Persia/Chapter 28

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CHAPTER VI.

COSTUME OF THE PERSIANS.

"If the prudence of a nation were manifested in a stedfast adherence to its costume, the Persians could not be too highly praised for that quality; for their dress never alters; they never make any change either in the colour or fashion of the stuff. I have seen dresses belonging to Tamerlane, which are preserved in the royal treasury at Ispahan, and which are cut in the very fashion of the present day, without the slightest difference." Such was the remark of Chardin nearly two centuries ago: but could the same traveller now revisit Persia, he would fancy himself in another country, such are the changes effected by the late revolutions in the state of the kingdom and the costume of its inhabitants.

In Chardin's time, all colours, black excepted, were worn indiscriminately. Under the dynasty of the Zends, light colours were preferred; but since the family of the Cadjars has filled the throne, the darker hues have been the fashion.

The form of garments also has undergone great change: and the dandy, if such a character exists in Persia, cannot appear but in clothes of the true Cadjar cut, the only style of dress that is considered as fashionable.

The garments composing the dress of a Persian are the following:—

1. The zeer djameh, a species of very wide trowsers, made of cotton cloth or silk, which reach down to the ancles, and are tied at the waist in front.

2. The peerahun, or shirt, of silk, comes over the trowsers, and falls a little below the hips. It is shaped at top like a woman's chemise, having no collar, and is fastened by means of two buttons over the left shoulder.

3. The erkalig, a very tight vest, which falls to the bend of the knee; the sleeves descend to the wrist, but are open from the elbow. It is made of Mahometan chintz, or fine shawls.

4. The caba, a long robe reaching to the ancles, fits close down to the hips, and buttons on the sides. The sleeves of the caba cover those of the erkalig, and are held together from the elbow downward by a row of buttons, so that they may be opened for the performance of the prescribed ablutions previously to prayers. The caba is made of various kinds of cloths, some of which are very magnificent and expensive.

The bagalee is another kind of robe, which folds over the breast, and buttons on the side, down to the hip. This garment is generally made of cloth, shawl, or cotton stuff folded; and is worn in winter only.

5. The outer robe is always of cloth; it is worn or not, according to the weather. The robe has as many names as there are forms of which it is susceptible. It is called tikmeh, when the sleeves are open as high as the elbow, and when it is round, buttons before, and falls like a petticoat over the shawl that serves for a girdle; omeh, when it is open on both sides from the hips; and biroonee, when it is loose, with wide sleeves hanging carelessly from the shoulders.

6. The shalee-kemr, or shawl girdle, fastened round the waist over the caba. This girdle is, according to the circumstances of the wearer, either a real Cashmere, a Kerman shawl, or a piece of flowered muslin. In this girdle is stuck the candjar, a kind of dagger, the handle of which is sometimes enriched with precious stones, and at others merely of ivory or wood.

The Persians have, also, pelisses of very rich stuff, trimmed with furs, such as the catabee, which covers the whole body, and is trimmed with fur down the back, at the shoulders, at the elbows, and in the inside. This is the richest and most showy garment of the whole Persian costume.

The coordee, a sort of jacket, which fits close to the body and the skirts of which fall :over the thighs. The catabee and coordee were worn in Chardin's time.

The kolah, or cap, worn by the Persians, while more convenient, keeps the head not less warm than the turban. It is made of lamb-skin, with short, curly black wool, lined with a greyish skin of not so fine a quality, terminating in a skull-cap of red or azure blue cloth, or merely of white sheep-skin. The only distinction there is in this species of head-dress, consists in a shawl wound about the kolah; and this distinction is reserved for the king, the princes of his family and a few of the nobles, the great officers of state, and the magistrates.

The inhabitants of the town wear, in winter, socks of worsted or cotton. The country people wear no stockings in summer, and in winter they wrap pieces of cloth about their legs.

The Persians have three sorts of shoes or slippers, and two of boots. People of the higher classes wear green slippers, with heels an inch thick. A low slipper, of red or yellow leather, having an iron in shape of a horse-shoe at the heel, was formerly worn. The lower classes use strong shoes of leather or quilted cotton, with fiat soles, and turned up at the toes.

One of the sorts of boots has high heels, turns up at the toe, and covers the whole leg. The others are smaller, tighter, and only reach up to the calf.

When a Persian is going to ride, he puts on a pair of wide
Persian of High Rank.jpg

Persian of High Rank.

cloth trowsers, called shalwar, into which he introduces the skirts of the erkalig and the zeer-djamek. A Persian of distinction, thus equipped and mounted, is represented in the engraving opposite to this page.

The dress of the Persians of the superior classes is very expensive, frequently amounting to sixty or one hundred guineas. It is admirably calculated for either a hot or cold climate: it imposes no restraint on the limbs, and may be put on or thrown off in five minutes. The poor people wear no cap, and but little clothes in summer; but when the cold weather comes they make dresses of sheep-skins.

The merchants never wear scarlet or crimson cloths, or use silver or gold buttons to their robes: this may not possibly amount to a prohibition, but the effect is the same. Shah Abbas, who wished to make this class of his subjects very frugal, issued an order that they were always to wear shawl turbans, and robes of broad cloth. This would be, in his opinion, the cheapest dress they could wear, as the shawl would serve them for their lives, and descend to their children, and the cloths would last several years.

It should be observed, that the wearing of silk is interdicted by the Musulman law, on account of its being an excrement. The Persians, however, evade this prohibition, by mixing with the silk a very small portion of cotton. A large quantity of this kind of cloth is imported into Persia from Guzerat.

Although the Persians bathe so often, they are a very dirty people. They very rarely change their garments, and seldom before it is dangerous to come near them: indeed, they think nothing of wearing a shirt a month, and a pair of trowsers half a year.

The Persians have a high esteem for the beard, which is an object of their incessant care and attention. In Egypt, it indicates a state of liberty; in Persia, it is worn alike by the slave and the master: there, the condition of the eunuch is too much despised for any one to wish to resemble him in any particular.

Black bushy beards are held in the greatest estimation: accordingly, all are of this colour; for men of a fair complexion dye their beards, as well to please the women as to give themselves a look of youth and rigour. It is more difficult to make them bushy: ointments, pomatums, and drugs of all sorts, are early employed to impart to them this species of beauty; but nature is seldom to be overcome by such applications.

Nothing can exceed the attention paid by a Persian to his beard. In the morning, as soon as he rises, at night before he retires to rest, after his meals, and several times in the course of the day, he carefully washes it, dries it with a cloth, combs and trims it. A mirror and a comb, which he always carries about him, enable him to adjust it at any moment of the day, when it has been deranged by the wind or by the accidental brushing of something against it.

The beard is fresh dyed every fortnight. The operation is as follows. A paste is first made with henna, and copiously rubbed over the beard. It is removed in an hour, by which time it has communicated a deep orange colour to the hair. Another paste, made of indigo leaves reduced to powder, is then applied, and left on two hours. During this time, the person lies at full length on his back. When this indigo paste is removed, the beard appears of a dark green colour, which turns to black after twenty-four hours' exposure to the air.

The Persians shave the head twice or three times a week. Some have a lock of hair growing on the crown, after the fashion of the Turks; others retain only a border above the ears. It is also customary, as a piece of finery, to dye the nails of the hands. and feet with the henna just mentioned, which is nothing but the pulverized leaves of the cyperus. Sometimes, the whole of the hands up to the wrist, the soles of the feet, and the toes, are stained with the same orange-coloured tincture.

To convey a more complete idea of the general appearance of a Persian of distinction, we annex a portrait of Mr Daoud Zadour, a native of Persian Armenia, who, a few years since, filled the post of envoy from the king of Persia to the court of France. His conduct in this situation was highly creditable to himself, and to the master whom he served; and to his pen we are indebted for a small tract with the title of Particulars respecting the present State of Persia, published at Paris, in 1818, in the Persian, Armenian, and French languages, of which we have not failed to avail ourselves, in the compilation of these volumes.

Ambassador (Persia).jpg

Ambassador.