Tunisia: General information

The Republic of Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa. This small country has a very varied history. Humans have been living there for perhaps 8,000 years, with people migrating from the lands to the east and north and from the Sahel region south of the Sahara. One group, the Proto-Berbers then developed into the Berbers (Amazigh). Then about 3,000 years ago, the Phoenicians came from the Eastern Mediterranean, followed by the Romans (2,000 years ago), then the Vandals and then the Byzantines. The Arabs came in the 7th century CE bringing Islam with them. Then the Ottoman Turks took over in 1574 after a short Spanish occupation. Italian settlers came in 19th century and then the French, who “ruled” Tunisia from 1881—1956, when Tunisia got its independence.

Although many people wear modern western clothes, traditional dress is still worn though maybe not always on a day-to-day basis, but for religious events and other ceremonies such as weddings.

1. Tunisian women wearing sefsaris
1. Tunisian women wearing sefsaris

Women’s wear

Tunisian women often wear a very large shawl (sefsari or haik) made of yellow or white silk, which covers the entire body. Most women do not cover their faces anymore. They just wrap part of the shawl around their head and hold the ends with their teeth. The shawl can be used as a veil or to carry children or packages. Underneath the sefsari, the women may wear baggy trousers and a blouse, or a long tunic.

2.. Berber women
2.. Berber women

In the rural areas, women still wear brightly coloured dresses, often in the Berber style and made of blue or red cotton, representing their region or their village. The fabric is opened on the side and is held at the waist with a belt and at the shoulders by two clasps. Typically, women of all ages wear a massive amount of jewellery and it is common to see women with tens, even hundreds of gold sovereigns, necklaces and other trimmings around their necks and from the sides of the headdress.

In the Sahel region, the centrepiece of the ceremonial dress is a long woollen or cotton dress, drawn to a bodice embroidered with silk and silver, a velvet jacket decorated with gold, lace pants and a silk belt.

3. Tunisian women wearing an embroidered kaftan
3. Tunisian women wearing an embroidered kaftan

Until the middle of the 19th century, the brides of the wealthy aristocracy of Tunis often wore a kaftan made of velvet, brocade or silk and richly embroidered with gold and decorated with precious stones. Nowadays, some women marrying in Sousse and Hammamet still wear a kaftan with elbow-length sleeves and an open front. The kaftans vary in length from the knee to the mid-calf. The richness and originality of the costumes are typically based less on the cut or the fabric as  on woven patterns or embroidery. One form of traditional women’s wear that is often worn nowadays to weddings is a combination of a long skirt (fouta) and a bustier (blouza).

4. Tunisian woman in a fouta and bustier
4. Tunisian woman in a fouta and bustier

The bride wears a two-piece outfit (keswa tounsi) made up of trousers and a bustier, which are decorated with rhinestones, crystal beads and embroidery.

5. Keswa tounsi
5. Keswa tounsi

Men’s wear

The jebba is the most popular men’s wear, a long sleeved woollen or silk robe with a slit down the front from the neck and embroidery around the neck and on the chest. Tunisian men wear white jebbas in the summer and grey ones in winter. On ordinary days, the men wear simple trousers and shirts, or/and a woollen tunic of a slimmer fit than the jebba and with long sleeves.

6. Tunisian man in a Jebba
6. Tunisian man in a Jebba (robe) and chechia (hat)

The jebba can be worn with a waistcoat (farmla), a jacket (montane) and baggy trousers (serouel). The seroual trousers have decorative pockets at the bottom of the legs. A wide belt, cut from the same material hold the trousers in place. A long hooded heavy wool cloak (barnous) may be worn over the jebba, especially in the cold winter months. In northern Tunisia, another form of cloak is worn, the kachabiya, which differs from the jebba as it has brown and white stripes. The men also traditionally wear a round brown or red felt hat called a chechia with a thin black tassel. The desert tribes often wear a turban instead of the chechia as the material can be used to cover the face (it is see-through) to protect it from the sun and sand.

7. Tunisian man in a burnous
7. Tunisian man in a burnous and a turban
8. Kachabiya (heavy robe from Northern Tunisia used instead of a burnous)
8. Kachabiya (heavy robe from Northern Tunisia used instead of a burnous)


Both men and women wear a form of Turkish slipper known as the balgha or the kontra — closed-toed but open-heeled leather shoes.


9. Tunisian shoes (balgha or kontra )
9. Tunisian shoes (balgha or kontra )






Tunisia By Roslind Varghese Brown, Michael Spilling


  1. Sefsaris – http://www.baya.tn/2013/04/07/album-photo-de-la-journee-du-sefsari/
  2. Berber women – http://www.corbisimages.com/images/Corbis-PW003119.jpg?size=67&uid=0733cabe-d2a8-482c-8f06-1b57b78471b5
  3. Tunisian woman – “Woman in Tunisia”. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_in_Tunisia.jpg#/media/File:Woman_in_Tunisia.jpg
  4. Fouta – http://myfouta.weebly.com/uploads/2/8/3/8/28386747/1492526_orig.jpg?322
  5. Keswa tounsi – http://www.olfa-turki.com/img/bg-main.jpg
  6. Jebba – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/51/Homme_portant_jebba_et_chechya,_Lamta,_Tunisie,_mai_2013.jpg
  7. Bournous – https://arabspeaking.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/a.jpg
  8. Kachabiya – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f4/COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Gestreepte_wollen_mantel_met_capuchon_voor_mannen_TMnr_2852-1.jpg
  9. Balgha – http://www.tunisiaonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/sh.jpg 1. Sefsari – http://cdn.baya.tn/wp-content/flgallery/images/tm9kn0gu.jpg




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