This overgarment (thawb nil) is part of a two-piece ensemble (thawb_wa_kandurah). The companion piece worn underneath is the tunic dress (Kandurah_arabiyah) (ZI1996.5007a UAE).
The object was handmade by the grandmother of its original owner Hamamah bint Mubarak, and was bequeathed to her (Mkhalaf_’alayiha). Although the seller insisted it dates from between the 1930s and 1960s, possibly more recent 1970s or 1980s.
Hamamah was in her late eighties when she decided to sell us the outfit in 1996.
This overgarment (thawb), made in Indian cotton gauze (shash). It is completely hand-stitched. This example is recognizably Emirati because of the square shape of the neckline (halj), with the central axis of the (bidhah). It has a lining of the same fabric stitched to define them and help strengthen them. In other garments of the same type, the halj may be embroidered (mkhawar) automatically with metal threads (zari) or decorated with several braids made of metal ribbon (talli).
In a primitive way, two pieces of fabric were added to the sides of the garment. Two horizontal slits were made on each side and folded lozenge-shaped gusset (bat), in green printed with small black dots (bu_nafah). Usually, the bat helps the garment to drop better.
Traditionally, the indigo-dyed garment worn for two very different functions:
1. Everyday wear: this was a highly versatile indigo-dyed tunic dress that was ubiquitous throughout the Arabian Peninsula, especially among Bedouin tribes, until the advent of chemical dyes in the 1950s. All working women, from the urban market place stall holder selling her wares, to the rural or desert housewife going to the well to fetch water, would have worn this type of garment, as indigo-dyed clothing is traditionally valued because it moisturizes the body in a hot climate as the indigo is a natural sunscreen, in addition to its medical properties and its good effect on the skin, and the dark colour of the indigo. It is also valued for helping to conceal the Silhouette of the body due to its dark colour.
2. Bridal preparation: brides traditionally remained out of sight for 40 days before their wedding. During that time, they would wear the thawb_kandurah together with a head veil (shaylah) and underpants (sarwal), all coloured with the same indigo dye (sabghat_nil). With repeated wear, the dye would stain the body, and this was believed to help cure skin ailments, condition the body and give the hair an added darker, shiny lustre. The night before the wedding week, the bride’s skin is exfoliated to remove the stain, making her skin moist, tender, and lighter.