Morocco Brought Me Colour: Maroon

This is a maroon crushed-velvet qandrissi, the same shape as the orange one shown under "Morocco Brought Me Colour: Orange". Both photos are from the same day, an Oxford May Morning. Or at least, the first one is May Morning. The second is May Afternoon, when I and the photographer were riding on the model railway in Cutteslowe Park. I'm also wearing the turquoise shirt. My tailor made the trousers to my request, so like some of my others, they're full-length.

Turquoise Moroccan shirt and maroon velvet Moroccan qandrissi (worn during May Morning in Broad Street, Oxford)
[Photo: Nasir Hamid]

Turquoise Moroccan shirt and maroon velvet Moroccan qandrissi (worn at Cutteslowe Park Miniature Railway, Oxford) [Photo: SeongMo]

You Can Carry It Off

It's interesting to see how others react to vivid colours. One day, I was in the café. A business-suited woman came in and sat down. We started chatting. She was an optometrist from Sheffield, here for a day on a conference. She told me, "I love those trousers." They were the purple full-length harem pants made for me by my tailor in Tangier. I replied, "I could get a pair made for you." She said, "You can carry them off; I couldn't."

I've had this reaction many times. Men say it too, but at least half the time, it's from women. Which is odd, because they have a much wider range of clothes that they are able to buy, and a much wider range of clothes that they can wear without being thought unconventional.

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Purple

Here's that turquoise Moroccan shirt again, worn with a purple satin sarouel. Another pair of vivid colours that go very well together. The sarouel was made to my design by my tailor in Tangier, so isn't quite like a conventional qandrissi. It's full-length, and the "crotch" is the lower edge of the trousers, with two elasticated holes for my ankles. Unlike the "hippie" versions that I've mentioned before, this is carefully tailored, with pleats, belt loops, proper pockets, and a fly.

Turquoise Moroccan shirt and purple satin Moroccan sarouel (worn at Gloucester Green Market, Oxford)
[Photo: Dorothy Patricia Megaw]

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Turquoise

The two photos below show a turquoise Moroccan shirt. I bought it in 2009 — the first shirt, in fact, that I bought from "Fez" — and 8½ years later, it's still almost as good as new. The zip jammed and had to be replaced, and a few of the black and blue bobbles near the neck have been lost, but that's all. Notice the elaborate decoration. This, I've been told, is called the "Moroccan cross". There'll be other examples in future posts.

Turquoise Moroccan shirt

Turquoise Moroccan shirt

Dress Code

I wrote the piece below for Dr Dobbs. This was once a respected and densely informative print magazine for home microcomputer hobbyists, born in 1975 as dr. dobb's journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics & Orthodontia (subtitle: Running Light Without Overbyte). When I started blogging for it in 2008, it was online only, and a few years later, it ceased publication altogether. The piece explains how, through spreadsheets, I discovered sarouels and Moroccan colours. Saaibestrijding is the blog by Paul Tieman that I wrote about in my last post but one.

1. Ugly and uncomfortable "business clothing" often worn by non-hackers. Invariably worn with a "tie", a strangulation device that partially cuts off the blood supply to the brain. It is thought that this explains much about the behavior of suit-wearers. Compare droid.
2. A person who habitually wears suits, as distinct from a techie or hacker. See pointy-haired, burble, management, Stupids, SNAFU principle, PHB, and brain-damaged.
Definition of suit from The Jargon File.

... it was the central theme of my artwork that made me curious about, for example, the custom of lots of western men to wear ties around their neck. An extremely weird habit if you think further about it.
From the introduction to Paul Tieman's Saaibestrijding blog.

In July 2002, I went to a conference about spreadsheets in Cardiff. Now, the first modern spreadsheet was created in 1979. Since then, technology has made spreadsheets look much nicer, but it is still hard to build reliable software with them. That's one of my research interests, and that's what our conference was about.

So to emphasise how bad spreadsheets still are, I found a retro clothing shop, bought a pair of extremely flared 1970s bellbottoms, and with marker pens and fluorescent yellow card given me by the shop's owner, made a lapel badge reading Spreadsheets have not evolved since flares were ‸last in fashion. Readers whose teenage daughters don't habitually drag them to empty out their credit cards in New Look every weekend are reminded that it was the early 2000s when flares came into fashion for the second time.

Ever since then, certain conference delegates have regarded my dress sense with apprehension. In 2008, it was hot, so I wore shorts. With the result that before the 2009 conference, one delegate asked me not to do so again; and another even waved a pair of emergency black trousers before me as I started my talk, just in case. "We want businessmen as well as academics", I was told, "and must show a professional image".

Which was a shame, because I was in Paris, it was the week northern Europe had a heatwave, and trousers were itchy and sticky. Besides, when it's 31 degrees in an un-air-conditioned lecture theatre, wouldn't you prefer someone lightly clad in short cotton to be sitting beside you, rather than a besuited gent oozing sweat from every wool-covered armpit and tie-constricted neck?

After the conference, I explored Paris. I happened to see a man wearing a pair of those very baggy trousers worn also by North Africans, and — approximately — by Aladdin and his genie. With memories of lecture-room sweat, and because they looked so comfortable, I asked where to buy them. "New Zealand", he said. That was not useful. "And Morocco". That was. Because Paris has Moroccan shops in Barbès, behind Gare du Nord. So I Metroed over there, and bought a pair in a shop — number 5, I think — in Rue Caplat.

The trousers delivered as much comfort as promised by their look. They turned out to be named le sarouel: French doesn't share the English obsession with pluralising V-shaped objects such as trousers, glasses, scissors, and tongs. Actually, the name derives from Arabic sirwal or سِرْوَال, cognate with salwar in Indian salwar kameez. Because they feel much freer than normal trousers, and are cut in a way that doesn't wrinkle so much and thus stays smart, I found I like sarouels and have bought others from Fez, a shop I found at 71 Golborne Road in London. But I suspect that wearing one to my conference would be even less welcome than wearing shorts. Which is funny, because ergonomics is important, and one aspect of ergonomics is comfort.

Another is maintenance. I once spent three months travelling from Oxford to Oxford via Berlin, Bucharest (and Transylvania and Bucovina and so on), Sofia (and Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa ...), Athens (and Thessaloniki and Delphi ...), Münster, and Amersfoort. Along the way, I helped a friend install Lisp at Bucharest University, gave a talk to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences about teaching Artificial Intelligence, and worked on document cataloguing with Prolog in Athens. I carried or wore shorts, a red and a blue and a green Marks & Spencer T-shirt, a thick cotton lumberjack shirt, and a bottle of Body Shop Ice Blue Shampoo for hair, body, dishes, and clothes. I did have to cover my legs for admission to the painted monasteries of Bucovina; but that was religion. The Lisp and the Prolog did not require me to lug long trousers around the Balkans.

Philosopher A. C. Grayling suggests that yet another aspect of ergonomics is fun, or colour, or exuberance. In an essay on Depression from his book The Meaning of Things, he writes:

"Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius," said Pietro Aretino; and only an Italian could say such a thing. In the far north, where humans first undoubtedly went not for love of cold and dark, but to escape the danger of other humans, the sunless months are long and many. Suppose it to be true that humanity's first home was hot, strongly lit, riotous with vivid tropical colours and luscious scents; what deep instincts are forced to lie dormant in a silent world of snow, where night never ends?

So, if you were managing 30 programmers in the drizzly gloom of a November 3:30pm, with yellow leaves falling and bus windows all steamed up, would you really want them to dress all in black, grey, and brown? I'd prefer the inventiveness of Paul Tieman's Saaibestrijding. And I'd leave the sumptuary laws to the Roman emperors hogging their Tyrian purple, and the Victorian idiots who ridiculed Amelia Bloomer for wearing trousers. In other words, I'd let my programmers wear shorts and throw away their ties.


If you look at Paul Tieman's Saaibestrijding blog, which I wrote about in my last post, you'll see that many of the photos show him wearing a skirt. There's no reason other than convention, of course, why he shouldn't. In others, he's wearing an equally comfortable but less familiar item of clothing, a sarouel. What does this word mean?

There's an Arabic word "سِرْوَال" or "sirwal", cognate with "salwar" as in Indian salwar kameez. It has been taken into French as "sarouel", and occasionally gets used in English. In French, it seems to denote any kind of low-crotch trouser including qandrissi, or at least I get that impression from shops and other sites. In English, the nearest equivalent is probably "harem pants".
Google search for 'harem pants, male'
Of course, the French have more contact with North Africa than we do, there being probably so few qandrissi wearers in England that this question of semantic boundaries has never arisen. I, anyway, tend to talk about sarouels rather than harem pants. And so, when writing English, does Paul.

I have bought one or two non-Moroccan sarouels, to try different styles. I wanted the same things from them as from the Moroccan ones, namely comfort and smartness. And I like the long flowing lines in the very low-crotch versions. When taken to the extreme, their crotch becomes just the bottom edge of the trouser, with two holes for the legs. If this is at the ankles, then the trousers are better for cold weather than the typically ¾-length qandrissi.

But a disadvantage is that most of the trousers are "hippie" styles from India, Nepal, or Tibet. They tend to lack flies and belt loops (using drawstrings or elasticated waistbands instead), and to have insubstantial shallow pockets. I have had pairs also where the dye wasn't fast. In one pair from , it was so un-fast that when I got soaked in a sudden June downpour, the dye ran onto my jacket.

The photos below show a pair I bought online from "Mr Tipoi", (now expired, sadly), because I liked their long vertical lines and flared shape. They're from her online catalogue, and are the very same ones that I bought.

French sarouel

French sarouel

French sarouel


The title of my last post, "The Sullen Boredom of Jeans", made me think that this is a good time to mention a blog called Saaibestriijding by Dutch artist Paul Tieman. In Dutch, saai means "boring" or "dull", and bestrijding is "struggle". And like mine in Chromophilia, Paul's struggle against boredom concerns clothes. His blog's sidebar starts:

Some first steps toward the re-introduction of colourful and creative men's clothing, after two centuries dominated by black, grey, boring mass clothing. That is what Saaibestrijding is about.

As Paul says in Tópicos 2e1: Paul Tieman", a post for the São Paulo artists' collective "Dois e Um", men's clothing today is limited almost entirely to T-shirts, jeans, and suits, not to mention dull colors and patterns. But he dived into history, and found to his surprise that previous centuries were much more colourful. 13th-century European men, for example, wore two-tone trousers and brilliant colours. So Paul introduced colour and creativity into his own clothes.

The results can be seen in Paul's blog posts, which feature clothes that he has designed, bought, or commissioned. Here are two examples, from posts Acht-en-vijftig and Negen-en-vijftig

: Photo from Paul Tieman's Saaibestridjing blog Photo from Paul Tieman's Saaibestridjing blog

To some people, these may look like exact copies of clothes from the past. But they're not. As Paul says in post Vijf-en-Seventig:

Just an ordinary day in my working studio in Maastricht (the Netherlands). Often people are commenting like: it's just renaissance clothing what you are wearing. But it is definitely not. It is all contemporary design, only slightly inspired by the past. For example, in medieval or renaissance times, men did not wear black. And, another example, jeans were inspired by rough cloths worn by some american men in the 19th century, but evolved after their re-introduction into timeless basics. Saaibestrijding would like to widen the range of timeless basic clothing for men by showing the great opportunities of leaving the dictatorship of the present dullness behind.