plain white linen or cotton and a simple agal, not a big thick one with gold. More often men wore a wide variety of caps with or without various head wraps.