Tunisians hang on to shashiyyas despite modern alternatives

Despite globalization and more affordable modern clothes, Tunisians still love to don a jebba or sefsari on special occasions.

al-monitor A collection of traditional Tunisian shashiyyas. Photo by Amel el-Hilali/Al-Monitor.

Apr 18, 2019

Despite modernization, Tunisian society remains loyal to its folk customs and traditions, especially those related to costumes and public appearance. As part of this, March has been designated the month of traditional Tunisian attire, and many Tunisians celebrate March 16, the National Day of Traditional Dress, by donning traditional clothing. Here is what they can chose from:

Kadroun and burnous

This traditional piece of clothing is popular among Tunisians, especially the elderly, and is mainly made of wool in winter. The burnous is a long open front coat without sleeves that is worn with a headdress. This garment, which dates back to the Amazighs, or Berbers, who are the indigenous people of North Africa, is still considered fashionable by many and continues to be worn by Tunisians particularly in the coastal areas in the south and northwest. The kadroun is also made of wool; however, it is shorter and has sleeves. Over the years, its traditional brown color has been exchanged for brighter colors that make it more attractive for the younger generation.

Shashiyya

This rimless woolen headgear, often in deep red, is part of a Tunisian man's traditional outfit. In the heart of the capital, Souk Ech-Chaouachine remains steadfast in its resistance of modern trendy hats imported from China and Turkey, where it is called the fez. In addition to the classical deep red color, the shashiyya is now available in new trendy colors to attract modern female customers.

Sefsari

The sefsari is a traditional silk or cotton garment worn by Tunisian women that covers the entire body. It is worn outside the house as a sign of modesty. Women in Tunis as well as coastal governorates such as Mahdia, Sousse and Monastir still wear the sefsari to this day, while the younger generation prefers to wear it on special occasions and at weddings, in particular on the day a bride goes to the traditional hammam for pre-wedding grooming.

Boulgha

This traditional leather shoe is closed at the front and open at the back and comes in different colors. A merchant at the boulgha market in the old city of Tunis told Al-Monitor that despite the shoe's popularity among both men and women, Tunisians prefer to buy French- or Italian-made classic and sports shoes. Boulgha makers are trying to attract the younger generation, especially young women, by producing new fashionable designs.

Jebba

The jebba is a loose and full body men’s outfit made of cotton or silk with openings for the head and hands. Many Tunisian men have one or more jebbas in their wardrobe and wear it daily or on special occasions such as at bachelor parties. The outfit is known for its lightweight and loose design, making it an obvious choice especially in summer. Tunisian youths around the country wear this garment as it comes in elegant designs that are fashionable while maintaining a traditional style.

Takhlila/haraam

This garment for women is made of cotton and comes in bright colors. It is tied at the waist with a woolen or silk piece of fabric and a silver or golden pin on the chest that is called “al-Khilaal." Elderly women still wear it in coastal areas and in the south of the country. Unmarried women and young girls wear a silk takhlila at weddings.

Maryoul fadhila

This white shirt has vertical green, blue or pink stripes that women wear underneath the “al-Foutah” jacket, which is still popular among girls in Tunisia.