17 April 2012

Tunisia: Traditional Clothes in Tunis - The Fabric of Local Identity

Despite the predominance of modern garments on the streets of Tunis, traditional dress still remains popular among some Tunisians.

In the capital city of Tunis traditional clothes are part of the national heritage and identity. Traditional Tunisian dress, once common in Tunis, today is mostly limited to religious events, concerts, weddings, and circumcision ceremonies.

When you take a look around the old quarters in Tunis, or if you are invited to attend a Tunisian wedding or circumcision ceremony, you will notice that many Tunisians - both men and women - still wear traditional clothes.

Some men still wear the Jebba - the most popular male costume. The Jebba is made with both wool and silk and covers almost the whole body except for the forearms and calves. The Jebba can be worn with a vest called the Farmla (less commonly the Sadria or Badia), a jacket called the Montane and baggy trousers, or Sirouel, cinched at the waist with a silk sash. The Jebba comes in many colours and is considered a ceremonial garment that evolved from Andalusian Arab and Turkish influences. Before any circumcision ceremony, the mother and her son buy the Jebba, and the Chechia, the traditional round felt hat, which is now confined to religious occasions and worn by few elderly men.

The Jebba can be covered with a Barnous. Seen in the Star Wars movie that was shot in Tunisia, the Barnous is a well-known Tunisian garment. Since his election in December 2011, the Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has become famous for wearing a light brown Barnous in public life. Many elderly men in rural regions also wear this garment - especially in the winter season. The Barnous is a long hooded woolen poncho-like coat with no sleeves. The Barnous is also widely used in Morocco, Algeria, and Libya. It is a piece to crown traditional costumes like the Jebba and give them a special prestige.

The Fouta and Blouza, two pieces of the same ensemble, are traditionally made in the capital city of Tunis. The Fouta is a dress made of silk or cotton, which women wrap from their waists to their ankles. The Blouza forms the bustier part of the outfit. If one attends any marriage ceremony in Tunis, one will see the bride wearing the Kesswa Tounsia. Lined with crystal beads and rhinestone, the Kesswa Tounsia is two-piece ensemble made of a bustier and baggy trousers, and was inspired by bridal dresses worn in the past.

The Balgha and the Kontra are traditional shoes appreciated by both Tunisians and foreign tourists. The leather shoes are closed, and often pointed or rounded at the end. Both the Balgha and the Kontra are worn by both sexes, but in practice are more frequently seen on men. The Kontra is a beautiful and light shoe made of leather, sometimes totally organic, and is an essential accessory for the Jebba or the Gulf-syle Siroual, especially in the summer.

Evocative of the past, the Sefsari is large scarf made of natural white or yellow silk that covers the entire body of Tunisian women. The Sefsari is still worn in rural areas by older women, but has mostly been abandoned by young women. In Tunis' Medina and souks, too, there are still many women wearing the Sefsari. They are frequently of an older generation. Often, they do not cover their faces, but simply wrap the Sefsari around their body and over their head, leaving the front open so that their face remains visible, and so they can use both hands comfortably.

Khadija Ben Mrad, a 71-year old woman living in Tunis is one of the few Tunisian women who did not abandon the Sefsari. Ben Mrad said that she grew up in an era when this "decent garment" was worn by all women, regardless of their age. Ben Mrad expressed regret that most women abandoned the Sefsari in Bourguiba's era after the independence of Tunisia, when he tried to encourage women to adopt western-style clothing.

"It is the dress that distinguishes Tunisian women from Arab women," Ben Mrad said proudly.

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