Ghalib al Inizi is an antique dealer, based in Kuwait. In 2018, he reached out to Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli through The Zay Initiative’s Instagram account and expressed great interest in supporting The Zay Initiative’s activities. To date, he has helped The Zay Initiative source numerous articles of dress, not just from Kuwait, but from many other areas across the Arab world.
This overgarment (thawb) is a form of the traditional (thawb nashil) known across the Arab Gulf region, with Bahrain being the major centre of its production, if not ordered from India.
In particular, it is known as (thawb mfahah) or (thawb myarah) in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, or (thawb myaza‘) in the UAE, because it is made of panelled (mfahah / myarah), translucent, Indian silk, locally called Safwah, as is the case in this example.
Sewn-in vertical and horizontal panels that create an overall traditional T-shape, with small side gussets (ibt), of the same fabric, which separate the wide upper sleeve (kmum) panels from its lower sleeve (bnqiyah/bnayiq) panels. The fitted neck opening is round with a long vertical central slit.
Emerald green is reserved for the vertical central panel (bdan) front and back. Fuchsia pink composes the two horizontal top and lower sleeve panels (fhuh). The upper and wider part of the sleeve (kum/kmum) is finished black then canary yellow horizontal panels (fhuh). Black is also used for the small gusset (ibt), to separate the upper and lower sections of the sleeves, sandwiched between the contrasting yellow and fuchsia fabrics.
Machine embroidered with metallic golden threads (zari) in chain stitch, and densely outlining the round fitted neckline opening with its central slit, is a thick golden band that runs down below the waistline, ending with a heart-shaped medallion, flanked by two leaves on either side.
Six large paisley (kazu/gazuwah) motifs further accentuate the central axis, and many more are scattered uniformly across the garment. All seam lines are covered and enforced by additional decorative machine embroidery in simple arabesque motifs. While the upper sleeve openings are hemmed with a wider band akin to the same machine embroidered arabesque band.
All embroidered areas are further accentuated with hand embellished shiny gold colour disk sequins (tirtir) adding more glitter to the overall garment.
This overgarment (thawb) is customarily worn over underpants (sirwal) and a tunic dress (dara’ah) or a waist-cinched dress (nafnuf) at special social occasions, weddings, and feasts.
Thawb nashil is a popular traditional dress across the Arab Gulf region. Known to have been manufactured in Bahrain as early as the 1940s, before then, it was imported from India on demand.
Materials such as chiffon silk and silver gilded straw (khus zari) were first imported from Gujarat, India, to be sewn and embroidered locally in Bahrain. Finer versions later came from Europe, mainly, from Germany and France.
The name of the dress is borrowed from the word (mnshal), used to describe brightly colored and heavily adorned fabrics that cover ceremonial passenger-less litter (mahmal) which were carried by camel, among pilgrim caravans, to Mecca on their way to (Haj). (Mnshal) was also used on the compartment (hwdaj) that transported women on camel back draped in a tent form with exquisite textiles.
Historically, the bride would wear this robe in Bahrain and most other Arab Gulf regions on her henna or wedding night.
Thawb nashil is customerly, sewn in T-shape, and the fabric is cut in the form of longitudinal and cross sections. The neck opening be it circular, triangular, or square can have a front slit reaching the middle or end of the chest area, and along this slit, ball buttons made of zari are added at times with loops to fasten it.
Large oval-shaped necklines, be it plain or embellished, are characteristic of the early 1920s-1970s overgarments (athwab) worn in Iraq, Kuwait, and by the Bedouins of the levant as well as Egyptian peasants. Bahraini overgarments (athwab) are recognised by their fitted round neckline with a central slit that soon became widely imported by most of the Arab Gulf region from as early as the 1980s. While in the UAE, overgarments (athwab) are distinguished by their square-shaped neckline.
The embroidery is carried out before the neckline opening is cut open, for added support during the embroidery process and to show the garment is new. This is significant to note as embroidery is commonly reused.
Muhammad Saleh Ahmad Zari is considered one of the oldest and most famous thawb nashil makers in Bahrain. He follows in the footsteps of his forefathers Saleh Zari and Mohammed Adul Qadir Zari. After sewing dresses and embroidering them with zari threads by hand, they all typically knocked and burnished the embroidery until it became polished, smooth, and shining.
In time, the sewing of this dress evolved becoming machine sewn and embroidered from several colors of natural or synthetic chiffon silk. Moreover, metallic thread (zari) rather than silver or gold plated coil renderings were incorporated, making it more affordable to the masses.
Traditional women’s dress in Kuwait, Salwa al Maghribi, 2006