A Strange Moroccan Fabric

This is a very unusual pair of qandrissi. They're a kind of turquoise, but the weave contains some orange cross-threads. It's also very open. Although the trousers initially were very good against the wind, some threads tended to fibrate apart in the way that worn shoelaces do. This happened particularly on the pockets, which is why they've been bound with ribbon. My thanks to Carole Duma for doing this.

Blue qandrissi shot with orange

Blue qandrissi shot with orange (detail of weave)

Blue qandrissi shot with orange

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]

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]

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 fantazia.fr , 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", www.mrtipoi.com (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

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Silver

The trousers shown in these photos were, I have to admit, a slight mistake. I'd asked for grey velvet, but the nearest fabric the tailor could find turned out to be an intense silver. But they're the most comfortable trousers I've ever worn, and warm as well. The detail of pleats in the third photo shows the care that went into making them.

Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi

Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi

Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi (detail of pleats)

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Orange

Still on trousers, but back to the topic of colours. This is a pair of orange velvet qandrissi, from "Fez":
Orange velvet Moroccan qandrissi

I've said that qandrissi are typically ¾ length. These, however, were made for me. Omar at Fez took my measurements to Tangier, where a tailor converted them into trousers. He knew that I wanted the legs to go down to my ankles.

Finally, let's contemplate some colour contrast. These orange trousers with the ice-blue shirt.
Orange velvet Moroccan qandrissi contrasted with ice-blue velvet Moroccan shirt


Sage-green velvet Moroccan shirt and blue qandrissi (worn at Russian Orthodox Bazaar in Oxford)
Photo: James Hyndman

In my last post, I said I'd explain the above image. I'm wearing the sage-green Moroccan shirt, and also a pair of Moroccan "qandrissi". These are baggy trousers with the crotch at the knee or a bit lower, usually heavily pleated, ¾ length, with the lower legs narrow and sometimes finished with button-up cuffs. I wore a suede waistcoat over the shirt: something about its relatively snug fit and the V and VV at top and bottom seemed to make a nice contrast with the volume of the trousers. Also, its colour was a nice bridge between the yellow-green and the blue.

Here's a detail from the photo, showing the pleats and cuffs — the latter just visible as a button on the right, and a loose thread dangling from a not-quite-visible button on the left.

Blue Moroccan qandrissi (detail of pleats, dart, and cuffs)
Photo: James Hyndman

The detail also shows: the two nested triangles making up the "Moroccan dart" at the end of the fly; seams where the lower-leg sections are attached; and seams showing the extent of the pockets. These are very conveniently deep, much more so than in conventional trousers. It's a nice habit in English villages that householders put boxes of windfall apples out for passers-by. I once walked home from a neighbouring village with a kilo of these, divided between my two pockets. The pockets' depth also means that keys and other valuables don't fall out: a security enhanced because the pockets often have zips.

The photo below is another pair, petrel-green, again showing the pleats:

Green Moroccan qandrissi
Photo: Paddy Summerfield

It's odd that none of the high-street brands have learnt from this. As well as having secure deep pockets, the trousers' loose fit makes them very very comfortable, and the cut means they don't wrinkle as easily as with our styles, so one can keep them smart for longer. The whole design is much better thought out.