Welcome to the Land Between the Two Rivers: Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq. It is here that the modern Iraqi man has taken fashion to a new level.
A lot of younger Arabs around the region, especially in faux-chic Beirut, like to make fun of Iraqis and their fashion sense. “They’re just so… ‘70s,” they say. So on a recent reporting trip to Iraq, I decided to have a look for myself. And I’m not one to judge here – I’ve been wearing the same shitty jeans and t-shirt combo for well over 20 years.
Here’s a quick guide.
On the lower end for shopping in Baghdad, there’s the so-called Thieves’ Market. Located in the center of the capital, street vendors sell every kind of knock-off brand of clothing from ice-washed jeans to polo shirts to tighty whities. On the fringes of this chaotic open-air market are dozens of tiny kiosks – some set atop cardboard boxes selling all sorts of boner pills – mostly imported from China. One bright orange capsule, called “HUGE STEED” is by far the top seller, one vendor tells me. Next to these and the fake Cialis are, of course, every type of cologne one can imagine.
Without a doubt there are two things paramount to a serious man’s look here: the shoes and the hair. Barbershops are constantly packed. I stepped inside one and was struck by the sheer amount of different types of pomade available. I basically told the kid cutting my hair, “whatever”. So I got an Iraqi-style fade, which is fine because it’s hot as fuck outside and really, why not? The only thing I rejected, to the surprise of my barber, was the requisite hair gel.
And then there are the shoes. Or, in Iraq’s case, the loafers. If you’re a serious man of any age and you’re not wearing loafers in Baghdad – to breakfast, to the police station, to fix the drive train on your broken down taxi – then you might as well just give up. There’s fake croc-skin loafers of every color, there’s fake suede and patent leather ones, too. They run anywhere from $2 to $20. Thousands of loafers – and some multi-colored docksiders, too – are for sale in shop windows and at street stalls. In one store I even saw a pair of knock off red, non-Tod’s Ferrari driving shoes.
Finally, there’s the shiny new Mansour Mall, which would not look out of place in southern California. It’s a several level, air-conditioned paradise of consumerism and bad fast food options. It has a Paris Hilton store, an “ALDOO” shoes shop, tons of jewelry kiosks and more. The men’s stores in Mansour Mall mostly stock shitty, pastel colored Hamptons-style short shorts and polo shirts with embroidered sailboats.
And since Baghdad is essentially a city bracing itself for war with jihadists who are lurking just 40 miles away, military style gear is huge. Much of this is also a holdover from the days when American troops and mercenaries roamed the streets, meaning wraparound shades and cargo pants are so in.
There’s a small alleyway in downtown Baghdad where several tailors will custom fit you for a digi-camo uniform of your choice, and all of the country’s security forces are represented. The tailors dutifully ask for a government ID, but a little extra cash gets you past all that, and also earns you whichever rank you desire on the lapels.
So if you want a real taste of the young Iraqi male’s fashion sense, hit the streets and look for the kids doubled-up on scooters, wearing loafers and weird jeans. The Karrada district is more or less middle class and it’s here that you’ll find the epicenter of Iraqi male style.