Why young Omanis are turning to professional folders to perfect their national dress

In Muscat, mussar (Omani turban) folding and rental shops are a growing trend. Issa Mubarak Al Amri, a professional folder, introduces us to life at the Pride of Originality, owned by him and his brothers.

Saeed Mubarak Al Amri of Pride of Originality, Muscat, adds his finishing touches to an Omani turban. Courtesy Anna Zacharias.
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Every Omani has that friend. He’s the guy you can call before a wedding, a graduation or when you need a passport photo. He’s the guy who you can count on to drive across town and meet you in the Opera House parking lot.

He’s the guy who can do your mussar just right.

The mussar, an embroidered Omani turban of soft cashmere wool, is the headgear of formal occasions and is mandatory for Omani government employees.

Issa Mubarak Al Amri was that friend. Now, he is a professional mussar folder. In the age of Instagram and Snapchat, his dexterous fingers and eye for detail are in high demand.

Issa and his brothers founded Pride of Originality, a mussar folding and rental shop, in Oman’s capital Muscat, after they saw social media create demand for more variety among young men. That was in 2014.

“People want to be unique and handsome, professional at their event, so they come to me,” says Issa, 35.

“A lot of people have changed their lifestyle and they are seeking something nice and special. Social media helps a lot to change the thinking of people.”

The mussar rental business has taken off in the past two years. When Issa started as a freelance folder in 2010, he knew of two other rental shops in Muscat. Now, he can name 13 in his neighbourhood.

Pride of Originality is in a humble three-storey building. Behind its plain wooden door is a groom’s paradise, with a room for each kind of accessory: one for khanjar daggers, swords and bullet belts; one for antique rifles and canes; one for black and gold bisht cloaks.

Other rooms contain shawl sashes and mussars. Thursday nights are busy. The Al Amri brothers start by burning frankincense to welcome guests, who arrive carrying khanjar daggers in red velvet boxes.

Issa’s brother-in-law Abdulraham Al Amri, 22, presents a khanjar to a young man in shorts, flip-flops and a Ferrari T-shirt, who dropped it off for polishing a few days ago. Another young man tries on bullet belts, struggling to find one to fit his slender waist. “There’s no belly,” an uncle cries. In the room next door, Issa’s brother Saeed has his own solution for a loose bullet belt: a leather hole-punch.

Issa and his brother Majid, 28, are fitting mussars in another room.

“He can make you handsome,” says customer Hassan Ali, 26, wearing a mussar patterned with golden laurels to match the edging on his dishdasha.

“If you do it at home, it will be messy. We want the easy way and this man is a professional.”

Although the mussar is national dress, it is not worn every day. “I’m working in the desert,” said Mohammed Harthi, 28, who is employed in oil drilling. “OK, if you ask me about coveralls and a hard hat, I’ll tell you. But for mussar, we’re not practised.”

The service is not just for grooms. The mussar’s tight folds hold for days and it’s often kept inside a car, ready for business meetings.

“If you go back three years, Omani people were not interested in fashion,” says Hamad Al Balushi, 33, a client and dishdasha designer.

“Now, young people love to wear something so they look smart and professional. Before, people were getting ready for weddings at home. Now, there are so many shops.”

For Issa, mussar style has always mattered. “When I was a kid, I liked everything to be organised, my shoes cleaned, my dishdasha pressed,” he says.

“When we were kids of the same age, my cousins and my brothers did not iron their dishdasha but for me, no, I’d iron it and put it aside.”

He practised folding his first mussar, at age 14, for hours. By Eid, his family were asking him to prepare theirs. “I had this skill and everybody noticed that,” says Issa. “When you like something you are in love with it, you grow with it.”

Social media has made rentals more acceptable but brings pressure for more looks, at a time when the cost of living is rising. Many Omani youth are struggling to find employment after graduation but at the same time are expected to marry.

Issa estimates it costs more than 700 Omani rials (Dh6,678) to dress and accessorize a groom. “For one day, huh? One day.”

Many men have their own khanjars. But a sword, the groom’s most prominent accessory, can cost from 270 to 800 rials. Issa says rentals are a solution to this. “What do you want a sword for?” he says.

A mussar fixing costs 3 rials and groom styling costs 10 rials. Issa says it is not just about looks. “Reputation belongs to people. Everybody has his own prestige.”

Over the years, he has become a confidant to nervous grooms. His job is not only to make grooms look good but feel good, and to focus on what matters – the marriage ahead.

“I just help him to take out that fear. In the end, he will do it and he will be with his wife. So, khalas.”

Anna Zacharias is an independent journalist based in Muscat.