Ancient Egyptian Dress

Introduction

Preserved statuettes and hieroglyphics on walls of temples and tombs indicates that, to a large extent, clothes were used to distinguish between classes. There was little change to their general appearance over a period of 3000 years. Climate was hot and dress was scantier and lighter than that of Assyria and Babylon. Cleanliness was very important and garments were mostly made from linen (Flax) and frequently laundered.

Egyptian costume is easily recognised by their wigs, wide jeweled necklaces and eye-makeup. The men generally wore loincloths and Pharaohs displayed various symbols of their royal status.

Shenti (left) Shendot with pleats (right)

Shenti (left) Shendot with pleats (right)

The Nile river played a major role in Egyptian life

Two plants from the river are repeatedly shown in their architecture, art, and costume:

  • Lotus (symbol for upper Egypt)
  • Papyrus (symbol for the lower or delta region)

Men’s Costume

  • Shenti a piece of woven material used as a loin-cloth, held in place by a belt.
  • Shendot a special loin-cloth only worn by royalty, was pleated, stiffened and sometimes embroidered
  • Kalasiris – a semi-transparent, long, white, linen gown or tunic worn over a visible loin cloth
  • Men shaved their heads and wore a headdress made of a square piece of striped material encircling the temples and forming a square pleats over the ears.
  • Wigs (made of flax, palm fibre or natural hair) were worn on ceremonial occasions
Replica of an Egyptian Wig

Replica of an Egyptian Wig

Priests
  • Bare shaven heads and leopard skin draped around the body
  • Wool was forbidden in the dress of priests, and in burial clothes only the finest linen was used
Egyptian Priest

Egyptian Priest

Pharaohs
  • Kalasiris – a semi-transparent, long, white, linen gown or tunic worn over a visible loin cloth
  • Pshent is the combination of the high white crown of upper Egypt and the red wicker crown from lower Egypt
  • Uraeus – sacred hooded cobra, on the front of the Pshent or Nemes headdress, a symbol of the pharaoh’s power in life and death
  • Nemes headdress – headcloth often made in a blue and white striped linen fabric that was wrapped around the head and a precisely shaped fold hung over the shoulders while some fabric was drawn to the back and bound around the wig in a pigtail.
  • Royal apron and belt – both richly decorated with gold, semiprecious stones and colourful enamel inlays
  • Wide beaded/jewelled collar, armlets and bracelets
  • Royal grain flail and shepherd’s crook, a symbol of the pharaoh’s authority over agriculture
  • Ankh used as a symbol of life, resembles a cross but instead of the top arm there is a loop
  • Royal sandals with turned up points (Eastern influence)
  • Royal ‘ceremonial’ beard – men were clean shaven but on special occasions wore an artificial beard
Pharaoh with pshent, flail and crook

Pharaoh with pshent, flail and crook

  • Lock of youth – thick braid of hair hanging from the right side of the head. Worn by children of the king.

Women’s Costume

  • When worn by women a Kalasiris was like a tight fitting tunic, ending below the breasts, sometimes with wide shoulder straps
  • During the New Kingdom (1500 BC TO 332 BC) they wore a Kimono-type garment, held in place with a narrow sash tied at high waist level OR a draped costume which left the right arm and breast exposed
Egyptian woman wearing a draped transparent costume with the right arm and breast exposed

Egyptian woman wearing a draped transparent costume with the right arm and breast exposed

  • Either a short cape covered the shoulders or the throat was encircled with a wide jewelled collar, leaving the breast exposed.
  • Unguent cone worn on the head contained solidified oil and perfume; the solidified oil would melt and run down over the head and body, releasing it’s fragrance
Shows the unguent cone worn on a woman's head

Shows the wide jewelled collars and the unguent cone worn on a woman’s head

Notably ancient Egyptian dress took place around the same time as the developments in Mesopotamian dress, yet the clothing was completely different. Mesopotamian dress was more colourful and heavy, and during the Sumerian and Assyrian period, fringed.

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