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    Exceptional Saudi Arabian Embroidered & Beaded Dress (Thobe)

    Bani Malik tribal group, Hijaz region, southern Saudi Arabia
    mid-20th century

    length: 130cm, weight: 1,319g

    Available Enquire


    private UK collection, collected in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s

    This splendid full-length dress known as a thobe (also spelt thawb) is from the Bani Malik Tribe. Elaborate embroidery characterised the dress of the female members of the Tribe, and this example is among the most elaborate that we have seen.

    The entire cotton fabric thobe is densely embroidered front and back with bright yellow, red and cream thread, other than the black underarm gussets (tikrasah). The bodice panel (badanah) is embroidered with a motif suggestive of a necklace with pendant strands – perhaps this was added in place of actual jewellery. From each shoulder are multiple long strands of pure-white glass beads known as khuruyan. These hang down grandly almost like military epaulettes and are suspended from panels of beads arranged in geometric panels.

    The sleeves are in trapezoid form and the neck opening is rounded and closes with a zip.

    ‘Bani Malik’ (or ‘Sons of Malik’) is one of the major Arab tribes on the Arabian Peninsula and claim to be the descendants of Malik al-Ashtar al-Nakh’ei who fought alongside Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. The tribe is from Sarawiyah, which is east of Al Lith and south of Taif, between the areas occupied by the Bal Harith Tribe and the Zahran Tribe. Traditionally, the area had buzzing markets where livestock, grain, honey and other goods were traded. This explains the exuberance of Bani Malik Tribe costume – trade meant wealth to afford the costly embellishments but trade also meant that the embellishments – the beads and the brightly-coloured thread – was available.

    Other than expected but trivial losses to some stitching, the dress here is in excellent condition.


    Alghalib, L.F., H. Alireza & R. Wilding (eds.), Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia: The Mansoojat Foundation Collection, ACC Art Books, 2021.

    Suleman, F., Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The Fabric of Life, The British Museum, 2017.

    Wearden, J., Decorative Textiles from Arab & Islamic Cultures: Selections from the Al Lulwa Collection, Paul Holberton Publishing, 2015.

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