Obviously textiles have the basic function of covering and protecting the body, but their transformation into garments with distinctive shapes and decorative embellishments is a cultural phenomenon.
Jordanian costume is characterized by its elegance, originality, and practicality. The Jordanian costume is also remarkable for its vast diversity, despite Jordan's relatively small geographical area. This variation reflects different styles of living, for example, the agricultural societies of the north and the Bedouin nomadic and settled communities of the south.
The distinguished dress of a young
Woman of Salt wearing the famous
"Double Dress" of Central Jordan
If these costumes are to be taken as a representation of Jordanian culture, then they reflect a uniqueness that has been largely ignored, since the Jordanian people have generally been looked upon as yet another part of Bilad Esham (the Arabic term for greater Syria, i.e. Palestine, Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon).
In Amman, the capital, and its surrounds a lot of the traditional costumes were influenced by the Palestinian traditional embroidery as many Palestinians over the years settled in that area starting in the 1920's for economical reasons, while many more were forced to leave Palestine by the Israeli when the war broke out in 1948 and later in 1967.
Men's clothing, though plainer and less varied than the richly decorated costumes of women, was still a rich medium for visual statements about identity, age and status, and was also subject to changes in fashion as individuals and groups sought to emulate their superiors and display their wealth.
An Arab Sheikh from Aqaba, Jordan
(Painting from The Oriental Album by E. Prisse)
If one investigates the traditional daily life of a Jordanian woman, it is a wonder how such expertise and artistry existed in her attire. Traditionally females were assigned the domestic sphere, which included a heavy responsibility towards the home and children.
The woman was responsible for everything that did not deal with public life. She was responsible for the cooking, drying, pickling or storing of food. With the men of the family she was responsible for planting, weeding and reaping. She was also responsible for the livestock and poultry. Lastly she was responsible for producing all kitchen utensils. This included straw weaving, pottery making, and weaving the household rugs.
Whatever the Jordanian woman did, she always had a high standard of craftsmanship, taste, and color harmony. She also had special pride in her work and identity with her own village or kin. Her burden of work was heavy, yet time was allocated to embroidery and dressmaking. Although important, embroidery was considered part of her leisure time. It was the time used for socializing with related women as they sat and embroidered together, putting their culture's signature on their wear.