This season, the young people of Mosul don’t need to wait for updates from Paris, Beirut or Istanbul. There is a new fashion in town that has nothing to do with designer labels or TV shows. And that trend is all about what is described by locals as the “Afghani look”.
The look is simple to replicate. It involves a long shirt reaching down to the knee and loose pants. And it is called the Afghani costume because often fighters from the Afghan Taliban group wear clothes like this. It is also a costume that is popular with the fighters from the Sunni Muslim extremist group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now just known as the Islamic State, or IS.
Over two weeks ago, Mosul, one of Iraq’s biggest cities and the capital of the province of Ninawa, was taken over by the Sunni Muslim extremist group and their allies. They now run the city.
And when Mosul locals first saw men on their streets wearing this Afghani-style outfit, many Mosul locals were whispering to one another: “What? Has our city become another Kandahar?”
At a checkpoint manned by IS fighters, there is an older man with a gun, wearing this exact costume. His nickname is Haj, which is a nickname often given to high ranking fighters within the IS group. Haj was talking quietly to one of the new IS volunteers. The younger man was wearing jeans and a shirt with English writing on it. Haj began to tell him he should do everything in his life as the Prophet Mohammed did it.
The Prophet and his friends used to wear costumes similar to the Afghani costume, Haj said.
Interestingly enough the Afghani look is becoming more popular among other men in Mosul too, even if they don’t belong to the IS group. It’s proof that those who demonstrate their power can also impose their culture.
Local man Hassan Yousef says he wasn’t planning to buy an Afghani costume when he went to the market. He just wanted a new dishdasha, a traditional long white robe, the same as he bought every summer because it was cool to wear in the heat. But when he got to the market he saw a lot of versions of the Afghani costume. Liking the look of it, he purchased one.
When Yousef first wore the outfit, his wife and his neighbours were all a bit shocked. “I had to reassure them that I hadn’t volunteered with the IS group,” Yousef explained to NIQASH. “I bought the outfit because it’s fashionable.”
Before the IS group took over the city, it was common to see younger men imitating their seniors in the army or police. The same thing seems to be happening now, except this time it is the Afghani style outfit that is being imitated. The most popular colour in Mosul seems to be a light brown style.
The market on Aleppo Street in central Mosul is well known for its stores selling military and police uniforms. It’s been very quiet on this street since the IS group took over the city but now it is getting busier again. Somewhat ironically the stores that used to display military clothing all now appear to have gone over to the other side: The tailors on this street are starting to sew up versions of the Afghani costume.
Not only the individual tailors are sewing up the new fashion. Gunmen from the IS group also control many big factories in Mosul, and this includes several garment manufacturers.
A few days ago the IS gunmen asked factory employees at one of these to return to work, one of the locals working there told NIQASH. “It wasn’t about getting the factory back up and running,” the factory worker said. “It was because they wanted more of their uniforms.”
According to this employee, who didn’t want to give his name for security reasons, one of the leaders of the IS group ordered that 10,000 Afghani costumes be produced. The wages for the workers were equal to US$8 per day and the wages would be paid on time, the IS leader said.
It seems that the IS group wants to see its members more tidily and uniformly dressed. Factory workers say the militia has bought thousands of meters of cloth to make summer outfits for members. Some of the factory workers say there will be one colour for all the uniforms but others suggest there will be three colours, one for each rank within the militia. The most senior leaders will have one colour, with emirs, or district leaders, in another and soldiers in yet another.
The more canny businessmen among Mosul’s store owners are already sensing an opportunity. One clothing retailer told NIQASH that he is considering doing a deal with factories outside of Iraq who more commonly produce these kinds of outfits. He wants to get the Afghani-style clothes made there and then market them in Mosul and in other cities, under the IS group’s control.
“It all depends on the future,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe one day, the Afghani look will be a best seller in Mosul.”