What is Worn Under a Saudi Thobe?

I’ve been asked a number of times on what do man wear under their white thobe.  The answer is pretty simple.  I’ll start from the inner clothing and work my way back out to the thobe.  Naturally the man will begin with underwear similar to boxer shorts which is usually white given that the thobe is white.  He will also put on a white cotton t-shirt that may either have short sleeves or be sleeveless.  And last, before the thobe itself he will put on long white cotton pants.  I have learned that these have been locally refered to as “sunnah underpants.”  Now I need to learn why as noone has told me that yet!


 Some men in the height of the summer may elect not to wear the long white cotton pants due to the heat.  However the thobes can be transparent so one can easily tell if a man has chosen to go without the long white cotton pants.  Of course lastly the man puts on his thobe.


The traditional color of the thobe is white but it does come in many differing colors.  In the summer months one will wear predominantly white or sometimes an off-white or yellow color.  In the cooler months and winter time and if living in a part of the Kingdom where it does get cold, the men will start to wear to dark thobes in black, brown, gray or navy blue.  They may also wear thobes which are a yellowish or ochre in color which look quite nice.  They will continue to wear the same garments underneath but may also choose to wear insulated or long underwear in both pants and a long sleeve tshirt to further protect themselves from the cold.


One aspect that continues to surprise me and on which I have also posted previously is when the men choose to change the color of their thobe, the garments underneath remain the same.  As a result you may see a man sitting while wearing a dark thobe and underneath still see the long white cotton pants peaking out instead of coordinating or contrasting dark pants.

 For my earlier post and comments on thobes please see:  http://delhi4cats.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/saudi-mens-thobe/

36 Responses

  1. Here’s my theory on the “Sunnah” underpants thing. Although it’s quite out of fashion these days there’s a second type of underpants that men wear under a thobe. I suppose you could call them under-shorts, since they end just above the knee. Few people wear them these days, and those who do tend to be of the previous generation. Anyway, according to Sunnah for a man to be considered “decent” he should cover the area stretching from the navel to the knees. Since only the under-pants cover the whole area they’re called “Sunnah” under-pants.

    Convoluted? perhaps, but that’s what I got:)

    Oh, and wearing any color other than white under the thobe is considered a fashion faux pas. Why? I have no idea.

  2. Not to disappoint a lot of boxer vendors, but myself am content with the sunnah trousers without the boxers. I mean how far can we go to cover ourselves…?

  3. Carol,

    I recall reading something,I do not remember when or where,that women in Saudia are required to wear clothing under the abaya. Just wondered if that had any truth to it and if women could get away with wearing as little as men do under their thobe? Personally, I would not mind the tank top but I don’t think I could ever bring myself to just wear the briefs! : )

  4. Salaam,
    traditionally a wizar is worn, as opposed to pants. This is like a lungi a skirt that is wrapped around the waist.

    and most men go commando, just like the scots

  5. You mentioned in your post:
    ” I have learned that these have been locally referred to as “sunnah underpants.” Now I need to learn why as no one has told me that yet!”

    I was just about to go to bed when i read your last post. And since i am currently wearing “sunnah underpants” (by the way they make great pajamas) i would be more than happy to give you the 411 behind their name for anyone who doesn’t know.
    According to Islamic dress code the very least men are required to cover is from their navel to their mid-thigh. It is of course preferable to cover more than that as Islamic Tradition and social customs suggest. Those “long white cotton pants” you mentioned in your post come down to the mid-calf. And according to Prophetic Tradition (a.k.a Sunnah), it is preferable for men to cover from the navel to the mid-calf. So thats why they’re called “sunnah underpants”. But i just like to call them pajamas. =)

  6. All,

    I thank everyone for increasing my and other readers knowledge and solving the mystery of “sunnah underpants.” I have seen in the stores that in regards to choices for men, while the colors are predominantly white there are options such as length. Although there are mens briefs in the stores, most popular do seem to be the cotton white “sunnah”, cotton pants down to the ankle or a variation on the boxer. Since you answered about Sunnah underpants, how come the boxes tend to be just like pull on gym shorts for men instead of having a slit in the front like most traditional boxer style shorts worn as underwear?

    Tina — In regards to under the abaya, while I’ll likely make that another post the short answer to your question is while muslim women are always encouraged to dress modestly (including under the abaya) you will actually find that just about anything goes. And yes, in the height of the summer heat, I know some ladies who choose to wear very little under their abaya while the men in turn may walk freely in shorts and a t-shirt.

  7. Re: the lack of boxer front slits.

    Well, as far as I can tell the function of those slits is to enable Little Me to poke out and use a urinal. And since using a urinal is considered a big no no by most Saudis (I certainly have never attempted to use one) they’re not really needed.

  8. I find this post very inspiring. I keep seeing things in my minds eye, I’m not sure this is quite halal.

  9. Aafke, I agree. It is an interesting and informative topic that must be approached delicately!

  10. I also got curious and asked some family members on the slit issue. They have become accustomed to my unusual questions by now. I was advised that in earlier times (15-20 years ago) boxers with slits were the most common but since then the most common type found in souks and shops is without the slit. And like Saudi Jawa stated, the “non slit type” were perhaps to encourage one to sit rather than stand when nature called.

  11. I thought the same about the ”slit” issue, but couldn’t describe it delicately. Not really my business anyway.

  12. Nothing wrong with being inquisitive is what I say…

  13. Interesting one … I find it rather odd of men sporting the boxers underneath the Thobe.. in a windy environment it the thobe sticks around the body so much … ajeeb !
    In the UAE, the Thobe style is much cooler (my opinion, dont blast me for that) … they have some embroideries too on the chest area.
    Even their head gear is like so cool, the way they tie it around.. looks more bedouish!
    I think they call their thobe – dishdasha … and they wear a Sarong, Lungi, Fouta or watever else is the word underneath the thobe .. well its sort of like a toal cover up, such that we wudnt know wats inside – sunnah pants or boxers, or wateverrr …
    oh ya, they have tht string of cloth falling from the neckline ..n they touch it up with perfume, such that at the time of Sujood/Rukuh in prayer .. it comes to ur nose … mmm .. aroma!

  14. You’re quite right Ruman that the differing countries in the region will have their own variations of the thobe style as well as the way the head gear may be worn. It’s quite interesting!

  15. The word is: totally Fascinating!
    I miss photos, but then I have a rich imagination…

  16. […] What Exactly do Women Wear Under the Abaya?Lack of Railways in the KingdomNumbers You Need to KnowSaudi Perspectives on the US Presidential […]

  17. Hello,

    I am very interested in Saudi Arabia and it’s daily life. What do men wear if they work at an office job, such as in a bank, as an accountant, or at an office of any kind? Do they wear a white thobe or do they wear western style suits at times?

    The thobe looks very nice with the head dress, but all white seems very impractical to keep clean.

  18. Many Saudis will wear the thobe like a standard uniform whether to a bank, office, hospital, university, etc. Some may choose to wear western style suits but my observation is that the majority wear the thobes. They wear the white thobe in the warmer/hot months and during the cooler months switch to the darker thobe.

    The white may not be practical but laundries are so plentiful and reasonable. For example, my spouse will wear a thobe to work, come home and generally then change into another thobe.

  19. ive been asked alot WHY they wear a thobe: The Thobe is perfectly suited for the hot desert climate of Saudi Arabia. The Quran states that a man should be judged by his deeds not on his appearance so the Thobe also expresses equality.


  20. Actually though, I personally think the men’s shalweer kameez is more practical than a thobe and it can be made out of the same fabrics as the thobe.

  21. Oh thank goodness I found this site with information on the thobe. I am currently living in Dubai having just moved from the U.S. Pardon the ignorance but I didn’t want to offend anyone and I will probably get shot for my question if I asked it out loud. I am surrounded by men wearing the thobe all day and wondered what they wear under there coz its hot. I can clearly see the undershirt worn, but when it gets to the bottom, it gets questionable. I can’t ask or stare as I will probably end up in jail for commiting that crime of looking. But you can’t help but wonder. From what I’ve observed these guys have gone commando. Must be nice to have the airy feeling I thought that I want to wear one. ha-ha-ha. But it is probably offensive since I am not Muslim and would be a total disrespect. But I do like the sandals they were. They seem fashinable and cool to wear.

  22. Many expats here in Saudi will choose to wear the thobe. I don’t believe it would be viewed as disrespectful.

  23. Most of the expats that wear thobes are Muslim. If a non Muslim wore the thobe it won’t be disrespectful but ajeeb (strange). Not to mention the expat community would mock him.

  24. Hmm .. I actually know a non-muslim western expat who wears a thobe AND ghutra – to work.

    But yes – he does get stared at, quite understandably!

    No one here seems to mind if expats wear the thobe – as long as they don’t get any official photos taken while wearing one. I think there is some rule about that because one of my husbands friends was sent back home to change his outfit when he showed up in a thobe & ghutra to get a passport photo taken.

  25. I have a very dear South African expat friend. He is an older man (55 plus) and exclusively wears traditional Saudi dress. When one looks at him it is immediately evident he is not Saudi and neither is he muslim. However he is most comfortable wearing the thobe and as he has told me, it is very practical as well.

    I think folks may be too quick to judge and judge wrongly if an expat chooses to wear a thobe. The climate and environment are suitable to this type of clothing.

    Yes, in regards to passport photos, that could be questionable as to why would an expat want his passport photo to show him in a dress which may be contradictory to his culture and country?

  26. I don’t even want to wear one around all the time. I just want to own one and will probably wear it when I feel like it. But if I get a pciture of me (not in it) but surrounded by my work mates in it…that would be awesome. I just find it all fascinating.

  27. A lot of our expat friends enjoy wearing thobes on the weekend particularly if we have a gathering at an estraha (Saudi farm) or picnic in the desert.

  28. Hello, American bedu. I find your blog to be most interesting and fascincating.
    I’m an american college student with an interest in other other cultures and soceities so if offend anyone its not out of disrespect. I have a high respect for other customes and cultures. Agian if it is offensive please forgive…

    I tried to find out more about the “Sunnah” underpants but didn’t find much. What i did find falls in line with what ruman and others have mentioned; a cloth that covers the area between the navel and the below the thigh. Also, I tried to find if it was true that sometimes nothing
    (no underpants) is worn under the Thobe/thawb but found a few sources saying that its highly unlikely because of the thin white fabric and it be transparent in the sun. a persons silhouette can be seen. Would this matter if the color of the thobe was a darker color? However as i have learned there are always exceptions to a rule. So do most men wear a lungi, slit-less boxers, or a izar as a common trend, culture/tradition or personal taste and a minority go “commando” from personal taste or on those especially unbearable hot days. would that be a correct assertion to make? also are thobes (with trousers) only made of cotton or are other materials used?

    In light of all the above the thobe seems to be very comfortable to wear. It would be cool to own one.

  29. I’m thankful to say that it is the rare Saudi who will go ‘commando.’ Most generally do wear both underpants and longer Sunna underpants under the thobe in both cool and hot weather. Most are made out of cotton except the ones during winter are made of heavier warmer cloth.

  30. agreed. curious though, do you think the ones that do ‘go commando” do it from a sense of adventure or the comfort ( some people like the “freedom”) or something along those lines?

    Logically, i would imagine that it would be strange for someone to inquire to guy whether or not he has Sunna, boxers or izar or anything at all, for that matter, under the Thobe. so in light of that i think if there are a significant populations that isn’t as dressed as everyone else, or even an individual doing this, no one would really know it, because I’m guessing no one would ask.

    i also came across in a forum where a Swedish tourist over heard a barber mentioning quite a bit of men do go without modest coverings. in that conversation, another forumer ( probably Saudi) says its not likely to be true. It appears they came to a consensus that the barber knew the tourist was listening and made a statement for a shock factor for fun or amusement…

    also are there variations on the thobe by region in the Kingdom? didn’t find much online in this respect. I have been doing research on history, traditional clothing, cuisine, etc on the peninsula. Just find it highly fascinating….

    just wait for my qestion about Abaya( i will be more modest than i have been here)
    thank you for you response, consideration and you understanding Bedu…

  31. My understanding, from a website I no longer can find, is:
    What is worn underneath will depend upon the religion and the degree to which the man follows Islamic law if Muslim

    The Koran evidently says that a man must, at minimum, cover from the navel to the mid-thigh,

    The Koran also strongly urges that all dress alike to stress equality.

    Pretty much everyone will wear more layers underneath as the weather is cooler, often a pair of ankle length pants over underwear, but long underwear is not uncommon in cold areas.

    As far as foreigners wearing the garb, it should be considered respectful to dress as those around you.

    As several have pointed out, the main problem isn’t the locals, but the other ignorant expats.

    Exactly what the style is will depend greatly upon where the wearer is from, traditionally, before mass production, Bedouin, like most people world-wide had distinctive styles by the tribe or village. This permitted an experienced person to identify where a person came from by small differences in style.

    Note that during WWII the US OSS had a workplace in Canada which was capable of turning out an outfit which would match completely nearly any village in Europe, for use by spies.

    And it was needed, as the Nazis were just as able to identify where you came from by your dress as any other people-and the SS and Gestapo were VERY good at spotting discrepancies..


  32. Charles,

    Welcome and thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  33. Summer heat is good. We may be able to get rid of Sunnah underpants that way. I think that is halal.?

  34. @Gloria — (LOL)

  35. I made a joke about Sunnah underpants & my Saudi did not know what that is….. I told him he is not a Saudi after all!LOL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,277 other followers

%d bloggers like this: