Lebanon: General information

The official name for Lebanon is the Lebanese Republic. The earliest evidence of civilisation in this region dates back more than seven thousand years. Lebanon was the home of the Canaanites/Phoenicians and their kingdom, a maritime culture that flourished for over a thousand years (1550–539 BCE). Both the Persians (539—332 BCE) and Greeks (332—64 BCE) conquered the region. Then in 64 BCE, the region came under the rule of the Roman Empire, and eventually became one of the Empire’s leading centers of Christianity. When the Arab Muslims conquered the region, the Maronites held onto their religion and identity. However, a new religious group, the Druze, established themselves in Mount Lebanon as well, generating a religious divide that has lasted for centuries. During the Crusades, the Maronites re-established contact with the Roman Catholic Church. The ties they established with the Latins have influenced the region into the modern era.

The region eventually came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918. Following the collapse of the empire after World War I, the five provinces that constitute modern Lebanon were under the French Mandate of Lebanon. The French expanded the borders of the Mount Lebanon Governorate, which was mostly populated by Maronites and Druze, to include more Muslims. Lebanon gained independence in 1943, establishing a unique political system – confessionalism – a Consociationalism type of power sharing mechanism based on religious communities. Since then the country has had periods of peace and of civil war.

The exquisite culture of Lebanon is the product of its diverse population belonging to different ethnic and religious groups (“a mosaic of closely interrelated cultures”) who have inhabited and influenced it for thousands of year. Many articles of dress common among peasants and villagers of the Levant survive from ancient styles or are Ottoman in origin. Nowadays, the people of Lebanon are very modern and traditional clothing is very hard to find in daily lives apart from in the more rural regions. However, such costumes are still used for festivals, ceremonies and folk presentations as it is the integral costume for folk singers and dancers.

Lebanese man and woman wearing sherwal, gambaz, kurban and elaborate headdresses
1) Lebanese man and woman wearing sherwal, gambaz, kurban and elaborate headdresses

Women’s wear

Many Lebanese women’s costumes include a gambaz, a form of ankle-length dress. The gambaz often has a low neckline which is considered acceptable for married women since the bosom is considered the symbol of maternity. The gambaz may be made of expensive materials like velvet, brocade and silk, though it can also be made of plain, or more traditionally striped, cotton or wool. Traditionally, the gambaz had wide pointed sleeves but nowadays they are usually fitted to the arm. The skirt of the gambaz may have loose panels or be slit up the side to show another dress, skirts or baggy pants (sherwal) beneath it. The female version of the sherwal differs from the masculine one worn in Lebanon (see below) as the legs are very wide. The leg extends in diminishing width to the ankle, where it is plaited onto a ring or drawn up with a cord. Bedouin and Kurdish women still wear sherwal made of cotton or silk today. When the baggy pants are used as underclothes they are called libas.

The kubran is a form of jacket worn by both women and men. A hundred years ago, the kubran was a long-sleeved bolero jacket while today it has the form of a brief waistcoat. The jacket is thought to be of Balkan origin. The kubran always has been an ornamental garment and traditionally was made of brocade or of velvet embroidered with gold or silver thread. The seams and front usually are decorated with braid. The kubrans seen today usually are in the form of a brocade vest richly braided down the front and fastened with a solid row of braid-covered buttons.

A typical outer coat worn mostly by Bedouin men and women today but also seen occasionally on mountain peasants is the jubbe. This is a hip-length jacket with no collar and no fastenings. The sleeves are set into the body of the jacket below the natural shoulder line. It is decorated with braid down the front and around the cuffs. It may be slit partway up the sides. The Bedouin jubbe is made of black or blue wool. In contrast, some Muslem women in Lebanon wear a black rectangular overcoat (abaya) like that worn by Lebanese men.

2) Traditional kab-Kabs

The kab-kab is the traditional footwear of Lebanon. It is a simple clog which is commonly used even today. It was worn in Lebanon as early as the 16th century and was originally a stilted wooden sandal. Young brides wore the kab-kab six to eight inches high and elaborately inlaid with mother of pearl. The kab-kabs were purposely high to raise the girls to the height of their husbands. This stilted kab-kab was a shoe for indoors but today’s kab-kab is a sandal for both indoor and outdoor wear. It has become a simple clog which may be gaily painted. The Aleppo kab-kabs are especially decorative. Many modern women use them as beach sandals or for sportswear.

The women of Lebanon traditionally wear various types of headdresses: woollen scarf, silky veils or the silver-coned tantour.  The scarf and veil are still used today but the tantour has become obsolete (see Tantour blog). Lebanese women are accustomed to covering their heads, but whether or not they draw a veil across their faces depends upon their religion and their position in life.

A simple type of small headscarf known as the mandeal is worn by village women, though the style of the more elaborate headdresses indicates the ethnicity of the woman. For example, Kurdish peasant women tie a large turban made of a folded woollen scarf around their heads, draping a white scarf under it. Bedouin women wear a black silk veil covering the sides of their heads and throats. This arrangement is anchored with a folded band tied tightly across the forehead. In contrast, little Bedouin girls wear small bright kerchiefs tied on top of their heads and edged with fringe and blue beads for good luck. Druze women wear a snowy white veil, worn directly on top of their heads, or held up by a low tarboush ornamented on the crown by a silver medallion. A Druze woman may pull her veil across her face so that only her right eye is left showing.

Lebanese men wearing jubbe and abaya, with scarf headdresses held in place with agals
3) Lebanese men wearing jubbe and abaya, with scarf headdresses held in place with agals

Men’s wear

The sherwal (baggy trousers) is the surviving traditional dress of Lebanon. It is the most prevalent and practical garment among villagers and mountain people. The richer the wearer the wider is his sherwal and the more fullness it contains to pleat in at the waist. A good sherwal of fine wool worsted may outlast its original owner. The Lebanese sherwal often can be recognised by its fitted legs from the knees down. However, other types of sherwal continue some of the fullness to the ankle. The word sherwal is of Persian origin and some believe the sherwal may have been brought to the country, then called Phoenicia, in the 6th BCE by the Persians. Reliefs at Palmyra from the Roman period indicate that the sherwal was fashionable then.

Like Lebanese women, Lebanese men wear a short jacket (kubran; see above). The men also wear a reactangular overcoat, the abaya. The abaya has been known in this part of the world at least as far back as the 16th century. Mountain dwellers or desert people may wear a camel’s hair abaya as it gives protection against both heat and cold and it also sheds water. It can be pulled up over the head in extreme weather or hung loosely over the shoulders. A warm weather abaya is woven of fine wool in a porous weave, though rich men wear white- or cream-coloured abayas edged at the neck with gold thread.

Druze man wearing a tarboush and a black-and-white abba (khalwatiye )
4) Druze man wearing a tarboush and a black-and-white abba (khalwatiye )

The Druze wear a different type of coat, a short-sleeved, knee-length coat, called an abba. A wise man (‘aqel) of the Druze community may wear a black-and-white striped abba called the khalwatiye (Arabic: meeting place) or he may instead wear a red-and-white striped garment. The latter style was at one time decorated with embroidery and was known as the garment of youth (shabablikiye). In contrast, the Beduoin wear a jubbe, a hip-length jacket with no collar and no fastenings.

Country men in Lebanon wear pull-on boots handmade of goat leather. The same designs may be seen in 19th century prints of the area. Many of these boots are dyed solid red or yellow. Black slippers, worn with the backs folded down under the heel and durable leather sandals are characteristic styles of local footwear. Western shoes are now very common.

As with the women, the most distinguishing articles of dress in the Levant are the headdresses. In many villages, the headdresses have persisted while other parts of the traditional costume have given way to western styles. A headdress is the surest clue to the sect and religion of its wearer. It also gives an idea of the part of the country the person comes from or the community in which he lives.

Labbade with white scarf typical of Lebanese Christians
5) Labbade with white scarf typical of Lebanese Christians

The base of the headdress is either the labbade or a tarboush (fez). The labbade, a cylindrical hat made ​​of camel wool, is a very ancient headdress of ordinary country people and scholars believe it may have been worn as long ago as Phoenician times. The tarboosh is a remanent of the Ottoman Empire (being introduced in the 16th century) and is made of red felt. The tarboosh may be used nowadays instead of a labbade.

The various styles of headdress vary from the Christian mountain dweller of North Lebanon, who wears a high labbade, wrapped with a white scarf to a Bedouin black-and-white (or red-and-white) keffiyeh scarf held in place by an agal (doubled black cord). A Druze sheikh can be recognized by the snowy white scarf he wraps around his tarboush, while a Sunnite Moslem sheikh from southern Lebanon characteristically binds his tarboush with a gold-and-white patterned scarf. The pattern is worked in a stitch called gabani, a type embroidery known since the 18th century.










1) Man and woman – http://www.thelovelyplanet.net/traditional-dress-of-lebanon/

2) Kab-kabs – http://www.top5ives.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Kabkabs.jpg

3) Lebanese men – http://www.thelovelyplanet.net/traditional-dress-of-lebanon/

4) Druze man – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Druze_man.jpg

5) Labbade – http://worldhat.net/sites/default/files/styles/imageflow_reflect/public/images/exhibits/16.jpg?itok=wiOu7ZIi



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