The World Cup in Qatar has become a political lightning rod, so it comes as no surprise that soccer fans’ sartorial style has sparked controversy.
Forget your classic soccer jerseys – the streets of Doha have been transformed into a chaotic runway show in terms of fashion.
Visitors from around the world are wearing revamped versions of traditional Gulf Arab headdresses and thobes. Western women have tried out hijabs. England fans have donned crusader costumes.
The politically minded have made statements with rainbow accessories in Qatar, which criminalises homosexuality.
Fan fashion has drawn everything from amusement to outrage from locals in the tiny Muslim emirate that has seen nothing remotely like the spectacle of the World Cup before.
The most popular style among foreign fans at this World Cup is the ghutra, the traditional head scarf worn by men across the Arabian Peninsula.
South African Gavin Coetzee, 60, admits his wardrobe choice might seem ill-conceived. He stitched together four African flags into a ghutra and stereotypical Arabian thobe, the white long flowing tunic that Qatari men wear.
“I wouldn’t wear this in a Western country,” he said, referring to heightened cultural sensitivity there. But to his surprise, his costume has drawn elation and praise from locals in Qatar.
“It’s been amazing. Everyone wants to take our photo, ask us where we’re from, they’re interested in why we put this outfit together,” he said.
The narrow alleys of Doha’s central Souq Waqif teem with vendors hawking ghutras in various national colours, from Brazil’s bright blue, green and yellow to Mexico’s tricolour red, white and green. The sellers iron and fold them to create a widow’s peak effect, carefully fitting the cloth to fans’ heads in the so-called cobra style of worn by Qataris.
“I wanted to immerse in the culture. It’s fun to get to try new things,” said Ricardo Palacios, 41, from Venezuela, wearing a red-and-white chequered headdress.
Qataris’ only complaint so far, Palacios added, is that “I don’t know how to do it right”. He said locals stop him in the street, restyling his headgear so it looks the way it should.
Qatari citizen Naji al-Naimi said the scores of international fans wearing his national dress don’t bother him in the least. Instead, he finds the trend endearing.
Among non-Muslim visitors, even the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf showing piety to Allah, has emerged as trendy World Cup wear. Online videos show foreign women on the streets of Doha donning colourful headscarves.
Qatar’s local population hasn’t taken kindly to other outfits, particularly England fans’ caped crusader costumes. The outfits, featuring a suit of chainmail armour with an upright cross, are a nod to the Christian conquests of the Holy Land that pitted European invaders against Muslims.
Footage circulating on Twitter showed Qatari security turning away fans dressed as crusaders before the England-Iran match in the tournament’s group stage.
“What is so painful is to see some visitors in our country praising the glories of Crusader Europe, which disgraced the honour of all Muslims,” said Ashraf al-Khadeer, a 33-year-old Qatari citizen in Doha.
But the biggest flashpoint at the tournament so far has been rainbow clothing and other multicoloured accessories as Qatar’s criminalisation of homosexuality triggered a storm of criticism.
After FIFA threatened European teams wearing “One Love” armbands with in-game discipline, some fans have taken it upon themselves to show solidarity with the LGBTQI community.
Days after fans complained they were blocked from stadiums because of rainbow attire, FIFA offered assurances that Qatari security would allow the items into matches. The rule has been unevenly enforced.
More broadly, the question of what to wear at the World Cup in Qatar, a conservative Muslim emirate, has sparked anxiety for female fans long before the tournament kicked off.
The government-run tourism website asks visitors to “show respect for local culture by avoiding excessively revealing clothing,” and recommends men and women cover their shoulders and knees.
So when Croatian Instagram model Ivana Knoll showed up to stadiums wearing a mini dress that exposed much of her chest, some feared an international incident. But Knoll said locals assured her she could wear whatever she wanted.