Iraqi fashion is varied, and showcases different cultures and influences. There are many stereotypes when it comes to Middle Eastern fashion, but in reality there is a mix of Western and Eastern influence in the street fashion you see in everyday Iraq. In the 1950s, when Iraq operated as newly independent state, women and men often wore Western clothing, and exhibited a strong progressive sense of fashion. Since 2003, Iraqi clothing has been sometimes limited and monitored by Islamic religious insurgents. Women in particular who do not don the abaya, a long dark dress that covers the head and the body, or the hijab, a head scarf, can receive threats and unwanted negative attention by insurgents when seen in public. In certain sects wearing a hijab and/or abaya is seen as a sign of modesty and purity for women.
However, this does not mean that women do not dress in a Western fashion in Iraq today. In most urbanized areas (Erbil, Baghdad, Basra) women wear long pants, shirts with only half sleeves, and dress as they like. Many conservative Islamic Iraqi women dress as they please while at home or while in the homes of friends or family, away from the public eye and from unrelated male relatives—wearing jeans, t-shirts, and other Western or Iraqi traditional fashions. Iraqi women are attracted to Western brands, such as Chanel and Burberry; however, these brands that they are attracted to and purchase are not original, but knockoffs. Many women, when they get home, take off their hijab and other pieces of clothing to make themselves feel at home.
While fashion and expression in Iraq is a topic that seems most relative to Iraqi women, men are also privy to the loosening of these societal norms. For instance, Nike sneakers, short and choppy haircuts, as well as tattoos on arms and legs have become more popular and seen in public, unlike in the 1990s and under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Men’s fashion is also split into traditional and modern. Iraqi youths normally wear pants, branded t-shirts (Polo, and other brands). The brands are a favorite among the youth because it shows wealth; however like the women’s, these brands are not original, but knockoffs originating from China and Turkey. Traditional men’s fashion is comprised of a long gown, called a thawb ثوب. Men also wear traditional fabric hats, shmakh شماخ. The circular black which holds the fabric in place is called aygal عكال.
As sociopolitical conditions stabilize, the scrutinies of public “fashion police” subside. Fewer women wear the hijab in public, and it has been more common to see women and men wearing jeans, showcasing haircuts (teenage boys in mohalks), and casual street clothes while at work, shopping on the streets or at university. Many note that being able to dress as one pleases now is not a statement of fashion, but rather a statement of independence and pride. Even conservatively religious women can now be seen in public wearing a “modern” Western outfit with just a headscarf to cover their hair. Advances like these in fashion are a sign of growing confidence in public spaces for both men and women alike, showing off their preferences and personality without fear of religious or political retribution.This liberal shift in fashion doesn’t extend to every day of the year however—on the Islamic high holidays for example, such as during Ramadan, women and men are heavily pressured to dress more conservatively in order to show respect. Women are encouraged, for example, to once again wear abayas in public, and they are required to wear headscarves and abayas in order to enter into religious buildings and attend religious services during Islamic holidays.
Samples of women’s traditional Iraqi fashions for special occasions, as published on the Iraqi Embassy’s website: