The merchants of Cairo apparently emulated the dress codes of their rulers, the Fatimid caliphs (r.909-1171), whose splendid wardrobes outdid even those of the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad. The Fatimid caliph al-Muizz (r.953-75), the first of his line to rule in Egypt, created an institution in the palace called the House of Clothing, where all kinds of garments and cloth used to be cut. Every winter and summer courtiers and servants, their wives, and their children were given new suits according to their rank, everything from turbans to trousers and handkerchiefs. At one such investiture, al-Muizz gave away cloth worth more than 600,000 dinars. The amirs got dabiqi garments and turbans with gold borders, these two items worth 500 dinars, and the highest ranking amirs received necklaces, bracelets and ornamented swords. When hungry troops looted the caliphal treasuries in 1067, one eyewitness recorded that the looters brought out more than 100,000 pieces of cloth from the storerooms. The value of what was sold in fifteen days, quite apart from what was plundered or stolen, came to 30 million dinars.

According to contemporary descriptions, the Fatimid caliphal treasuries also held stores of tents and upholstery and furnishing fabrics of unimaginable luxury and splendour. One tent was decorated with a picture of every beast in the world; it took 150 workers nine years to make and cost 30,000 dinars. There were elephant saddlecloths of red embroidered everywhere with gold except at the bottom where the elephants’ thighs protruded. The accompanying howdahs had matched sets of cushions, pillows, carpets, seats, curtains and spreads of silk brocade. The fabrics were decorated with designs of elephants, wild beasts, horses, peacocks, birds and even humans in all manner of striking and wonderful forms and shapes.

Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, Islamic Arts, 1997

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