In most countries around the planet, traditional clothing is more often worn in daily life by women than by men. But in Libya, the situation is, surprisingly, the opposite. Libyan ladies prefer a hijab to old authentic costumes, while Libyan men use a number of traditional garments, like, jalabiya, sirwal, jarid, shashiyah, etc. And the reason is, besides maintaining the old traditions, that these pieces of clothes were created for the local climate, lifestyle, weather conditions, and customs. The traditional garments fit Libyan life perfectly, so it’s no wonder they’re rather popular.
Of course, people don’t limit themselves to only traditional clothing, they wear Western-style outfits as well because, in some situations, it’s smart to use an ordinary T-shirt or jeans or sneakers. Young Libyan men especially like modern European clothes, while older people often prefer to stick with something more traditional. At the same time, Libyans respect and love their national apparel, they consider it comfy and appropriate, so you’ll often see people dressed in a jalabiya or sirwal in the streets of not only Libyan villages but big cities, too. Sometimes, they combine simpler folk garments with contemporary clothing.
More festive and ornate traditional garments are usually reserved for special occasions, like weddings, funerals, big national festivities, ceremonies, and so on. These situations are when Libyan men can wear an official full set of traditional clothing, including a headdress, outer cloak, and footwear.
The traditional men’s apparel in Libya includes a long white shirt called “jalabiya” or “qamis”, long trousers called “sirwal”, an ornate vest called “sadriya”, a knitted white skull-cap, a red or black headdress called “shashiyah”, a large outer cloak called “jarid” that also covers the head, and shoes (either high leather boots for horse riding or leather sandals and slippers).
Berber men have their own traditional attire that differs somewhat from Libyan national dress. For example, they use cloth turbans, veils called “mandeels”, etc. Their cloaks are called “haiks”. But we won’t look too deeply into Berber outfits in this post – that’s a topic for another article.
One of the most interesting Libyan garments is the jarid – a simple but very handy large woolen cloak that covers the body and head of a man. It is a simple piece of fabric (4-6 × 1.5 m), and it is wrapped around the body in a certain way. This cloak is worn by Libyan men of practically every social status and class – from ordinary people to wealthy businessmen to billionaires to rulers. Usually, a jarid is white, seldom brown (winter jarids).
Libyans love this piece of clothing because of its functionality – it’s not just a garment, it can be used as bedding, a tent, a cloth to filter water in the desert, and even as a ceremonial item. There are customs that say that a bride should walk under her father’s jarid when she leaves her parents’ home – it’s an important symbolic action. Also, a man’s coffin is covered with his jarid when he is buried. So, this cloak plays an important role in Libyan traditional culture.
Also, this means that every man must know how to wear a jarid and it is even shameful not to. To wrap a jarid around your body properly, you need to make a ring with a knot no bigger than a small apricot, the fabric is wrapped around the left arm, while the right arm remains free, the rest of the cloth is left to cover the head. Sounds simple, but to make it work, you need a bit of experience.
Traditionally, a jarid was hand-woven by Libyan women from fine wool. This process was made a lot more entertaining by inviting other females to have sort of a folk craft party. They sang folk songs, talked, recited poetry, drank traditional tea, and had a good time while working.