dress collection

Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia

Finally, a book about traditional dress in Saudi Arabia! The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a relatively closed world. Its rich heritage in dress and adornment is not all that well known outside the region. The Mansoojat Foundation has assembled a large collection of traditional dress over the years, which is now published in the colourful volume Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia.

The book is based on the collection itself. Although it clearly states in the introduction that the book is not meant as an exhaustive and complete discussion of traditional dress in Saudi Arabia, it certainly is not limited but offers a very wide introduction into various tribes and regions. It does not contain a contemporary map though, so you’ll have to look elsewhere to find where the tribes and cities mentioned are located. The book also does not contain references or a bibliography. That having been said: there is much to see in this book!

The book is a cooperation of 9 authors and 3 editors, so as to make sure each region or tribe is discussed by a specialist best versed in that area. This results in a recognizable style for each author: some chapters are longer and more detailed than others, but each of the chapters provides background information on the tribe or region presented. And each chapter is such a visual feast: the dress items in the collection are shown from several angles and not limited to a front view, which I find very informative. Even more informative are the sections where the order in which items of clothing are put on, are illustrated. This provides the reader with a detailed understanding of how the various elements function, such as the six elements that form the headdress of women of the Bani Sa’ad tribe. I enjoyed the line drawings and diagrams of costume schemes, as these greatly add to understanding complex items of dress.

All of the chapters are lavishly illustrated, not just with the costumes in the collection but also with landscape photographs, views of architecture, scenes of daily life and historical photographs. As there is no page without a photograph, this full colour book is as much an introduction into Saudi Arabia itself as in its costumes. A valuable glossary in the back explains clothing terms and names as well as fabrics and decoration techniques. Where possible, the accompanying jewellery has been included as well. This is also most informative: for example, the well-known rings with granulation and coral or glass beads, as they are also worn in Yemen and Ethiopia, are shown as part of the headdress of a woman of the Yam tribe: a great illustration of how closely connected dress and jewellery are! The names of jewellery items themselves are only presented in very few instances, but seeing them worn provides them with much needed context.

Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia is the only one of its kind in its coverage, illustrations and background information that is readily and widely available: you will want to add this to your bookshelf! A beautiful publication that introduces the colourful world of dress in Saudi Arabia: the preface expresses the hope that this book will form an important introduction to the costumes and heritage of Saudi Arabia, and I’d say that that has definitely succeeded.

Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia. The Mansoojat Foundation Collection. Edited by Lamya F. Algharib, Hamida Alireza and Richard Wilding. ACC Art Books, 2021. 320 pages, full colour. In English

Available with the Mansoojat Foundation, the publisher, and online stores such as Amazon.

The book was purchased through bol.com.

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Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.