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The Taj, The Tarha and the Mandil

Headwear and hair accessories are as important a part of the costume as anything else so let's take a look at key elements of shaabi style from the Banat Mazin and their contemporaries!

Greyscale photo of three women in traditional garments of rural Egypt.
Bahlawan ghawazee from Qena known as Banat Toufiq. From R to L: Muhassen, Karam, Zarifa. (Photo from Raja Mazin's personal collection, perhaps 1960s or early 70's)

This photo shows the essence of Egyptian folk (shaabi) style in the latter half of the 20th century: a mandil (scarf) with fringe, beads or pompoms crosses behind the neck and tied high on the head. A tarha (long veil draped from head) of various designs are worn in the typical style along with fancy modesty dresses, here designed most likely for the purpose of a costume cover.

Old woman with black fabric draped around her head and shoulders with a second black scarf tied at the forehead below the draped fabric, one crescent earring is visible.
Fahima Mazin at approx 65yrs old (Photo from her personal ID card issued in 1983.)

By comparison you can see a non-performance oriented version of this headwear style in the ID card image of Fahima Mazin at right, where the tarha is pulled loosely under the chin and thrown over the shoulder. The knot of her mandil is just visible under the top of the tarha.

Below, her sister Labiba wears her tarha open in the casual setting of her home.

Old woman sitting cross-legged in a loose black dress with beaded necklaces and black fabric draped over her head hanging behind her.
Labiba Mazin (Photo from Giovanni Canova's Folk Life in Upper Egypt (1978-1982), in which she appears telling the story "The Kite's Daughter" (بنت الحداية Bint el Hidaya)

We can also see that in some contexts, the tarha and overdress (which are both modesty garments for use in the street or in public spaces) is foregone completely as in this earlier photo of Labiba in a family studio portrait.

Young woman with two braids and frilly headscarf wearing a semi-formal dress with large lacy lapels and sleeve cuffs.
A young Labiba Mazin posing for a family studio portrait (Photo from Khyria's personal collection.)

While some elements of performance costumes have little relevance to common shaabi style of the mid to late 20th century, it is important to remember that there are just as many facets that are directly reflective of normal women's dress styles during this time. Things like the mandil, tarha and modesty dresses may be crafted from more interesting and attention drawing fabrics, colors and décor than their mundane counterparts but the source style remains.

In some performance contexts and depending on the specific period of time you might find examples of conservative streetwear used for performance such as in the clip of Suad, Feriyal and Fatheya at the Moulid Abd el Rahim el Qanawi, where the dress is rather reminiscent of outfits worn to funerals, but more accessorized.

Three women mid-dance, playing finger cymbals and wearing traditional gold jewelry over loose black dresses.
The Banat Mazin at the moulid Abd el Rahim el Qanawi circa 1960's. R to L: Suad, Fatheya, Feriyal.

If you watch closely in the video you can observe that Suad has added additional broaches or pendants to the front of her beaded mandil in the shape of horizontal bars with coins dangling from them, a typical amulet of the era. To the far left Feriyal appears also to have added a pendant with dangling coins but the base shape of the pendant is not visible due to the video quality. Fatheya seems to have one as well but if you have a quick eye while they are zooming in on Suad you can see the part coming down to her forehead is actually the end of her beaded mandil hanging from the knot she tied atop her head. Now let's contrast this conservative mawalid style with a photo of a very young Khyria and her sisters Fatheya and Raja. You can see the traditional mandil shape echoed in the highly decorated costume crowns called "taj", but the tarha is not present. The chiffon dresses are here light cover ups (useful to prevent small children from pulling the beaded fringe of the skirts, which according to Khyria was a common issue!) and most likely used specifically for before shows or going between shows.

Three dancers in their costumes and cover ups with lots of jewelry and decorative accessories.
L to R: Khyria, Fatheya, Raja circa 1970's? (Photo from Khyria's personal collection)

The taj become iconic to the costume of the late 60's-early 90's but appears at least in one example as early as the 1910's according to this post by Nisaa. Size and the amount of dangling sequins or strands of beads of the inclusion of broaches or pendants at the top center of the item seem to vary per individual and over time generally diminished perhaps due to the amount of work it took to create one taj or finances or the items starting to be made by external costumers rather than the dancers themselves.

Woman wearing gold jewelry in a large decorated headband with a open ruffled polkadot dress and beaded blouse
Suad Mazin in taj and cover up. (Photo from Raja's collection, perhaps early 1970's.)

Here are two examples of large taj with drapes of paillettes, broaches, beads and sequins decorating it.

In the 1979 video of Raja and Khyria filmed by Morocco it appears they both wear basically the same style of taj, however Khyria seems to use an additional scarf below hers perhaps for traction or to protect her hair from getting tangled, a choice which can also be seen of Faiza and Samia in 1986 in one of Habiba's articles.

Women's face, she wears gold chocker and earrings and a very large headband decorated with beads and sequins.
Raja circa 1979 (Photo from collection of Raja, presumably a gift to her from Pepper Alexandria.)

We can see smaller and less embellished versions of the taj persisting until the late 80's and occasionally appearing after that, but throughout that time a few other headwear styles appear in the form of wide headbands or flat plain or minimally decorated scarfs tied in a similar fashion.

In the next photo Khyria and Raja are in costume while Suad is chaperoning them in a simple dress where we can see the traditional style of a mandil tied at the crown and draped with a translucent tarha.

Two women in sequined headbands and sequin edged dresses stand on either side of a man with his arm around a woman in a dress with veil draped from her head.
L to R: Khyria, cafe owner [name unknown], Suad, Raja (Photo from personal collection of Khyria)

Although the date of the photo is unknown it probably was taken in the early 70's, given the youth of Khyria and Raja, the fact that Suad was not yet married (inferred by a story they conveyed, about how this cafe owner kept perusing her for marriage but she turned him down) and the synchronicity in costume style with the below group of [unidentified] ghawazee performing in Luxor.

three women in colorful costumes play finger cymbals and dance
Unidentified ghawazee in Luxor in 1979. (Photo by Betsy Fishman according to

Not too much later in 1983 A'isha Ali filmed Khyria and Raja in two different costumes styles, the taj appearing with the skirt-vest costume and these flat sequined headbands appearing with the semi-new fringed dress style.

two woman in fringed dresses holding long staffs dance in front of a group of musicians playing mizmars.
Raja and Khyria in Aisha Ali's Dances of Egypt, 1983.

Another photo comes from Khyria's collection of her cousin Sanaa in a similar ensemble, where her headband can be seen as long piece of sequined fabric tied under the hair.

woman playing finger cymbals and wearing a sequined headband and dress.
Sanaa Saad Mazin performing for foreigners at a house party (Photo from Khyria's collection.)

We can also see Shadia wearing a similar coined or sequined headband both in the context of shaabi and sharqi dance performances, most likely circa mid 1980's.

Same woman in two different beaded costumes, the left is a transparent fabric with scalloped rows of sequins, the right a dark opaque fabric with rows of short beaded fringe terminating in paillettes.
Shadia in sharqi [L] and shaabi [R] costumes. (Photo from Khyria's collection.)

These wide headbands or folded scarfs start to lead back into beaded or decorated menadil, and we can see a variety of folding patterns which continue to the present day.

old woman in red dress and rolled headscarf with gold jewelry, smiles.
Raja at a festival or group class with Khyria [early 2010's?] (Photo from Khyria's collection.)

Other iterations of the beaded mandil show up, as in this example of Raja in the early 2010's (?) rolling hers into a form that resembles the taj shape, while the photo below she and her sisters wear three variations of the folded mandil, using scarfs that resemble the decorated hip scarfs of the bellydance industry.

Three woman in dark dresses and decorated headscarfs.
Suad, Khyria and Raja [L to R] perhaps mid 80's. (Photo from Khyria's collection.)

One last example comes from Eva Cernik's recording "Ghawazi Dance, Tahtib and Raqs el Asaya: THE REAL THING" where the two dances have beaded menadil worn in two different ways. Hajajeena here wears hers in a typically "baladi" way with the point covering the back of her head, while her dance partner wore hers more like a wide headband crossed under the hair and tied at the top.

Hajajeena [Qanawi? Bahlawan?] seen in 1989 in Eva Cernik's footage.

So how can we use this information when researching or performing raqs shaabi? #1: Being aware of headwear and costume style associations may help you generally identify the time period of a photo or video and may potentially aid in establishing stylistic differences between various groups or families, as research on the subject progresses.

#2: When presenting historical versions of the dance you can be more specific in your presentation by accessorizing according to the details of that period.

girl with long auburn curly hair posing coyly in a cap sleeved fringed dress and beaded headscarf tied in a high knot. founder Shining, practicing her mandil technique with a 60's inspired high knot.
a lavishly bejewlled headband with multicolored stones on a plain white background
Rhinestone headband on

#3: By presenting the dance as a modern evolving artform and letting the abundance of styles inspire you! Mix and match or pull in similar but more modern versions of traditional headpieces. At the time this article is being written, padded and beaded headbands very much resembling taj seem to have become a global fashion-go get your self a few while they are on trend!

Finally, let's see Khyria demonstrate a quick way to don the mandil. This one has been specially folded and stitched in place to make it quicker and easier to put on, but in other cases she manually folds the triangle or rectangular scarf before crossing and tying into place, which you can see a demonstration of on our Instagram page.

Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or questions reach out via the contact page and but sure to share these resources with your friends, students and community!


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