People Watching


People watching in Jordan is constantly entertaining. The dress code
is somewhat mysterious and I’ve had a lot of fun conjecturing and
observing – and asking people questions about it when I can do so

Little kids of both sexes dress just as kids do in Canada. Little
girls even wear shorts at beach locales and don’t cover their hair.
At about age 12 the hijab kicks in for most of them. Christians, who
represent about 9 percent of the population don’t cover their hair,
nor doa few more urban less observant girls, but it is very rare to
see a woman over puberty with uncovered arms. Teenage girls
universally favour skinny jeans, even the ghastly jeggings, topped
with layers of T shirts, one of which covers the arms to the wrists
and the hips down to mid thigh. They can be as fashionable as any in
the west, and the girls spend a lot of time on their grooming
obviously, as exotic eye makeup and very inventive ways of tying the
hijab are evident. The girls here put their hair up into massive buns
so as to lift their hijabs in a more flattering look – unlike the flat
ones we are most used to in Vancouver. I must say it is more
attractive. Watching one young gal retie hers in the washroom, I was
able to solve the mystery of how they all can have so much hair – they
don’t, they wrap wads of tissue around their buns to enhance the size
before starting in with yards of scarf and a handful of pins to
achieve the desired look. It is apparently essential that the nape of
the neck is covered – you all know what an erogenous zone that can be…

The most common look among younger women is the hijab paired with the
ankle length form fitting polyester raincoat. Just think how comfy
that get up is on a 34 degree day… These raincoats are generally
black or dark navy, but some of the more fashionable girls wear
colourful ones. The next step up the tradition ladder is the loose
fitting black over garment like a giant black polyester muu muu, worn
with a black hijab and often an extra flowing chiffon over scarf to
really protect that neck zone. Generally the women wearing these are
older and of a matronly shape, no exotic eye makeup here, but we have
seen even school girls dressed in this way. The family apparently
decides how traditionally the women dress, for men traditional dress
is just an option.

The next step up is the full niqab. These women are wearing flowing
black garments topped with a head scarf tied in such a way as to
obscure most of the forehead, then a face veil that covers the nose,
often with a string joining the part over the bridge of the nose to
the forehead area – presumably to prevent those disastrous wardrobe
malfunctions which give onlookers a flash of nostril now and then!
Basically nothing of the woman is revealed – in fact many of them wear
gloves and socks — except the eyes, which oddly, are often made up
with eyeliner and shadow.

The piece de resistance though is what I call “The Full Birdcage”.
Take all of the above, niqab and all, and top it with what looks like
the shroud for a parrot cage reaching from crown to toes, dropped over
top of the poor soul underneath who has to negotiate the streets and
the potholes while viewing the world through a layer of black chiffon.
It seems to me that the Afghani burqa is preferable as at least there
is a grid area for the women to look through…

As a sidebar, for those of you who have read the book “The Kabul
Beauty School” (recommend it) you will remember how the doors of the
beauty salon were locked and women knocked for entry. Of course once
inside they remove all the head coverings so it is essential that no
man looks in. Well they do that here too – at first I didn’t twig as
to why there are all kinds of “saloons” for men, filled with guys
chatting, getting shaved with straight razors and having their hair
trimmed. All the beauty shops for women seemed to be permanently
closed. Then I saw a woman in full regalia knocking on the door of
one, and I remembered the book.

Traditional dress for men is really extremely flattering. They wear
an ankle length shirt, usually black or white, but sometimes khaki,
with a red chequered fringed headscarf held in place by a piece of
black rope that fits around the head over the forehead. They often
carry really nice carved walking sticks. Aviator style sunglasses, as
favoured by the Bedouin boys, provide a real touch of panache. A lot
of men wear the head dress with regular western clothes. It is very
practical for the sun and wind here. All young men, except the
Bedouin, seem to have adopted western Tshirts and jeans though so I
wonder if the traditional outfit will gradually disappear. One rather
hopes not, the head scarf is a lot more flattering than a ball cap,
which by the way, only seems to be worn by North Americans as far as I
can tell.

When the Bedouin ride their donkeys or camels, they flip up the
bottoms of their shirts and cinch them around their waists revealing
loose cotton trousers worn underneath. When it is cold they put on
the most dramatic ankle length black cloaks, very full cut, like what
theatre directors dress Shakespearean kings and such in. When we were
staying in the Bedouin camp, Attayak got up in the morning wearing one
made of sheepskin with the wool on the inside. He was tall, so I
considered negotiating for it, but the smoke smell would never have
left it, I’m afraid so I restrained myself.

In the fashionable areas of Amman where Doug is in awe of the opulence
of the cars driven, well to do women wear none of the regalia
described above. They dress vey fashionably, and I have seen
teenagers with bare arms, but thankfully no bare midriffs! It seems
to be the thing for the ladies who lunch crowd to go to the small
cafes, many of them sidewalk types, order a couple of coffees and two
hookahs and spend most of the afternoon puffing away. In the early
evening, when we try to dine, say at about 7:30, far too early for
food by Jordanian standards, the cafes are full of groups of young
Jordanians, all drinking pop and smoking hookahs (they call them
shisha here). Quite interesting to observe the ritual that goes into
getting the things going, there is a special employee who runs around
with a charcoal brazier keeping everyone going. Alcohol is not
available in these very nicely appointed cafes so I guess the hookah
kind of substitutes for a glass of wine among friends, plus it takes
much much longer.

As most of you know, I cannot restrain myself from observing what
people are wearing and I always love speculating on the reasons and
rationale for the fashionable dress in all the countries we visit.
However, I have to say that for sheer bizarre fashion choices, one has
only to observe the throngs of tourists we see here – not to mention
that we viewed parts of the royal wedding on TV today, and was that
really a Mexican sombrero that Camilla was wearing?…. So no fashion
judgements made, but it is sure fun to look.


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