Facts About Clothing Used in Ancient Egypt: Egyptian Clothes
Fabrics Used In Egyptian Clothing
In Ancient Egypt, fashion was a big part of their culture. A lot could be said about a person, depending on what they wore and how they wore it. 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 light weight clothes, like linen, although silk was often bought by the wealthy. Those of the lowest status would use cotton or wool. In order to make linen, plant fibers such as flax that grew along the Nile River would be soaked, combed, and then beaten into threadlike fibers. 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 common fabric used among Pharaohs and priests was leather. Most leather was thought to be impure; therefore, it was most often used as coats rather than an article of clothing. 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.
The ancient Egyptians valued clothing, which caused a visual separation of social classes. We still do this today.Do you feel, in order to close that gap in schools, we should have school uniforms?
Egyptian Clothing for Men
Status was indicated in large part by how a man dressed. The workers, who were the most poor in the community, most often wore loin cloths 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 the Shendyt. They did as little sewing as possible in most of their garments. They also rarely dyed their items and usually wore white. This 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 (Prior to 2055 BC), men wore them above the knee and the material was often gathered in the front or pleated. During 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 among this group, whereas those of poorer status might wear linen, cotton, or even wool.
In Tutkhamen's tomb, they found many more items of clothing than was expected, which implied that men may have worn a larger variety of clothing than originally thought. There were items such as underwear, shirts, tunics, aprons, sashes, socks, scarves, and gloves. Since there are a couple months in the winter where the weather in Egypt is cold, these items were probably worn during the colder months, whereas the skirts depicted on many of the Egyptian drawings were more accurate during the warmer periods.
Egyptian Clothing for Women
Women, like men, also used very lightweight fabrics for their clothing, plus status was just as important. The higher position, the thinner the material. Unlike the men, women usually wore full-length dresses that would either have one or two shoulder straps, but very little 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. They liked the dresses to have a lot of style to them, such as pleating. In the Old Kingdom, they usually 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; this was often pleated 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 as the adults. Although the children were often naked, they still wore jewelry like their parents, especially bracelets, collars, and hair accessories. During the cooler months when temperatures could get as low as ten degrees, they would wear wraps and cloaks. Since it was cold for such a short period of time, this was not everyday garb.
Jewelry was a very important part of Egyptian culture. Status was often portrayed through the style of jewelry one wore. 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 gem, Lapiz-luzuli - a brilliantly bright blue gem, 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.
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 eyelid. This was usually made up of a black kohl, which is a very common lead ore taken from a mineral called galena. They lined their eye lids 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 eye brows and eye lashes. Above their eyelid, they also used eye shadow, 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 decorated their hands with henna, only the lower class got tattoos. This was not a fashion that the upper class shared.
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. This 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 one difference separating the rich from the poor was the type of material their clothes were made of, as well as how they designed their clothes. Since status was very important to the ancient Egyptians, clothing was a way to signify that difference.
- "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
How was a person's social class distinguished in ancient Egypt?
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
What did ancient Egyptians wear most of the time?
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.
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz