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Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion

Central and Southwest Asia


Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed)

Berg Fashion Library

Table of contents

Preface to Central and Southwest Asia

Encyclopedia entry

Pages: xvii–xviii

This volume of the Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion looks at dress and fashion from the huge expanse of land that links Central Asia to the eastern Mediterranean. It is a vast area of wide-reaching historical, and current, importance. It has been torn apart and reassembled numerous times by politics, wars, and economic and social upheavals, as well as by religion and modern requirements such as oil. At the same time, it has created some of the most spectacular and long-lasting art and architectural themes and forms, and it is the birthplace of three world religions. Th ree important cultural and ethnic groups dominate the region, namely, the Arabs, the Iranians, and the Turks. All of this has had an influence on the range and appearance of dress and fashion worn in this part of the world.

The term Southwest Asia may be unfamiliar to some, but it was chosen to describe the region from Iran to the eastern Mediterranean for two reasons. First, more well-known terms such as the Middle East and Near East are regarded as Eurocentric— there is Europe, the Middle East, and eventually the Far East. In contrast, the term Southwest Asia is seen as neutral. Second, the terms Middle East and Near East are not generally understood to include the Arabian Peninsula or Iran, regions that are very important for the history and development of dress and fashion. Instead, Middle East and Near East tend to be taken to mean the lands bordering the Mediterranean as well as Syria. To avoid potential problems, it was decided to describe this vast area using the term Southwest Asia.

Despite the historical, and indeed modern, importance of Central and Southwest Asia, information about dress in this region still tends to be patchy. In the recent past, certain imperial or colonial powers were very interested in particular regions and groups; the Ottomans, with their capital in Istanbul, for example, collected information about their subjects, including their dress, throughout their vast empire for centuries. Th e Russians have been collecting ethnographic material from Central Asia for over a hundred years. In recent decades, with the growing importance of Islam and oil, more and more attention has been directed toward Arab culture, including dress. Th us, some specific regions and groups have been studied for many years, while others have been sadly neglected. Th e production of the Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, and in particular this volume on Central and Southwest Asia, is a major step forward in changing this situation. Many of the articles included in this volume cover subjects that have rarely been discussed in depth before, such as Kurdish dress, Iraqi clothing, hajj clothing, and the role of the hajj market.

This volume has been divided into three sections. Parts 1 and 2 include general and introductory articles on various historical and geographic subjects, including pre-Islamic and early Islamic dress forms, that have had a long-term influence on the region. Parts 3, 4, 5 and 6 include the greatest number of articles; these describe the regional dress and fashion of Central and Southwest Asia. Th ese articles have been arranged in a roughly west-to-east order, starting with Turkey and Ottoman subjects, then moving on to the Arab world, followed by Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Part 7 includes articles of a more specific nature includes articles of a more specific nature and covers subjects that have played an important role in the history of dress in the region, such as the influence of Islam, laws of differentiation, Orientalism, tourism, and so forth. Th ere are also several shorter snapshots that present more personal insights or ideas, such as one on the tenth-century writer and fashion guru al-Washsha, demonstrating that some people’s profound interest in what they wear, and the presence of fashion critics, are nothing new, nor confined to the West.

Wherever possible, scholars from or directly involved with the relevant cultural and religious groups were commissioned to write articles. Authors therefore come from a wide range of backgrounds, with sometimes very diverse approaches to the subject of dress. Th e articles are not intended to be the last word on the subject but should instead be read as an introduction to the various themes. Readers who wish to delve deeper into this fascinating world should follow the cross-references to related articles in this volume and other volumes and consult the bibliographic references at the end of each article.

In some areas of the world, such as North America, dress and fashion have become nearly synonymous. But this is not the case in Central and Southwest Asia. Th e concept of fashion, especially Western fashion, exists and is growing in importance, but there are many groups who prefer, for various reasons, to continue wearing their traditional, regional, and ethnic forms of clothing and accessories. For this reason, this volume of the Encyclopedia focuses on the concept of dress rather than fashion. But this does not mean that fashion and fashion designers are excluded. Various articles look at designers from the region, some of whom work with a combination of local and Western forms and others of whom deliberately focus on their own regional dress but with a modern, fashionable touch.

Th e terminology used to refer to the dress of Central and Southwest Asia is problematic. Names are often variably spelled and pronounced. Moreover, the same name may be used to describe different items produced and used in a number of regions. It was, therefore, decided to try to use a consistent spelling for most indigenous dress terms. Th e transliteration of the words follows normal, international standards. It was also decided not to include diacritical marks, thus making it easier for readers to gain a sense of the word.

Thanks to the publishing team for their patience and help during the production of this volume. They were supportive throughout, especially in the difficult moments. Special thanks in particular to the editor in chief, Joanne B. Eicher, for her encouragement and advice.

On the home front, no doubt Willem Vogelsang learned more about dress than he really wanted to know, but, hopefully, it has served him well.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood