Siwa Bridal Dresses (Egypt)

Embroidered neck opening decoration, in the form of a necklace, of a  white Siwa bridal dress. Embroidered neck opening decoration, in the form of a necklace, of a white Siwa bridal dress. Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden, acc. no. TRC 1997.0275.

The Siwa oasis in Egypt has some very distinctive sartorial traditions, which include embroidered bridal dresses. A basic Siwa bridal dress takes the form of a large ‘T’ shape. It has long wide sleeves, with a ‘shoulder’ seam, which reach almost to the elbow.

The front part of the square neckline is traditionally embroidered in floss silk (later rayon) in black, green, orange, red and yellow. Down the front of the dress is a long opening (takaten) fastened with eight large mother-of-pearl buttons. On either side of this opening there are three embroidered squares with a seventh main square beneath. This form is similar to a Middle Eastern silver necklace with amulets (hirz). Two long, silk plaited strings (gutan) are suspended on each side of the neck opening.

The main embroidered pattern on the dress radiates from the seven blocks in all directions, like the rays of the sun. Small mother-of-pearl buttons (tutintfukt) are sewn onto the garment near or on the ‘rays.’ In addition, small, isolated embroidered designs cover the dress. At the bottom on each side of the dress there is normally an oblong piece of striped silk of the same material as that used for the 'first night dress' (the litshinab nagil el harir). These often have a hand design (khamsa) with five fingers, as well as diagonal motifs (timidass b’srair). Embroidery can sometimes also be found at the back of the dress's neck.

Traditionally, the dress (akbir el harir) worn on the first and seventh days of the marriage ceremony is made of silk with green, orange, red, white and black stripes. On the second day of the wedding the bride tends to wear the same dress as the day before or a simple, white dress with no ornaments. On the third day the bride changes into a richly embroidered white dress (ashera nauak). This dress is also often worn on the succeeding days of the marriage festivities. On the evening of the seventh day (shemata), the new bride changes her clothes again and wears the dress she had on during the first day, namely the akbir el harir, and her jewellery.

Immediately following her wedding a new bride wears a black dress (ashera hawak azdhaf; ‘the decorated black shirt that makes us happy’) in public. It is embroidered in a similar fashion as the white dress. After these first few months the bride is allowed to wear ‘normal’ clothing, although she will wear the larger embroidered dresses on special occasions.

See also: Kerdasa embroidery; Siwa bridal footwearSiwa bridal outfit; Siwa head and body coverings; Siwa oasis embroidery


  • ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM (1986). Égypte, Oasis d’Amun-Siwa, Geneva: Musée d’Ethnographie.
  • MEHREZ, Shahira and Gillian VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD (2016). 'Embroidery from Egypt,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 264-293, esp. 284-292.
  • VALE, Margaret Mary (2011). Sand and Silver: Jewellery, Costume and Life in the Siwa Oasis, York: York Publishing Services.

TRC online catalogue (retrieved 17 Aril 2017).


Last modified on Monday, 17 April 2017 12:30