Traditional Sana’ani dress still in fashion
The dress described above is typical of the original style known as the Radi Curtain, and is currently worn most often by women in regions like Radaa. Due to Sana’a and its surrounding regions sensitivity to international development, fashion there often reflects current trends. However, you can easily spot many Sana’a women in the curtain dress, especially in the old city and in neighborhoods like: Bani-Hashish, Sanhan, Hbabh and Khawlan.
The unique relationship between Yemeni women and the Sana’ani curtain is associated with a cloth that covers the head. The Al-Momq, a face cover made of silk or cotton, is dominated by black and inscriptions colored white and red, the colors ranging from the outside to the inside, forming a black circular center point. Most women wear the Al-Momq, but those who are married and older women also wear an additional head piece called the Amomq, a piece of cloth embroidered with silver or coral colors.
Um sayed, a women from Old Sana’a, said, “We found our mothers and grandmothers wearing it and so on it goes from generation to generation till our day, although it’s not used today as it was in the past due to changes in society. But we cannot deny the Sana’ani curtain remains a treasure and heritage that represents Yemeni women.”
The appearance of the curtain dress changed slightly after the 1970’s, when fabric factories in Yemen stopped production and traders began bringing materials from India. This new material added green, yellow and blue colors, as well as some plant decorations.
The beginning of the Sana'ani dress
The history of the “curtain” in Sana'a and in Yemen is a bit unclear, but people say it began when Imam Yahiya bin Al-Hussein Al-Rasi came from Sa'ada to Sana'a, and ordered women to wrap their bodies with a cloth found in their homes. This marked the beginning of the curtain dress, but its popularity began to waver with the introduction of the black abaya.
The Yemeni novelist and poet Ali Al-Muqri said, “The Sana'ani curtain was styled originally by the Yemeni people themselves, there's no specific historical date. It started with the appearance of colored dress painting at that time and it was related to the decoration and ornamentation of the old Yemeni houses.”
“What proves to us that the curtain dress is originally from Yemen is that there's no place in the world with such a dress with its beauty, until our days,” added Al-Muqri.
The sharshaf, a wide black body cover brought over by the Turks, was worn briefly, only to be replaced by the modern abaya (coat). Despite the spread of the abaya, married, single and widowed women of all different ages continued to wear the curtain dress. It is also popular amongst sellers at the market in the old city.
Wafaa Mohamed, 38, originally from Aden but who has lived in old Sana’a for 13 years with her husband said, “I’ve worn the Sana’ani curtain since I came here and it became the comfortable dress that I wear wherever I go to places close by. Still the curtain is the most used in old Sana’a for short visits, but when it comes to long visits, we wear the abaya or the sharshaf.”
Um Tariq, a 20-year-old woman who was wearing the Sana’ani curtain on her way to a nearby grocery said, “I wear the Sana’ani curtain only for short neighborhood visits.” She added that, “My mother, my sisters and I wear the Sana’ani curtain only in the neighborhood, as do most of the women here.”
Despite the curtain dress’ deep-rooted tradition, Amani Al-Soof, a 21-year-old woman from old Sana'a is not hopeful about the future of the curtain. “I didn’t wear the Sana’ani curtain before, but I always keep thinking if we could wear it in a modern way instead of the abaya. Unfortunately, it cannot be useful in the current community. Most of the young girls wear it on some occasions as a tradition, or just to have a photo as a sample of traditional Yemeni dress.”