This object is one part of two separate gowns worn together as one ensemble (Thawb_wa_kandurah). This overgarment (Thawb) was worn over the second part, the tunic dress (Kandurah_arabiyah Khwar Tulah) (ZI1968.50021a UAE). The whole outfit could traditionally only be afforded by the elite, who loaned it out for weddings as an act of social and tribal bonding.
This overgarment (Thawb) was presented by Sheikha Shama bint Rashid bin Khalaf Al Utaibah- first wife to Sheikh Tahnun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi ruler’s representative of the eastern region- to Buthaina al Kadi, mother of Dr Reem Tariq el Mutwalli- as a welcome gift upon her arrival to Al Ain in 1968.
Buthaina’s children were: Reem (age 5), Zeyad (age 4) and Abdul Aziz (age 3) accompanied the head of the family to settle in Al Ain in 1968 where Dr Tariq el Mutwalli was appointed by the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as the economic consultant to the crown prince Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. They subsequently moved to Abu Dhabi in 1970 and since then the family adopted the UAE as their home and forged intimate lifetime relationships with the ruling family.
This overgarment (Thawb) was possibly imported from India as ready-made white tulle (Tur) adorned in scattered, hand-applied silver specks (nighdah) or (Talli) and a separate decorative neckline (Tarchibah) or (Jal’) composed of silver coil machine embroidery (Khwar Tulah) and coloured silk thread (Brisam), delineating the collar and central axis (Bidhah).
It was probably hand-tailored in Al Ain. We can assume this because the quality of the craftsmanship is basic when compared to that of the embellishment. As can be seen from the photos; the left and right-hand sides are different in composition. The fabric appears to have been folded to the height of the wearer, creating the general shape of the garment. The neck opening was marked on the folded crease, where the Tarchibah or Jal’ was later applied.
To finish the garment, the left-hand sleeve was then crudely sewn on, in panelled sections made from fabric remnants, to ensure all of this valuable fabric was used. The neckline opening is quite tapered, about 12 cm wide and 11 cm long just enough to allow the silver embroidery on the tunic underneath to be visible. The outer square shape fits snuggly in line with the start of the shoulders.
Before the 1980s, it was common to employ contrasting colours and techniques within the components of the traditional dress. Women used to wear a thawb that contrasted with the tunic dress (Kandurah), as in this example, where the white thawb was matched with a blue kandurah.
This overgarment represents a physical example of the traditional Arabic saying (Zinah_wa_khazinah), meaning “beauty and wealth in one”. The silver was employed to demonstrate style and reflect social status, but could also be melted down and sold in times of need.