Raf-Raf Bridal Outfits (Tunisia)

Raf Raf bridal wedding dress, late 20th century, Tunisia. Raf Raf bridal wedding dress, late 20th century, Tunisia. © Trustees of the British Museum, acc. no. Af1991,15.1.

Raf-Raf is a town on a headland southeast of Bizerte, Tunisia. It is famous for its embroidered bridal costumes, especially the tunics and waistcoats. The wedding wardrobe of the Raf-Raf women consists of several types of outfits worn on different days.

Different outfits are worn on henna night (the day before the wedding ceremonies officially begin), the jelwa (‘unveiling night,’ when the bride and groom are officially proclaimed husband and wife) and the third day, when the wedding festivities come to an end. There are also changes in the appearance of the relevant garments from the late nineteenth to the end of the twentieth centuries.

The bridal outfit for the jelwa is the most elaborate. At the end of the nineteenth century the main items were a parti-coloured tunic in black and blue material, heavily decorated with metal thread embroidery, and a ‘winged’ waistcoat (farmla) with heavy metal thread decoration. The outfit was called the susana wu farmla bel-qros, while the individual tunic was simply called the susana. The black and blue susana was superseded at the beginning of the twentieth century by a parti-coloured outfit in pink and purple silk, called the jebba star (also known as the jebba katlain abraj). It was worn over a chemise with tulle embroidered sleeves. The jebba star had an elaborately embroidered plastron covered with some form of gold work embroidery.

The third day outfit again included a tunic and winged waistcoat. At the end of the nineteenth century the main third day tunic (jebba suf bel-qros) was made of black cloth. The sleeves of this garment and the plastron down the front were again heavily decorated with gold thread embroidery. By the 1920's, however, the jebba suf bel-qros had been replaced by the mwasma, or ‘tattooed tunic.’

The mwasma is made out of a rectangle folded in half with a square neck opening. A pair of sleeves is added to the rectangle. These sleeves are usually made from tulle (triz et-telli) that is embroidered in coloured wool or, in later examples, a brightly coloured synthetic yarn. The main body of the mwasma is normally made out of cotton with a large red or orange woven check. Inside each square is an embroidered motif, usually a flower or star. These motifs are said to be reminiscent of tattoo patterns, hence the name of the tunic.

The designs of the mwasma are worked in various colours and often have a single sequin sewn in the centre of each motif. The plastron of the mwasma is normally heavily worked in gold, while the bottom of the garment (both front and back) has a black band with three triangularly shaped motifs that are again worked in gold. The centre triangle is said to represent a stylized vase of flowers flanked by fish, peacocks, etc.

Over the mwasma tunic is worn a very stiff, short waistcoat (farmla), which is richly embroidered with gold, often on a ground of pink or purple silk and with motifs called after chickens, wandering sheep, etc.

See also the TRC Needles entries on Raf-Raf embroidery and Raf-Raf suriya mabdu.


  • AYOUB, Abderrahman (2003). Signes et Symboles en Tunisie, Tunis: Institut National du Patrimoine.
  • GINESTOUS, L. (1954). ‘La tunique brodée de Rafraf,’ Bulletin de Liaison de l’Office des Arts Tunisiens, 1, pp. 13-20.
  • STONE, Caroline (1985). The Embroideries of North Africa, London: Longman.
  • TANFOUS, Aziza Ben (et al.; 1988). Les costumes traditionnels feminins de Tunisie, Tunis: Maison Tunisienne de l’Edition.

British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 9th July 2016).


Last modified on Saturday, 20 May 2017 15:25