This overgarment (thawb) is part of an ensemble (thawb_wa_kandurah) and worn with the matching tunic dress (kandurah_arabiyah talli rainbow) (ZI1980.50047a UAE).
This ensemble was commissioned by Sheikhah Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan from the late Fatima bint Saad, a renowned palace dressmaker. Sheikhah Salama is the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. She is a childhood friend of Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli.
The dress was designed for the elite as occasion wear and Dr. Reem watched her friend wear it on many different social occasions before it was gifted to her. She in turn wore it through the 1990s before it became an early, core part of the Zay Collection.
The main fabric is light French silk chiffon with green, fuchsia (busi), red, and blue chequered motif with gold brocading (mkhawas) or (mzarai). The neckline (halj) and the chest area (bidhah) are adorned with (talli) work of red cotton threads (hdub) and gold metallic straw (khus) created in a style known as talli (fatlah). This braid (fatlah) is then stitched by hand to the garment in looped, straight, and semicircular geometric patterns, while designs in heart-shaped resembling flower petals were created using raised embroidery with metallic straw in rainbow lustre known as talli (rainbow).
By the 1980s the country had forged greater links with global markets in all sectors. In tailoring terms, it resulted in the importation of a wider variety of threads, in this case from Japan. This overgarment is an important item in the development of Emirati clothes making as it marks the introduction of Japanese multi-coloured metallic straw khus to Emirati braiding talli techniques, as can be seen in the heart-shaped stumpwork motifs.
The heavy embellished work, applied on such a delicate sheer fabric, stiffened and pulled the whole overgarment (thawb) from the front. To fix it in place safety pins were used in the interior, at the shoulder points, to attach it to the tunic dress (kandurah) underneath. In later examples, this evolved into silver snaps (siq_w_biq) and eventually to transparent plastic ones.
With time, as in this example, the neckline opening became wider, allowing the decorative work on the neckline of the tunic dress (kandurah) underneath to be visible. This in turn pushed the decorative heavy adornment work outwards, spilling over the shoulders and flowing down the upper sleeves. The length and width of the adorned central axis also became more exaggerated and elaborate over time.
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). Soon this evolved into a matching set known as thawb_wa_kandurah.
Once this thawb was worn in public it led to the popularisation of multi-coloured metallic threads and the style was much copied by other dressmakers because of the prominence and trend setting influence of Sheikhah Salama.