Oman is taking tough measures to preserve its unique national dress

A wave of foreign imitations and alternative styles has prompted Oman to take tough measures to preserve its unique national dress, threatening men wearing the wrong type of dishdasha with fines of thousands of dollars.

Dishdashas, ​​the long, elegant robes that are a hallmark of the Gulf Sultanate, have given way to rising hems and intricate embroidery, with some wearers also opting for multicolored designs.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said the dishdasha’s design was based on “certain criteria” and stipulated that it should be mainly cotton with embroidery only on the collar, front vent and cuffs.

“The fabric must be a solid color,” a ministry official told AFP, adding that white or neutral colors would be preferred.

A person or manufacturer caught violating the dress code will be fined 1,000 Omani rials (US$2,600), or double that for a second violation.

While resembling the ankle-length robes worn by men in neighboring countries, Oman’s dishdasha is distinguished by its subtle embroidery around the neckline (mahar) which continues into a front center slit (shaq) across the chest.

In other Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the long-sleeved robe is usually plain white and is worn with either a white keffiyeh headdress or a red and white checkered headdress.

Omani men typically wear an embroidered brimless round cap (kumma) or turban-style headdress known as a massar to complete their look.

The stunning ensemble is a distinctive part of life in Oman, an ancient country known for its rich heritage, scenic coastlines and stunning mountains.

“The decision to set certain standards may be good, but it is at odds with personal freedoms,” said Ouahib al-Jadidi, a 36-year-old entrepreneur.

“There are men who want to wear dishdashas that suit their own taste, but this judgment will prevent them from doing so.”

Nabegh al-Qarni, who owns a shop selling dishdashas and men’s accessories, said changes to traditional clothing have become conspicuous.

“Among the most notable changes are shortening of the robe or larger patterns and embroidery,” the 35-year-old told AFP.

“We also saw different colors of dishdasha instead of the traditional white, brown or black,” he said, adding that Omani society, especially the older generation, is averse to this kind of change.

Efforts to preserve Omani culture in the face of changing tastes come as the country grapples with social and economic changes and adopts policies to attract foreign investment while trying to reduce its dependence on oil.

These included developing the tourism industry, as well as issuing long-term residency permits to foreigners – who make up 40 percent of the country’s 4.5 million population – and reserving certain jobs for citizens.

Omani economist Khalfan al-Touqi said the dishdasha is not only a symbol of the people and their heritage, but also has “great economic importance”.

“Recently, many shopkeepers have introduced dishdashas from abroad, from China and India, which often change the robe,” he said, adding that the new measures also aim to encourage retailers to shop from local factories.

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