Morocco’s Traditional Dresses And Belts

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Nov 13, 2003
Princesses of Morocco in Morocco’s traditional dresses and belts

At the heart of Morocco 's vibrant handicraft culture is an essentially feminine art form of embroidery on silk, cotton, and linen-one of the most vibrant arts in North Africa for many centuries and in vogue through the 1930s. These exquisite embroidered objects bear witness to the sophisticated taste of a bygone society.

Moroccan Textile Embroidery explains how Moroccan women passed this cultural art on to the next generation and how embroidered patterns were used to decorate interior spaces-cushions, tablecloths, curtains and mats-as well as certain traditional accessories in the female wardrobe-shawls, belts, handkerchiefs, and headscarves.

Because of the rarity of older patterns and difficulty conserving textiles, Moroccan embroidery has remained largely undiscovered. Morocco lies at the crossroads of the African, Mediterranean, and European worlds and has been a melting pot of different civilizations. Its Islamic culture, which developed from the seventh century onward, absorbed Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Jewish, Spanish, and French elements. These diverse influences have nourished Morocco's decorative arts. The basic geometrical forms-crosses, triangles, zigzag lines, checkerboards, starbursts, rosettes-recall African, Berber, and Coptic motifs, while the arabesques, flowers and foliage, palm fronds, traceries, and inscriptions echo Byzantine and Oriental traditions.

This synthesis of styles is particularly evident in the refined, elegant, urban art of Muslim Spain. Introduced into Spain by the Arab conquest and strengthened by the assimilation of strongly Andalusian characteristics, it combined delicate foliage, calligraphy, and floral arabesques with dazzling patterns (diamonds, polygons, foliage) and simple, powerful forms. The styles were applied to mosques and madrasas, palaces, city gates, town*houses, fountains, and gardens, as well as to everyday items such as furniture, jewelry, weaponry, and embroidered ceremonial costumes, clothing, and household furnishings. The styles also became one of the most distinctive features of the brilliant medieval civilization of Al-Andalus, which flourished in Cordoba, Granada, and Seville from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries under the Berber dynasties known as the Almoravids (from the Sahara) and the Almohads (from the Atlas Mountains).

Born of the desire to create a refined backdrop to everyday life, embroidery is a universal art that has chiefly been practiced by women. In Babylon, Athens, Rome, Byzantium, Baghdad, Venice, Cordoba, and Budapest, women used embroidery to add a touch of luxury to their costumes and their homes. In Morocco, embroidery has flourished (and been well docu*mented) since the Middle Ages, particularly in the northern cities.

The materials of choice are natural silk thread*soft and downy with a fine sheen in shimmering colors obtained from natural vegetable or animal dyes-on muslin, lawn, linen, cotton, or, more rarely, silk. Despite evolving lifestyles, embroidery continues to play a prominent role in Moroccan society today. The sumptuous interiors and women's apparel that so dazzled nineteenth-century European painters are still a feature of modern-day Moroccan life, albeit adapted to changing times and needs.

Embroideries accompany every stage of the journey from cradle to grave: the katfiya adorns the traditional costume of the new-born baby; the sebniya handkerchief covers the bride's hand after the ceremonial application of henna, while the groom is resplendent in tunic, headdress, and gilet. A shan headscarf is worn over the hair after bathing, and the deceased are draped in an embroidered shroud for the journey to the afterlife. Cushions known as mesned or mhedda are scattered on beds and divans or placed on the floor for use as backrests, elbowrests, pillows, or seating. Tablecloths (mendil) and smaller squares known as rzma have a variety of uses. With their corners knotted together, they make elegant parcels for especially treasured items: the bride's trousseau, gifts from her fiancé, or freshly laundered clothes to take to the hammam.

Large curtains known as izar used to be hung in the doorways of rooms opening onto courtyards and enclosed gardens; swollen gently by the evening breeze, their translucent fabric allowed the women of the house to see out, without being seen themselves. In both Chechaouen and Azemmour, large hangings known as arid are placed around the bed niche of a newly married couple; in Tetouan, mirrors are adorned with sumptuously embroidered silk bands known as tenchifa to protect against the evil eye.

These embroideries-the product of patience, perseverance, and rigor-never fail to delight, with their subtle nuances, harmonious and rhythmic patterns, powerful compositions, and distinctive styles particular to each individual city. Fez is noted for its delicate monochromatic work, that uses fine geometric and floral motifs, while Rabat's multicolored pieces are clearly distinguishable from the monochromatic, geometric, almost architectural designs of its neighbor, Sale. Tetouan work affords striking similarities with Spanish Muslim embroideries of the fifteenth century but also features the tulips, hyacinths, and wild roses of the Ottoman herbary, themselves a common feature of Algerian embroideries. Azemmour designs draw on the fantastic Byzantine bestiary, and Chechaouen work mingles geometry and floral motifs in shimmering colors reminiscent of manuscript illuminations or mosaics. Meknes embroideries favor abstract, fantastic designs in a multitude of bright, cheerful colors.

Two clear strands of influence are discernible in the embroideries of Morocco. One is Spanish in origin, and the other can be traced to the Balkans. Successive waves of Jewish, Muslim, and Spanish emigrants from Andalusia brought the former to the cities of Fez, Chechaouen, Tétouan, Sale (where two distinctive styles have evolved), Rabat (the city's early work), Azemmour, and Meknes. The latter's influence is discernible in the Fez stitch and the city's so-called aleuj embroideries, as practiced by Turkish and Circassian women in the city's harems. These twin traditions are complemented today by the influence of European fabrics, evident in modern Rabat embroidery. But the often-young women who created these pieces were not slaves to tradition. Their works are often highly original, always unique, and feature freely adapted motifs, varied and imaginative compositions, and a fine sense of color. Highly pleasing to the eye, they are also above all a means of communication, an expression of cultural exchange and an eloquent testimony to the lifestyles, emotions, prayers, and dreams of vanished generations of women.

Members of Morocco Royal Family


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Oh, lovely photos Asma2! And I truly enjoyed the artical as well. Thank you. The traditional gowns that Royal Ladies are wearing are simplly wonderful - such a skillful hand work. :flower:

Looking closely at the photo of Lalla Meryem and Lalla Salma, I came to think that it would look quite good if they exchange their gowns - although they both look lovely in their outfits, I think that, when it comes to colours - they would look even better if they were dressed vice versa.
Beautiful dresses....Here is Lalla Salma


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top model Adriana Carembeu wearing moroccan caftan ( the name of the dress)


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Lalla Meryem


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wow!!!!!!! all of the dresses are beautiful...i especially liked the close-up of teh much detail....

they all look so lovely detail


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Yes they are wonderful but don't gorget that they are really expensive specially the ones that the princesses wear.
yes Amina that is definately true. I have seen some online that range from $300 USD to $1000 USD.
Caftan as inspiration...

Marisa Berenson Wearing Cowled Pink Caftan

Original caption: Model and actress Marisa Berenson in cowled pink caftan with jeweled bands down front by Valentino with pearly ring by Gripoix (1967)


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Fastening Buttons on Caftan


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Actress Candice Bergen wears caftan while resting on Pillows (1978)


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Model Beverly Johnson Wearing Striped Caftan

Original caption: Model Beverly Johnson wearing white striped caftan, Vogue Pattern #8587, sitting in front of window in artist Peter Lobello's New York loft


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Moroccan Shepherds in Tondra Gorge - lovely detailed bag


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Moroccan Little Girl - little princess... :flower:


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Caftan as inspiration...


Original caption: Model wears a fuchsia pear print silk chiffon caftan from designer Anna Sui's Fall 2001 Collection during Fashion Week in New York City, February 14, 2001.


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Moroccan Woman Carrying a Pail

A woman in brown caftan, head scarf, and face veil carries a pail covered with a cloth and holds a small child, hidden from view, by the hand. They walk in a stone-paved street by a deeply weathered wall in the Old Medina of Casablanca, Morocco. A small boy down the street turns to gaze at the photographer. 1963.


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Caftan as inspiration...

Woman Modeling a Pierre Cardin Outfit
Original caption: Femininity is this orange caftan executed in chiffon with an abstract weaving of gold threads, designed by Andre Oliver for the fall/winter collection of Pierre Cardin. June 14, 1973


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A young woman dressed in gray caftan and scarf, her lower face covered with a black embroidered veil, walks along a narrow crooked passageway in the old section, the Old Medina, of Tangier, Morocco. Other pedestrians pass, carrying bundles. Painted wooden doors, their transom windows protected by bars or ironwork, line the street. October 1963.


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Caftan as inspiration...

Original caption: A model wears a lemon multi-colored polka dot silk chiffon funnel-neck caftan with silk confetti trim during the Vera Wang show at Spring 2001 Fashion Week in New York, 22 September 2000.


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Full length portrait of actress Shelley Winters outside wearing a caftan. (Photo by Cynthia Macadams//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)


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After having a very long conversation with a my friend today (she has been married to a Moroccan man for years, and recently returned from another trip to see his family in Morocco) here's some more information on this style of moroccan caftan that we see the Lalla's in.

it is called Takshita or Takchita, often worn for weddings. Either wedding caftan or party caftan. Any woman wears them as they range from plain to elaborate.

Hope that helps a little, if you do a search you can find some online for purchase which are affordable.
Many thanks Justine for additional information. Much appreciated. I wonder how long it takes for one hand-made, festive, regal caftan to be made? What kind of threads/materials are in use for embroidery? Is it common for the precious stones to be fasten on the fabric (in a most elaborate version of course)? Thank you. :flower:
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To make a caftan ( takchita ) it takes months , it depends of the fabrics too and the kind of the couture you want in it ;)
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You know guys u can find takchita , caftan at the public market in morocco but the quality is not that good ...if u know some moroccan people ask them if they know a traditionnal tailor , the quality of the tissue and the couture will be much better than the regular caftan at the public market but u have to know the price IS not the same , much expensive .
by the way , the caftan is different than takchita .
Takchita is a dress with 2 pieces of tissue and the caftan is 1 piece.
Takchita , as u can see there are two pieces of tissue


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as u can see in this pic , Mrs Clinton wearing Caftan ( without Belt ) and Lalla meryem wearing Takchita ( with Belt )


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