Arabesque Festival: Brides of the Arab World- Egypt
I went to this amazing exhibition in DC at the Kennedy Center in 2009. The Arabesque festival ran from February 23-March 15, and showcased an amazing exhibit on wedding gowns from all over the Arab world. I obtained a written account of all of the descriptions of the gowns, and took pictures of all of them. They are amazing and I hope these pictures and descriptions can capture at least a piece of their grandeur.
These are the dresses showcased from Egypt.
El Rashaydah Bridal Costume
The Rashaydah are a Bedouin tribe who live along the southern coast of the Red Sea, in the Horn of Africa and in Saudi Arabia. This gown is made of black nylon velvet decorated with green and velvet inserts; the patchwork pattern varied from tribe to tribe, thus making it possible to identify a woman's origins. The dress is gathered at the waist, and the long sleeves also feature patchwork. Though the cloth used for these dresses was rather cheap, the women's ingenuity in choosing patterns and color combinations made for extremely attractive garments.
The elaborate face mask, work with a small head covering and decorated with tiny metal beads, is unique to brides, as married women do not cover their faces. This dress dates from the mid to late 20th century; the style is no longer worn.
A Wedding Tunic from the Siwah Oasis
This late 20th century cotton tunic is hand embroidered with multicolored silk threads and decorated with mother of pearl buttons. It is paired with baggy trousers that are hand embroidered around the ankles. The motifs of the embroidery date back to antiquity: The squares on either side of the frontal opening suggest the pharaonic "ankh" (key of life) that adorn the neckline of the tunics worn by the boy-king Tut Ankh Amon; the long lines of embroidery radiating from the central medallion evoke the Sun god. The buttons, which replaced the circular chunks of mother of pearl worn on earlier garments, are yet other solar symbols typical of the Siwa Oasis, renowned in ancient times as home to the oracle of Sun god Amon Ra.
Until the end of the 20th century, this outfit was worn on the third day after the wedding, when the bride received her family. Today it is worn on the seventh day, as the Siwi are discarding their traditions in favor of Nile Valley practices.
The jewelry is typical of that worn by the traditional Siwi bride. Her "maiden jewelry", large earrings attached by a red leather strap, a choker bearing a large metal disk and a necklace with pentagonal shapes dangling from long chains, was returned to her mother after the wedding for use by other unmarried girls in her family. The bride also wore necklaces identifying her as a married woman: the "lazem", composed of large chunks of amber, metal beads and coral tubes; and the "suweidi", a choker of coral tubes and black glass beads. Such pieces are rarely worn by today's brides.
A Dress for a Bride from a Family of Wealthy Landowners
Dating from the early 20th century, this black tulle dress is richly embroidered with narrow silver bands called telli. Although this embellishment was also used on everyday dresses, the lavishness of the embroidery on this piece suggests that it was a wedding outfit. Telli is thought to have been introduced to Egypt following the Ottoman rule. This dress is probably from Upper Egypt; however this style was also worn in the Nile Delta until around 1925.
The ensemble consists of an overdress worn on top of a simpler "house gown" made of plain or patterned silk or cotton, depending on the wealth of the bride's family. The embroidery patterns differed from region to region and even slightly within regions, as women attempted to surpass their neighbors in creativity.
Head covers were also embroidered more or less extensively with telli. In addition, narrow silver bands of telli were gathered in long bunches on both sides of the forehead and worn as bridal head ornaments, a style that disappeared during the first quarter of the 20th century.
A Court Dress for a Princess of the Royal Khedivial family
This red satin dress dates from the late 19th century, a time when wedding celebrations lasted from three days to several weeks, depending on the prominence of the families. The wedding trousseau consisted of many dresses, all of them colorful and made of sumptuous fabrics. This one is a transitional style combining a Western cut with traditional hand embroidery in gilded silver thread.
Its high quality and elaborate design suggest that it was worn either for the official wedding ceremony or for the henna rituals, held the day before. Female relatives, in-laws and acquaintances attended these rituals, during which professional women used red henna paste to draw intricate designs on the hands and feet of the bride and her friends. The custom was said to bring luck, joy and beauty.
The red fabric may indicate that this was indeed the henna dress, but in those days, no gown was reserved for any single event. Expensive outfits such as this one would be worn on many occasions and for many years after the wedding, given that fashions changed very slowly.