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Facts About Clothing Used in Ancient Egypt: Egyptian Clothes

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be destined to repeat it.

In Ancient Egypt, jewelry played a large part in their society. The richer Egyptians tended to wear the jewelry with gold and gems, whereas the poorer Egyptians usually made theirs out of glass beads.

In Ancient Egypt, jewelry played a large part in their society. The richer Egyptians tended to wear the jewelry with gold and gems, whereas the poorer Egyptians usually made theirs out of glass beads.

Fabrics Used In Egyptian Clothing

In Ancient Egypt, fashion was a big part of their culture. Depending on what a person wore and how they wore it, told a story about the person themselves. Men, women, and children all wore different styles of clothing, yet all of them enjoyed adornments such as jewelry and make-up.

Due to Egypt's hot, humid weather, the ancient Egyptians preferred lightweight clothes, like linen, although silk was often bought by the wealthy. Those of the lowest status would use cotton or wool. Plant fibers such as flax that grew along the Nile River would be soaked, combed, and then beaten into thread-like fibers to make linen. Once they became threadlike, they would then be spun and placed on a loom. Usually, men were the ones who harvested the flax stalks, while women were the ones who would spin the flax thread and make the garments.

Another standard fabric used among Pharaohs and priests was leather. Most leather was thought to be impure; therefore, they did not make most articles of clothing; instead, they made coats out of leather. One exception was that of leopard skin named padelide, which the priests and Pharaohs often wore. Pharaohs would also wear a lion's tail around their waist like a belt.

Men often wore wraparound skirts with a belt and lots of jewelry.

Men often wore wraparound skirts with a belt and lots of jewelry.

Egyptian Clothing for Men

Status was indicated in large part by how a man dressed. The workers, who were the poorest in the community, most often wore loincloths made of cotton and sometimes linen or wool. The rest of the men would usually wear a wraparound skirt made with linen and tie a belt around their waist. This skirt was called Shendyt. They did as little sewing as possible in most of their garments. They also rarely dyed their items and usually wore white, which was in part due to their desire to be clean. White gave a cleaner appearance.

Sometimes the skirts would also be wrapped around their legs as well, giving a more pants feel. They did this more often in the winter than in the summer months. The length of the Shendyt worn by men varied throughout history. During Old Kingdom (Before 2055 BC), men wore them above the knee, and the material often gathered in the front or pleated. During the Middle Kingdom (2055 BC to 1650 BC), men wore their Shendyt longer; it would touch their calf. During the New Kingdom (1650 BC to 1069 BC), men also wore tunics that had sleeves, as well as pleated petticoats.

Regardless of what era, the richer you were, the lighter the material used on your garments. Some garments worn by Pharaohs and priests, who ranked as the highest class, wore an almost see-through material. Silk and linen were most commonly used in this group, whereas those of poorer status might wear linen, cotton, or even wool.

In Tutankhamen's tomb, they found many more items of clothing than was expected, which implied that men might have worn a wider variety of clothing than initially thought. There were items such as underwear, shirts, tunics, aprons, sashes, socks, scarves, and gloves; they wore during the colder months. In contrast, the skirts depicted on many of the Egyptian drawings were more accurate during the warmer periods.

The dresses worn by Ancient Egyptian women were often pleated, and usually covered either one shoulder or both.

The dresses worn by Ancient Egyptian women were often pleated, and usually covered either one shoulder or both.

Egyptian Clothing for Women

Women, like men, also used very lightweight fabrics for their clothing, plus status was just as important. The higher the position, the thinner the material. Unlike the men, women usually wore full-length dresses that would either have one or two shoulder straps, but minimal sewing, if any. These dresses, depending on the period, would sometimes lie below the breast, but most often covered the chest.
Regardless of what era, the material was always very simple and usually white.

Dresses had a lot of style to them, such as pleating. In the Old Kingdom, they often wore horizontal pleating, whereas, in the New Kingdom, it was generally vertical. During the Middle Kingdom, pleating was much more extensive. Sometimes it would be horizontal with vertical pleating overlapping. How they achieved this pleated look is unknown.

Occasionally women would have feathers and beading across the chest area, but mostly the cloth was bare. Over the dress, women would usually wear a robe or cape, with pleats as well.

Egyptian Clothing for Children

Egyptian children, until the age of six, did not wear clothes during the hottest months. At six years of age, they were allowed to wear clothing for protection from the sun, but they did not begin to wear regular clothes until they hit puberty, in which case they would begin to dress like adults. Although the children were often naked, they still wore jewelry like their parents, especially bracelets, collars, and hair accessories. During the colder months, when temperatures could get as low as ten degrees, they would wear wraps and cloaks. Since it was cold for such a short time, this was not everyday garb.

Some Egyptians would wear ornate collars like this one.

Some Egyptians would wear ornate collars like this one.

Egyptian Jewelry

Jewelry was a significant part of Egyptian culture. The style of jewelry one wore indicated one's status. Ancient Egyptians felt jewelry made them appear more appealing to the gods, so they would wear as much as they could. They often wore bracelets, necklaces, rings, fanciful buttons, earrings, neck collars, and pendants. The jewels had an Asian influence with its bulky appearance.

The higher class a person was, the more gold and precious gems they would use in the making of the jewelry. The most common gems were Turquoise - a greenish-blue gemstone, Lapiz-lazuli - a brilliantly bright blue gemstone, and Carnelian - a smooth reddish-brown stone. The lower class would still decorate in lots of bulky jewelry, although they used pottery beads or glassware for decoration rather than gems.

Ancient Egyptian eye make-up was often very thick and pronounced like on this mask that is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Milan.

Ancient Egyptian eye make-up was often very thick and pronounced like on this mask that is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Milan.

Egyptian Make-up

In ancient Egypt, both men and women wore make-up. Most notable was their dark, heavy eyeliner that they used along both the lower and upper eyelids. The eyeliner was usually made up of black kohl, which is a very common lead ore taken from a mineral called galena. They lined their eyelids not just for beauty, but also because they believed that it protected the eyes from dust and dirt.

The Egyptians would use the same black kohl to darken eyebrows and eyelashes. Above their eyelids, they also used eyeshadow, which was usually in a shade of blue or green. Both men and women would color their lips and nails with henna dye. They would use this same dye to put color into their hair and to decorate their skin. Although they often painted their hands with henna, only the lower class got tattoos.

The ancient Egyptians also used a red powder called crew on their cheeks and lips when they did not use henna. Unfortunately, there were a lot of harmful substances used in their make-up that had adverse effects, which led to many illnesses, although the Egyptians were unaware of what caused their poor health.

Whether they were the poor or the rich, ancient Egyptians were very particular about how clean they were, and this showed in the clothes, jewelry, and make-up they wore. The material used to make their clothes, as well as the style of the clothes, was indicative of whether someone was rich or poor. Since status was very important to the ancient Egyptians, clothing was a way to signify that difference.

Citations

  • "Egyptian Clothing: Pharoahs to Commoners." History. May 11, 2017. Accessed January 27, 2018. http://historyonthenet.com/Egyptians/clothing.htm.
  • "Garments." Ancient Egypt: Clothing. Accessed January 27, 2018. http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/clothing.htp

Questions & Answers

Question: Did ancient Egyptian children feel embarrassed that people could see their body?

Answer: I don't think we could really know, but it was the norm, so I don't believe so. Maybe as they got close to being of age, they may have been more self-conscious or even insecure that they were not yet old enough to wear clothes. I don't believe it is possible to truly know the answer. Keep in mind that in different parts of the world, modesty is viewed very differently. Some believe it is important to cover a woman's breasts, whereas others it is completely normal for them to go around topless at all times.

Question: Did the kids in ancient Egypt wear anything to cover up?

Answer: Until they were six years old, many would just run around naked, unless it was cold. When they got older, but before they were part of the different social classes, their clothing varied.

Question: Did both men and women wear jewelry such as necklaces and earrings in ancient Egypt?

Answer: Yes, they did! Jewelry was a way that they were able to get the attention of their gods. Not only did they wear necklaces and earrings, but some would even wear headdresses. What their jewelry was made of, was dependent on their social standing.

Question: How was a person's social class distinguished in ancient Egypt?

Answer: The best way to tell the difference in social classes was by the quality of their clothes. Those of a higher social class would use lighter, more delicate materials such as silk, while those in the lower classes would have worn cotton, flax, or linen. Also, those in the higher classes would have more ornaments on their clothing as well as wear more jewelry. The difference in classes was more pronounced in women than in men.

The six social classes in ancient Egypt from highest to lowest were:

1. Pharaohs and gods

2. Government officials

3. Scribes and soldiers

4. Craftsman and merchants

5. Peasants

6. Farmers

Question: What did ancient Egyptians wear most of the time?

Answer: For everyday wear, most Egyptian men in the working class wore a loin cloth or kilt, whereas the woman wore straight dresses. The working class made up the large majority of the society since they lived in a very hierarchical society. The bottom being the largest group. The further up in the society you were, the more ornate your everyday wear would be.

Question: Why didn't Egyptians dress according to their genders? All of the outfits for men and women look very similar.

Answer: Actually, men and women did dress differently. Their garments were all very similar, because of the ease in which they sewed them, but there were some key differences. Women tended to wear longer garments. Women also tended to wear a lot more jewelry across the chest. Also, depending on the period, men did wear clothes that were more similar to pants. Any similarities in clothing style had more to do with the era, but they did dress according to their gender.

Question: Did children wear clothing in ancient Egypt?

Answer: During the hottest months, children under six went around naked. After that age, they did wear clothes mainly to protect themselves from the sun. It was not until they hit puberty where they would dress as the adults did.

Question: Did the Egyptians wear makeup to reflect their social status?

Answer: Yes, makeup often represented a sense of power. The most significant difference was the tools they used to apply their makeup. They all had access to the same products that they used for makeup, but more impoverished people relied on clay pots and sticks to help them apply their makeup. In contrast, the more affluent person would use ivory containers, and their tools would be uniquely carved and even bejeweled. Their devices may have affected how well they applied their makeup, although that is uncertain. Even their nails often reflected their social status. More affluent people would have longer darker nails since the working class would often break their nails. The henna that both classes applied to their nails would often fade much quicker on those who used their hands to work.

Question: Why did Egyptians wear clothing that distinguished class and why did they dress according to gender?

Answer: The main reason they dressed differently to distinguish class had more to do with what kinds of material they could afford. It was not as if they had stated Pharoahs dress like this and workers dress like this and so on and so forth. They chose the material based on what was accessible to them.

As far as why they dressed according to gender, most cultures do have a distinguishing difference according to gender and how they dress. Mostly for practical reasons, because our bodies are different. There are different needs in clothing per gender.

Question: Did the Egyptians have a popular board game?

Answer: According to ducksters.com, they used to play two board games called Senet and Mehen. Senet is a game that is over 5,000 years old. The game of senet is thought to be over 5000 years old. Senet boards were found buried in pharaoh's tombs. They believed that what was with you in your tomb would be present in the afterlife, so they chose to be buried with the senet boards so they would have something to do then. A mehen board was round and had a swirled cavity shaped like a snake coiled up.

© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz

Comments

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Mary from Oregon on March 02, 2020:

I really enjoyed reading this information. I know a bit more about ancient Egypt than the average person, but this and one of the recommended sites on the status of women, bumped up my knowledge about ancient Egyptian society quite a bit.

Thank you so much for all your research, and for your effort to make this subject matter accessible.

hi on January 28, 2020:

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Amy on February 07, 2019:

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yeet on January 10, 2019:

i want info on jewelery

Unkown on October 15, 2018:

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Ella on May 11, 2018:

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kaylah on December 09, 2017:

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Deborah Morrison from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on January 09, 2015:

This hub is fascinating. I liked the pictures and the clear descriptions. The egyptian clothing styles were unique and beautiful.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 19, 2014:

Great hub, interesting and informative. Enjoyed reading and voted up.

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Hurt on November 19, 2013:

It helped me soooo much that u and god bless

point2make on October 20, 2013:

I enjoyed your hub and learned some things as well. Thanks and well done!

Tamara on October 15, 2013:

I used this information for Egyptian Project.Great stuff!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 25, 2012:

Thank you, I find ancient Egypt so incredibly fascinating!

maximioum from Spain on May 25, 2012:

so interesting hub. I like your writings. i voted it up and gave interesting.. keep working on

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 08, 2012:

Thanks for the great compliment.

bmcoll3278 on May 07, 2012:

Great hub. Thanks

hirundine from Nelson, B.C. Canada on May 07, 2012:

angela_michelle,

So true! I see some celebrity chefs calling for cooking lessons for children to help with the obesity problems. Not a bad idea? I was taught boys activities at school, a million years ago. Cooking and sewing were not in the curriculum. At least for boys.

I went to art school and was in the textile program. Which helped. My mother taught me to sew, darn and knit. Which post-ww2 in britain was necessary. I still darn holes .... go figure?

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 07, 2012:

Actually I have thought about that with my daughter attending a public school, she spends all day at school and all night with homework, and she is not learning the simple things in life like gardening or sewing or crafting. Then she comes home with these theories that they have taught my child as fact, and I have to explain there are a lot of theories out there. It is not fact, it is just one hypothesis of many. I get frustrated. We don't want to homeschool, but I'm not happy with public school system. A lot of those things are being lost today.

hirundine from Nelson, B.C. Canada on May 07, 2012:

angela_michelle,

Children are treated differently all over the world, in many ways; you and I would likely disagree with? Generally people take it a bit too seriously? Increases of population bring, different attitudes? Liked this hub on clothing. I've had an interest in textile making for awhile and can warp a loom. .... depending ;-]

It's a shame that we, as a society, depend too much on machinery for the profit of a few? Certainly I have an appreciation of craft. It takes a lot of resource to make but one linen cloth. Spare time used to be taken up by those activities, not watching sports or movies.

A few beads, some rolls of cloth and hey? Bought yourself a nation .... now that was an investment that paid off?

That's how we are mostly, like magpie's caught by the gleam of tawdry glitter?

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 07, 2012:

It is amazing the difference in attitude about children in the last hundred years. I do think children are becoming two spoiled thinking they have rights they do not have. I am a firm believer children should treat all adults with complete respect. But then a hundred years ago, some people believed children should be seen not heard. There has to be a happy medium.

hirundine from Nelson, B.C. Canada on May 07, 2012:

An informative and well presented hub. Appreciating the research and graphics.

Regarding the children. It may be that the ancients found it easier to to keep them clean, naked; than all the laundry that mothers have today. After all if the climate suits? Why not? As well, only comparatively recently have children gained legal rights and status. So, there may be an element of "waste not, want not" regarding their expense until older? That was much of the thinking through medieval europe? Sounds harsh but that was the reality?

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 06, 2012:

I'm glad to teach you some things. :) Thank you very much!

point2make on May 06, 2012:

Very interesting and informative hub. I appreciate your efforts and found the facts surprising and fascinating. I know a lot more about the ancient Egyptians clothing than I did before I read your hub. Thanks. Voted this hub up!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 06, 2012:

Completely agreed about the heat. It's really odd to me that the children were generally naked.

Dianna Mendez on May 06, 2012:

I found this topic and your writing on the subject quite interesting. The different classes of society were marked by their clothing and styles much more than today's dress styles. In such heat, cotton and linen would be my choice as well for comfort.