Palestinian Women's Clothing: History, Meaning, and Regional Differences


Traditional Palestinian women's clothing is a vivid tapestry of history, culture, and regional identity. Each garment and embroidery pattern tells a story, reflecting the rich heritage of the Palestinian people. This article explores the history, meanings, and regional differences in Palestinian women's clothing, showcasing the unique beauty and cultural significance of this traditional attire.

Historical Background of Palestinian Women's Clothing

Palestinian women's clothing has deep historical roots, influenced by various civilizations and cultures over millennia. From the Canaanites to the Ottomans, each era left its mark on the traditional attire. Early influences included simple, unadorned garments, which gradually evolved into more elaborate and colorful attire due to the impact of trade and cultural exchanges.
During the Ottoman period, Palestinian clothing began to reflect the empire's diverse influences. The integration of rich fabrics, intricate embroidery, and vibrant colors became prominent, symbolizing social status and regional identity. The 20th century brought further changes as political upheaval and diaspora influenced traditional styles, blending old and new elements.

A Palestinian Woman in trafitional attire in the late 1800's 

Cultural Significance of Traditional Attire

Traditional Palestinian women's clothing is not just about aesthetics; it holds deep cultural significance. Each piece of clothing is a symbol of the wearer's identity, heritage, and social status. The intricate embroidery, known as "tatreez," is often passed down through generations, with each stitch carrying a story of the family's history and traditions.
The garments also play a crucial role in social and cultural events. During weddings, festivals, and religious ceremonies, women don their finest traditional attire, showcasing the richness of their cultural heritage. These occasions provide a platform for preserving and celebrating the unique traditions of Palestinian communities.

Key Elements of Traditional Palestinian Women's Clothing

Palestinian women's clothing consists of several key elements, each with its own significance. The "thobe," a long, flowing robe, is the centerpiece of traditional attire. Made from various fabrics, the thobe is adorned with intricate embroidery that reflects the wearer's region and social status. Other essential elements include the "taqiyah" (a head cap), the "tarboosh" (a fez-like hat), and various accessories like belts and jewelry.

Materials used in traditional clothing range from simple cotton to luxurious silk, often dyed in rich, vibrant colors. Techniques like weaving, dyeing, and hand-embroidery are integral to the creation of these garments, making each piece unique and valuable.

Regional Variations in Palestinian Women's Clothing

Palestinian women's clothing exhibits significant regional variations, with each area having its distinct style and embroidery patterns. Urban areas often showcase more elaborate and sophisticated designs, while rural regions tend to have simpler, yet equally meaningful, patterns.

For instance, the Bethlehem thobe is renowned for its detailed embroidery and luxurious fabrics, reflecting the city's historical significance and affluence. In contrast, the thobes from Hebron are known for their geometric patterns and vibrant colors, symbolizing the agricultural abundance of the region. Each region's unique style highlights the diversity and richness of Palestinian culture.

Below is quick overview of the different regions and thier differences. 

  • Jerusalem: The Jerusalem elite followed Damascus fashions which in turn were influenced by those of the Ottoman court in Istanbul. Fabrics were imported from Syria with several specialist shops on the Mamilla Road. Wedding dresses were ordered from Aleppo and Turkey. From the beginning of the 20th century the upper classes began to wear European styles.
  • Galilee: Collections reveal that there was a distinct Galilee women's style from at least the middle of the 19th century. The standard form was a coat (Jillayeh), tunic and trousers. Cross-stitch was not used much, the women preferring patchwork patterns of diamond and rectangular shapes, as well as other embroidery techniques. In the 1860s, H.B. Tristram described costumes in the villages of El Bussah and Isfia as being either "plain, patched or embroidered in the most fantastic and grotesque shapes".[Towards the beginning of the 20th century Turkish/Ottoman fashions began to dominate: such as baggy trousers and cord edging. Materials, particularly silks, were brought from Damascus. Before the arrival of European colour-fast dyes the Galilee was an important area for the growing of indago and sumac which were used for creating blue and red dyes.
  • Nablus: Women's dresses from villages in the Nablus area were the least ornate in the whole of Palestine.
Modern couching stitch from Bayt
Modern couching stitch from Bayt Jalla traditionally used on panels of malak wedding dress
  • Bethlehem: Wadad Kawar describes Bethlehem as having been "the Paris of Central Palestine". Both it and neighbouring Bayt Jalla were known for their fine Couching Stitch work. This technique was used extensively in the panels for malak (queen) wedding dresses. The malak dress was popular amongst brides from the villages around Jerusalem. So much so that the panels began to be produced commercially in Bethlehem and Bayt Jalla. Amongst the wealthier families it was the fashion for the groom to pay for the wedding dress so the work often became a display of status.
  • Ramallah: great variety of very distinguishable finely executed patterns.
  • Lifta (near Jerusalem), and Bayt Dajan (near Jaffa) were known as being among the wealthiest communities in their areas, and their embroideresses among the most artistic. 
  • Majdal (today a part of Ashkelon) was a center for weaving.
The Bethlehem costume is called royal because it is so rich that it is described as ‘the queen of dresses’ in Palestine. Indeed, it is made of a blend of silk and linen, woven in bright multi-coloured stripes. Over the dress comes a short-sleeved jacket that glistens with embroidery. With this costume, women wear high, fez-like headdresses bearing the glinting coins of their dowry, crowned by a sheer shawl. Religious harmony was demonstrated by the fact that both Christians and Muslims wore the same style, with Christian women adding a small cross on the chest panel of their costumes. -  Threads of Identity – Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage by Widad Kamel Kawar

The Thobe: Iconic Palestinian Dress

The thobe is the most iconic garment in Palestinian women's clothing. This long, flowing dress is traditionally made from linen or cotton and is characterized by its intricate embroidery. The embroidery on a thobe often tells a story, with patterns representing the wearer's village, marital status, and social position.
There are various styles of thobes, each associated with a specific region. The Jerusalem thobe, for example, features a rich black fabric with bright, colorful embroidery, while the Ramallah thobe is known for its cross-stitched patterns in red and black. The design and color palette of a thobe can indicate the wearer's origin, making it a significant marker of regional identity.

Embroidery: The Heart of Palestinian Women's Clothing

Embroidery, or "tatreez," is the heart and soul of Palestinian women's clothing. This traditional craft has been passed down through generations, with each stitch and pattern holding symbolic meaning. Embroidery techniques vary, but cross-stitch is the most common, creating intricate geometric and floral designs.

Each region in Palestine has its distinctive embroidery style. For example, the coastal areas often feature patterns inspired by the sea, while mountainous regions use designs that reflect their landscape. Common motifs include cypress trees, birds, and flowers, each symbolizing different aspects of Palestinian life and culture. The use of vibrant colors like red, black, and green is prevalent, adding to the visual appeal and cultural significance of the garments.

Headdresses and Accessories

Headdresses and accessories are crucial components of traditional Palestinian women's attire. The "tarboosh" and "taqiyah" are common headdresses, often adorned with coins and embroidery that indicate the wearer's region and status. The "smadeh," a headscarf worn by married women, is another essential accessory, typically decorated with colorful embroidery and tassels.

Another woman's headdress, known as "shatweh", made of broadcloth, embroidered with silk and embellished with red beads and with rows of metal coins attached to the front. The headdress has a chin chain with a large coin token in the middle.

A Shatweh headdress with a row of metal coins attached to the front

Accessories like belts, known as "zinnar," and jewelry made from silver and gold are also integral to the traditional attire. These items are not only decorative but also carry cultural and social significance. They are often passed down as family heirlooms, preserving the history and heritage of the wearer's ancestors.

Modern Influences on Traditional Clothing

In recent years, modern fashion trends have influenced traditional Palestinian clothing, leading to a blend of contemporary and traditional elements. Designers are incorporating traditional embroidery and patterns into modern silhouettes, creating unique pieces that appeal to both older and younger generations. This fusion helps preserve the cultural heritage while making it relevant in today's fashion world.

The Palestinian diaspora has also played a significant role in this evolution. As Palestinians around the world seek to maintain their cultural identity, they adapt traditional clothing to their new environments, resulting in a dynamic and evolving fashion scene. This blending of old and new ensures that traditional Palestinian attire remains vibrant and meaningful.

Preservation and Revival of Traditional Clothing

Efforts to preserve and revive traditional Palestinian clothing are ongoing, with various organizations and individuals dedicated to this cause. Museums, cultural centers, and educational institutions play a crucial role in documenting and showcasing traditional attire and embroidery techniques. These efforts help raise awareness about the cultural significance of Palestinian clothing and ensure its survival for future generations.

Contemporary designers are also contributing to this revival by creating modern pieces that incorporate traditional elements. This approach not only keeps the tradition alive but also makes it accessible to a broader audience. Workshops and courses on embroidery and traditional clothing are becoming increasingly popular, allowing people to learn and appreciate the intricate art of Palestinian tatreez.

Traditional Clothing in Palestinian Festivals and Ceremonies

Traditional clothing is a vital aspect of Palestinian festivals and ceremonies. Weddings, in particular, are significant events where women don their finest traditional attire. The bride's dress, often a beautifully embroidered thobe, is a symbol of her family's heritage and cultural pride. Other ceremonial occasions, such as religious festivals and national celebrations, also see women wearing traditional clothing, reinforcing their cultural identity and communal bonds.

Each region has its specific customs and attire for these events, highlighting the diversity within Palestinian culture. For example, wedding dresses from the Gaza Strip might differ significantly from those in the West Bank, both in style and embroidery patterns. These differences reflect the unique histories and traditions of each region, adding to the richness of Palestinian cultural heritage.

Palestinian Women's Clothing as Political Expression

Traditional Palestinian clothing has also been used as a form of political and cultural resistance. Throughout history, Palestinians have faced various forms of oppression and displacement. In response, traditional attire has become a powerful symbol of identity and resilience. Women wear these garments proudly to assert their cultural heritage and resist erasure.

During political demonstrations and cultural events, traditional clothing and embroidery often make powerful statements. The intricate patterns and vibrant colors serve as reminders of Palestinian history and culture, highlighting the people's enduring connection to their land and heritage. This use of clothing as political expression underscores its importance beyond mere aesthetics.

Notable Palestinian Women and Their Traditional Attire

Many notable Palestinian women have contributed to preserving and promoting traditional clothing. Figures such as Leila Khaled, Hanan Ashrawi, and others have worn traditional attire in public appearances, symbolizing their commitment to Palestinian heritage and identity. Their use of traditional clothing has helped raise awareness about the cultural significance of these garments on the international stage.

These women serve as role models, inspiring younger generations to embrace and preserve their cultural heritage. Their stories and contributions highlight the importance of traditional clothing in the broader context of Palestinian history and identity.

Leila Khaled wears a keffiyeh while visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in 1970.

The Future of Palestinian Women's Clothing

The future of Palestinian women's clothing looks promising, with increasing efforts to preserve and innovate traditional styles. Younger generations are showing a growing interest in their cultural heritage, learning traditional embroidery techniques and incorporating them into modern fashion. This trend ensures that traditional Palestinian attire remains relevant and cherished.

However, challenges remain, such as the loss of traditional knowledge and the impact of globalization. Efforts to document and teach traditional techniques are crucial in addressing these challenges. By combining tradition with innovation, Palestinian women's clothing can continue to evolve while preserving its cultural significance.

Resources for Learning More About Palestinian Women's Clothing

For those interested in learning more about Palestinian women's clothing, numerous resources are available. Books such as "Palestinian Costume and Jewelry" by Shelagh Weir and "Tatreez & Tea: Embroidery and Storytelling in the Palestinian Diaspora" by Wafa Ghnaim offer detailed insights into the history and techniques of Palestinian embroidery.

Museums like the Palestinian Museum and the Museum of the Palestinian People provide extensive collections of traditional garments and artifacts. Online platforms and social media also offer valuable resources, including tutorials, workshops, and articles on traditional Palestinian clothing and embroidery.

Incorporating Traditional Elements in Modern Clothing

The fusion of traditional Palestinian elements with modern clothing has become a popular trend, creating a unique blend of heritage and contemporary fashion. Designers and brands, including Native Threads, are incorporating traditional embroidery patterns, motifs, and symbols into everyday garments like T-shirts, jerseys, and accessories. This approach not only keeps the cultural heritage alive but also makes it accessible and relevant to a wider audience.

Traditional Embroidery on Modern Apparel

One of the most prominent ways traditional elements are integrated into modern clothing is through embroidery. T-shirts and jerseys adorned with traditional Palestinian embroidery patterns bring a touch of cultural heritage to everyday wear. These garments often feature iconic motifs such as cypress trees, birds, and geometric designs, which are symbolic in Palestinian culture. By wearing these pieces, individuals can express their cultural pride and connection to their roots.

Our own Palestine FC Jersey concept incorporats tatreez patterns typically found in womens clothing as well a the Palestinian Kiffeye pattern at the top

Cultural Motifs and Symbols

Modern clothing lines often incorporate cultural motifs and symbols that hold significant meaning in Palestinian heritage. For instance, the Palestinian keffiyeh, a traditional scarf with a distinctive black-and-white checkered pattern, is often used as a design element in modern apparel. This pattern is not only aesthetically pleasing but also carries a deep cultural and political significance, symbolizing Palestinian identity and resistance.

Blending Old and New

The blend of traditional and contemporary styles creates versatile and fashionable pieces that appeal to both young and old generations. By incorporating elements like tatreez (traditional embroidery) into modern cuts and fabrics, designers create clothing that resonates with a global audience while preserving the essence of Palestinian culture. This innovative approach ensures that traditional crafts remain vibrant and continue to evolve with changing fashion trends.

Native Threads' Collection

At Native Threads, we take pride in merging traditional Palestinian elements with modern fashion. Our collection features a range of T-shirts, hoodies, and accessories that celebrate Palestinian heritage. Each piece is designed with care, incorporating authentic embroidery patterns and cultural symbols. For example, our Palestinian Jaffas T-Shirt and Palestine Watermelon Hoodie blend contemporary style with traditional motifs, making them perfect for those who want to express their cultural pride in a modern way.

By wearing these modern garments, customers can showcase their heritage and support the preservation of traditional Palestinian crafts. Each purchase also contributes to empowering artisans and keeping the cultural legacy alive for future generations.


Traditional Palestinian women's clothing is a testament to the rich cultural heritage and resilience of the Palestinian people. Each garment, embroidery pattern, and accessory tells a story of history, identity, and resistance. Preserving and celebrating this cultural heritage is crucial for future generations, ensuring that the vibrant traditions of Palestinian attire continue to thrive.


  1. What is the significance of the colors used in Palestinian women's clothing?
    • The colors used in Palestinian women's clothing often hold symbolic meanings. For instance, red can symbolize strength and fertility, while black can represent the fertile soil of Palestine. These colors, combined with intricate embroidery patterns, convey deep cultural and historical significance.

  2. How has Palestinian embroidery evolved over the years?
    • Palestinian embroidery has evolved from simple, functional designs to intricate patterns that reflect social and cultural identities. Modern influences and global trends have led to new styles that blend traditional techniques with contemporary aesthetics.

  3. What are some common patterns in Palestinian embroidery and their meanings?
    • Common patterns in Palestinian embroidery include cypress trees, which symbolize eternity and life, and birds, which often represent freedom and peace. Each pattern has a unique story and meaning, contributing to the rich tapestry of Palestinian culture.

  4. How do modern designers incorporate traditional elements into contemporary fashion?
    • Modern designers incorporate traditional elements by using traditional embroidery patterns, fabrics, and techniques in contemporary clothing designs. This fusion creates unique pieces that honor cultural heritage while appealing to modern fashion sensibilities.

  5. Where can I purchase authentic traditional Palestinian women's clothing?
    • Authentic traditional Palestinian women's clothing can be purchased from cultural boutiques, online stores specializing in Middle Eastern attire, and directly from artisans in Palestinian communities. Websites like Native Threads and organizations supporting Palestinian artisans offer a range of traditional and modern designs.