This overgarment (thawb bu_tilah mzarai, khwar tulah) is part of an ensemble (thawb_wa_kandurah) and is worn with a matching tunic dress (kandurah_arabiyah bu_tilah mzarai, khwar tulah) (ZI1980.50044a UAE).
This ensemble was commissioned by Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan from the late Fatima bint Saad, a renowned palace dressmaker. Sheikha Salama is the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. She is a childhood friend of Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli.
The dress was designed for the elite as occasional wear and Dr. Reem watched her friend wear it on many different social occasions before it was gifted to her. Dr. Reem, in turn, wore it through the 1990s before it became an early and core part of the Zay Collection.
Prior to the 1980s, it was common to employ contrasting colours and techniques within the components of traditional dress. Women used to wear an overgarment (thawb) that contrasted with their tunic dress (kandurah). This later evolved into a matching set known as thawb_wa_kandurah as is the case in this example.
By the late 1990s, the thawb_wa_kandurah evolved further, as these two separate articles of dress were merged into one, becoming attached at the neckline, using the inner tunic as lining and creating a combination overgarment tunic (thawb_kandurah).
The main fabric used for both garments that form this ensemble is a delicate, sheer, paperthin, vibrant red French silk chiffon brocade (mkhawas) or (mzarai) in 3 cm diameter gold polka dots, known as (bu_tilah).
The neckline (halj) and the chest area (bidhah) on both the overgarment (thawb) and the tunic dress (kandurah) are densely machine embroidered in a silver thread (khwar tulah). A naive, floral garland decorates the center, filled in with gold-plated silver thread (khwar) and outlined in red silk thread (brisam).
The heavily embellished work, applied on such a delicate sheer fabric, stiffens and pulls on the whole overgarment (thawb) from the front end. To secure the thawb in place, safety pins were used on the inside, along the shoulder points, to attach it to the tunic dress (kandurah) underneath. In later examples, this evolved into silver snaps (siq_w_biq), then opaque plastic snaps, and eventually into transparent plastic snaps.
In time, as is the case with this article of dress, the neckline opening became wider, allowing the decorative work on the neckline of the tunic dress (kandurah) underneath to be visible. This prompted the decorative heavy adornment work to be carried outwards, spilling over the shoulders and cascading along the upper sleeves. The length and width of the adorned central axis also became more exaggerated and elaborate over time.
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.