All of these images and the text were showcased at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC from February 23-March 15, 2009.
I took the pictures and typed out the text in the exhibit.
Bayt al-Fakih and Bajil Dress
Typical of a style popular in the towns of Bayt al-Fakih and Bajil, this garment is an excellent example of dresses worn since the early 1900s for weddings and other special occasions. It boasts a striking combination of brightly colored needlework and embroidery set against a dark cotton background; the fabric and embellishments are hand-dyed with natural pigments, including indigo.
The symmetry of the design required considerable skill. The bodice, shoulders, cuffs and upper sides of the dress are decorated with impressive hammered and braided silver work. Such pieces are often made separately then applied to a dress before it is sewn together. When the fabric of the rest of the dress wears out, these heavily embroidered sections are removed and sewn onto a new dress. The fitted silhouette is typical of Yemeni dresses past and present.
Jebal Heraz Indigo Dress
This wedding dress, made of pounded indigo-dyed cotton embroidered with gilded silver, was worn by a bride in Jebal Heraz, a mountainous area west of Sana'a. In its heyday, indigo was an enormous cash-crop for Yemen, even more than coffee at its peak. The Yemenis employed a special technique that involved pounding the cloth with heavy wooden paddles to give it a high gloss. The red triangles used throughout this dress symbolize fertility (the triangle) and protection from bleeding (the color red). The red-striped fabric that lines the front slit of the dress was imported from India. The pantaloons feature couched silver-thread embroidery and are from the same area as the dress. The silver couching on this 100 year old dress was badly frayed but was painstakingly mended prior to this exhibition by Grazia Zalfa, a talented seamstress with the Bead Society of Greater Washington.
Wadi Duan Dress
Made approximately 80 years ago, this bridal dress is from Wadi Duan, in the heart of the Hadramaut province in southeastern Yemen. The black and red cotton/silk fabric wsa woven in Syria and the green and red silk panels are of Indian origin. The gilded silver couched embroidery is Hadami and portrays vegetation and symbols important to its Bedouin wearers. The three pound silver wedding headpiece is also typical of the area; the cylinders were believed to offer amuletic protection, and the clanging bells were intended to both attract attention and frighten away evil spirits.
Dating back to the early 1900s, this wedding dress reflects styles worn by affluent women in the capital city of Sana'a and nearby provinces. Simple caftans made of silver or gold brocade, they had sleeves that extended some 10 inches beyond the fingertips, creating a regal and graceful effect. The impressive headpiece consisted of matching brocade draped over a supporting structure and festooned with silver and coral jewelry. The bride also wore a garland of flowers, kathy and rayhan (scented herbs).
The elaborate jewelry was the most important part of the ensemble. Indeed it was often the dowry given to the bride by the groom and his family before the wedding ceremony. Silver was long the most prized metal and was often combined with coral, amber and gemstones. Yemen's silver mines made such jewelry widely affordable, and it was worn on all festive occasions. In the early 1900s, gold became the preferred choice for wedding jewelry, but in recent years, silver has regained its popularity.