Traditional winter coat of Bedouins, Farwa

Style Nilanjan Hajra
Traditional winter coat
Bedouin men wearing Farrwa's (winter coat) at camel market the day after camel race at Jinadarriah, Saudi Arabia.

Winters in Saudi Arabia are generally pleasant. A good time to spend days, and even nights outdoors. You need some winter clothing though. And the latest style-statement in terms of winter garments is the famous Bedouin traditional winter coat, known as the Farwa. The Swedish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen, for example, twitted famously last December: Ready for a winter night in the desert of Al-Jouf with my new warm Farwa.

A Farwa is a long, sweeping, fur-lined traditional winter coat. And it’s the fur-lining which generally keeps the Farwa beyond the reach of the common people.

Making of a Farwa

Winters in Saudi Arabia aren’t really bitter. During the coldest months, December, January and February the mean low temperature hover between 9 and 15 Celsius. The desert nights, however, could be far colder, particularly with a sharp constant wind. And this is particularly when you’ll need the Bedouin traditional winter coat.

In terms of cut, the Farwa is not very far from the traditional flowing cloak that the Arabs wear commonly. In Arabic it’s called a Bisht. But naturally, because of being a winter-wear there is elementary difference in the fibre between a Farwa and a Bisht. In terms of touch a Farwa is thick, soft and smooth, while a Bisht is thin and coarse. That’s because a Farwa-lining is generally made of fur, wool or even faux-fur. The traditional winter coat cut must be loose, long, i.e. covering the whole body, and flowing. Farwas are never body-hugging. One must remember, Islam forbids body-hugging dresses for both men and women.

Varieties of Farwa 

Farwas come in a number of varieties. First, at one level varieties depend on the material of the lining used. A real fur-Farwa can be truly expensive. The Mosuliya Farwa, coming from Iraq’s Mosul region can easily shoot up to $ 1000 a piece! The finest variety of this traditional winter coat is known as the Karakul. Designers make them with fur from fetal lambs, commonly called broadtail. Tailors may also use fur from newly born lambs to make this variety of Farwa. These are as soft to touch as lightweight they are. There is a also a Persian version of such Farwas. But those are somewhat cheaper.

Syrians make their own beautifully embroidered Farwas. These traditional winter coats aren’t cheaper either, and can cost about $ 400. Usually, tailors take about two weeks to stitch-up a good Farwa.

Then there is a type of Farwa in which the lining is of hand dyed sheep-wool. These cost about $250 apiece. Fashionable clothing, however, always finds its way to cheaper markets. Farwa is no exception. Therefore, the traditional winter coat also comes in linings of synthetic fur with protective overlays of velvet and cotton. Again, prices vary accordingly.

While traditional Farwas must be at least ankle-covering, given the craze for Farwas many tailors are even stitching-up shorter Farwas. Traditional winter coats even as short as jackets are also widely available in the Saudi market these days.

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