Although each country in the Gulf has a slight variation on its traditional dress, most Arab men will wear a similar outfit for work and formal occasions. The thobe [thobe] is the traditional white dress, the gutra [gutt-ttrrah] the traditional headcover and the black rope or agal [aa-Gaal] keeps the headcovering in place.
Thobe [thobe] or Dishdasha [dish-dash-ah]
For most of the year most, if not all men, will wear white to reflect the sunlight (although Omani men also wear a light purple coloured thobe). In the winter months men often wear a darker, more heavy-weight thobe.
Most thobes have a breast pocket on the left hand side and all will have a vertically slit pocket, just above the hips, on both of the side seams. In the UAE and Oman a tassel [fu-ra-kha] is sewn into the neckline and hangs down the front of the thobe.
Traditionally there are two garments worn under the thobe; 1 - a white cotton tee shirt and 2 – under-trousers, made from the same material as the thobe and known as a sirwal [sir-waal]. On the head will be a 3 piece covering consisting of a gutra, an agal and a thigyah.
Gutra [gutt-trrah] or Smagh [saa-maa-Gh]
Gutras come in light, plain white material, whilst the smagh is made from a heavier cloth and has an all over red or black check design (think Yasser Arafat).
Agals are the black cords which are worn on top of the head, by men, to keep their gutras in place. Traditionally boys would need to reach puberty before they were taught how to wear an agal – it was a sign of entering manhood.
It is said agals were originally used by camel herders to ring the legs of their camels, this was done to stop them wandering off when the nomads bedded down for the night. It is also said that in the UAE only Gulf nationals are allowed to wear the agal.
Qatari agals, unlike the other Gulf states, have two long black cords attached to the agal which hang down to the small of the back. At the end of each cord is a little tassel, known in slang Arabic as 'tea bags'.
Under the gutra you will find most men wear a large crocheted skull cap or thagiyah to stop the gutra slipping and the hair in place.