Bedouin Robe

Origin: Middle East

Year: 20th Century

Collection: Queens College Costume Collection

Identification number: 241.002.13

Materials: Dark brown crepe with cross-stitch embroidery

This robe differs from a traditional Kaftan, a T-shape waist or ankle-length tunic worn by men in ancient Mediterranean cultures. It is constructed in six pieces with an overlaid chest panel and set-in sleeves, without any fitting. The term kaftan is a Russian adaptation of the Ottoman Turkish term “qaft n.”

Called a thob, the robe is covered in elaborate cross-stitching embroidery in a pattern of stylized birds, flowers and geometric motifs. Differences in the embroidery appear in the chest panel and the lower portions and set-in side panels. The floral motifs symbolize fertility and the birds the flight of the soul to heaven. The splendid diamond emblem on the chest panel is talismanic, showing a cross and an eye to ward off evil. Its central placement on the solar plexus, “the seat of the soul,” could signify the locus of all spiritual and physical energy. Thus the difference in embroidery may be hierarchical, with the most sacred design reserved for the top and the worldly imagery indicated below.