The Galabeya, Traditional Egyptian Clothing
By: Caroline Umphlet / Arab America Contributing Writer
Like most aspects of life in Egypt, the Galabeya is a traditional and historical part of the culture. Galabeya refers to the ankle-length loose-fitting garment worn in Egypt and other regions. Most popular in Upper Egypt but stretching along the Nile Valley, this attire has been worn in farming communities for hundreds of years. These farming communities are known as fellahin. The galabeya is also worn in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. With the Egyptian accent, the “j” letter (ج-jim) is pronounced as a “g,” hence, it is referred to as a “galabeya” in Egypt and a “jalabiya” in other areas. Similar traditional clothing is worn across the Arab region as well, with slight differences.
The fabric is made from a lighter cotton in the summer as well as lighter colors like white or cream. In the winter, they are made with a thicker, heavier cotton and darker colors to attract sunlight and keep more warmth, complimented by a scarf. Undergarments are typically worn too; an undershirt (qamees-قميس) and sometimes trousers as well.
It is often worn with a turban, a type of headwear for men, which can either protect from the relentless sun or hold heat during colder weather. Women also sometimes sport a head accessory with the galabeya, over their hijab, that sits in a square or circle on their head. The purpose is to help them carry large or heavier objects easier. This item is not as common anymore but certainly still normal to see.
Galabeyas are worn by men and women alike. Due to the versatility and modesty, it continues to be a popular choice of clothing because it can be worn any instance and anywhere. Although it is not a religious practice, it conveniently follows the guidelines in Islam of wearing looser clothes and covering below the knee for men and to the ankle and wrists for women. The galabeya can be a more comfortable leisure and every-day wear, or dressed up for special occasions.
They come in all different patterns and colors, vertical stripes being a popular choice for men. Egyptians have figured out how to express their personalities through clothes, and yet still maintain the traditional feel of a galabeya. It is also common to see the women’s versions intricately embroidered and detailed. There are more ornate and elegant versions for weddings, eid, birthday parties, and more. For these celebrations, they are often designed or embellished. They sometimes have jewels and bright colors, among other patterns.
As aforementioned, the galabeya differs slightly from the traditional clothing in other Arab countries. The thobe is worn in other countries and has a few different features. The galabeya has a wider cut in the sleeves and body compared to other thinner cuts, as well as longer sleeves. Additionally, there is no collar and the neckline is circular and flat. There is a slit down the middle and sometimes no buttons.
The galabeya is still a very popular outfit to see in Egypt, all over the country. In more rural areas, it is extremely common to wear by everyone. However in larger cities like Cairo or Alexandria, it can be used as an indicator of class. The middle and upper class population tends to dress in more “western” or modern clothing such as jeans and a t-shirt. More recently for women, they have slowly shifted towards a trend of a simple black abaya, or similarly just a Western top and pants, usually only wearing galabeys indoors. Meanwhile, the lower class population or workers often wear galabeyas.
Regardless, Egyptians wear their traditional clothing proud as their cultural heritage is of great importance.
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