Sell fashion jewelry online
© December 2000
December, February 2005
August, May 2004
December, February 2003
Ancient Egyptian clothes:
Articles of dress
For best results save the whole page (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.
Late New Kingdom
Source: Karl Köhler: A History of Costume
Source: Boston Museum Bulletin No.354
The Egyptian climate with its hot summers and mild winters favoured light clothing made from plant fibers, predominantly linen and in Roman times occasionally cotton, an import from India . Wool was used to a lesser extent , and seldom by Egyptians proper.For a more detailed description of cloth production see "Flax"
Small amounts of silk were traded to the eastern Mediterranean possibly as early as the second half of the second millennium BCE and traces of silk have been found in Egyptian tombs .
Animal skins, above all leopard skins, were sometimes worn by priests and by pharaohs in their role as first servants of the god. Such outfits were found in Tutankhamen's tomb and were depicted quite frequently on the walls of tombs. At times kings and queens wore decorative ceremonial clothing adorned with feathers.
The manufacture of clothes was apparently mostly women's work. It was generally done at home, but there were workshops run by noblemen or other men of means.
Model of weaving women at a horizontal loom, excerpt
and if a person was lucky he would be
The first stages of the linen production were performed by men: They reaped the plants and by beating and combing the plants they extracted fibers from them, which could be spun into thread, the first of the stages often performed by women. When the cloth was still woven on horizontal looms, which were often just pegs rammed into the ground and where the weavers had to crouch on the floor, it was generally women who performed the task. During the New Kingdom vertical looms were invented. These new looms were physically more demanding and were generally operated by men.
As the sewing of clothes was very labour intensive and the art of tailoring to fit in its infancy–the tightly fitting dresses which the without exception incredibly shapely women are displayed in notwithstanding–many garments consisted simply of a rectangular pieces of cloth draped around the body and held together by a belt. But the cloth was often hemmed to prevent fraying, with either simple, or rolled and whipped hems. At times garments had parts, which had to be stitched on such as sleeves or shoulder straps. The seams used were generally simple or lap-over, though run-and-fell and overcast seams were also known. The number of different stitch types was also limited: running stitch, overcast stitch, and twisted chain stitch.
The tools used such as knives and needles changed over the centuries. Blades were made from stone during the Neolithic, then from copper, from bronze during the Middle Kingdom and finally from iron, though flint knives, which had sharper edges than iron ones, continued to be used to an ever decreasing extent until Roman times. Needles were fashioned from wood, bone and metal. The Egyptians succeeded in making eyes in millimetre thick copper needles. Scissors came into general use late in Egypt's history though the principle was known since the second millennium BCE.
Tutankhamen's tomb yielded many pieces of clothing: tunics, shirts, kilts, aprons and sashes, socks, head-dresses, caps, scarves, gauntlets and gloves, some of them with fine linen linings, others with separate index and middle fingers and a hole for the thumb. Underwear in the form of a triangular loincloth was also found.
If royals had a garment for every body part and for any occasion–even though statues and reliefs often show them wearing only a SnD.wt, the so-called kilt, and a crown–most of their subjects had to make do with much less. Clothes were expensive and in the hot Egyptian climate people often wore as little as possible. If we are to believe the depictions, at parties servants and slave girls wore little more than skimpy panties and jewellery , though one may assume that the reason for this undress was not a lack of funds. Working women mostly dressed in a short kind of kalasiris. Men doing physical labour wore a loin cloth, wide galabiyeh-like robes or, if they were working in the water, nothing at all. Children usually ran around nude during the summer months, and wore wraps and cloaks in winter when temperatures might fall below 10°C.
The gods had to be dressed as well. This was the duty of a small number of priests allowed to enter the holiest of holies, where the god's statue was. Nesuhor, commander of the fortress at Elephantine under Apries, took care that the temple of Khnum had all the servants necessary to serve the needs of the god:
The clothes were generally made of linen and kept simple: a short loincloth resembling a kilt for men, a dress with straps for women. These basic garments with minor variations accounting for fashion, social status and wealth did not change fundamentally throughout Egypt's history.
Picture sources: Louvre website K.Köhler, A History of Costume
Everyday clothing was mostly undecorated, though pleating was known since the Old Kingdom, when some dresses of upper class Egyptians were pleated horizontally. In the New Kingdom the pleats were often vertical, but pleating could be quite intricate. A Middle Kingdom piece of clothing displays three different types of pleating: one part is pleated with pleats a few centimetres apart, another with very narrow pleats and a third part is chevron-patterned, with horizontal and vertical pleats crossing each other. How the pleating was done is not known, but it is generally supposed to have been very labour intensive.
The length of the the kilts varied, being short during the the Old Kingdom and reaching the calf in the Middle Kingdom, when it was often supplemented with a sleeveless shirt or a long robe.
The robes worn by both sexes in Egypt were called kalasiris by Herodotus. Material and cut varied over the centuries, though the cloth of choice was always linen.
The kalasiris women wore might cover one  or both shoulders or be worn with shoulder straps. While the top could reach anywhere from below the breast up to the neck, the bottom hem generally touched the calves or even the ankles. Some had short sleeves, others were sleeveless. The fit might be very tight or quite loose. They were often worn with a belt which held together the folds of cloth.
Source of the kalasiris picture on the right: University of Indiana website They were sewn from a rectangular piece of cloth twice the desired garment length. An opening for the head was cut at the centre of the cloth, which was then folded in half. The lower parts of the sides were stitched together leaving openings for the arms.
Women's dresses were at times ornamented with beads. They covered the breasts most of the time, though there were periods when fashion left them bare .
Circular capes date back as far as the Old Kingdom. They were generally made of linen and had an opening for the head cut at the centre. They were often dyed, painted or otherwise decorated and covered little more than the shoulders. Shawls were sometimes worn during the New Kingdom.
The ancient Egyptians knew how to use starch. They used it to stick sheets of papyrus together. According to Pliny they made starch by mixing some of the finest wheaten flour with boiling water. They also soaked linen bandages in starch which became hard and stiff when dried. It would be tempting to assume that they achieved the pleats in their clothes by using starch, but there is no evidence for that.
Cleanliness was apparently next to godliness in ancient Egypt. And who was closer to the gods than the pharaohs themselves. Since earliest historic times the titles of "chief washer of the palace" and "washer to the pharaoh" are known, and keeping the royal clothes lily white was the duty of the "chief bleacher."
Manually washing clothes was hard work. Soap was unknown to the ancient Egyptians, so lye, made of castor-oil and saltpetre or some such substances , or detergents made of soapwort or asphodil  were used. The laundry was beaten, rinsed and wrung by pairs of workers. By 1200 BCE there were fire-proof boilers in the wash-houses, and the hot water lightened the workload.
Many, above all the poorer people had no access to facilities and had to do their laundry under at times difficult conditions. Washing on the shore of the river or the bank of a canal, which had the advantage of not having to carry a lot of water in heavy earthen pots, could be dangerous:
In the eyes of Kheti at least, washing women's clothing was not really work a man should be doing. He says disparagingly of the washerman:
Before the advent of industrial production techniques, cheap overseas transportation and a Third World population with little choice but to work for peanuts, clothes made up a considerable part of one's living expenses. Even though the clothes of the Egyptians were lighter than those of Europeans and less critical to survival, they were careful not to ruin them, and when a garment got torn, it was probably the ancient Egyptian housewife who got her favorite needle out of her needle box, a knife and a piece of thread and settled down to mend it. Garments have been found which were mended a number of times and finally recycled and turned into something else. If depictions are anything to go by, then ordinary Egyptians did not wear any headdress as a rule, similar to African peoples further south. The better-off put on wigs - perhaps just on special occasions. These grew to a remarkable size during the New Kingdom.
The pharaohs are always represented wearing crowns, but whether this is a pictorial convention or whether they did so in every day life can not be decided. Plaited reed sandals
Picture source: mfa Boston website 
People living around the Mediterranean had little need for elaborate footwear, with exceptions like the Hittites in their Anatolian highlands who wore shoes with turned up toes, though in Egyptian reliefs Hittites are depicted unshod. The Egyptians went barefoot much of the time, but wore sandals on special occasions  or when their feet were likely to get hurt. The sandals were tied with two thongs and, if they had a pointed tip this was often turned upwards. They were made of leather  or rush  woven or stitched together, and often had leather soles and straps.
The cheapest kind of sandals were affordable to all but the very poorest. Ipuwer in his Admonitions used the lack of sandals to describe the destitute who, in the topsy-turvy world of chaos he warned from, attained great wealth: He who could not afford sandals owns riches .
The kings wore at times very elaborately decorated sandals, and sometimes decorative gloves as well, but generally they were depicted barefoot, as were the gods.
Sandal of Ramses III, excerpt
One of the changes in daily life which occurred during the Middle and New Kingdoms was the increasing use of sandals, above all where soldiers  or travellers were concerned. In the story of The Two Brothers Anpu set out on a journey:
Sandals seem to have had an importance which mostly escapes us nowadays, symbolizing prosperity and authority. Thutmose III speaks of the countries he conquered, and possibly of the rest of the world as well, as all lands were under my sandals .
Among the oldest images of the dynastic period are depictions of the sandal-bearer of the pharaoh, and for the sixth dynasty official Weni this post was seemingly an important stage in a splendid career, mentioned twice in his autobiography.
Early Middle Kingdom shoes were little more than sandals with straps between the toes and joined to the sides at the heel with the upper leather just covering the foot without being fastened to the foot itself. During the New Kingdom there were times when some Egyptians seem to have taken to occasionally wearing shoes, as in a depiction of Queen Nutmose at Karnak. This may have come about as an influence of the Hittites, with whom they came into contact at this time.
[ ] Man wearing a loincloth: Lionel Casson Ancient Egypt, Time-Life Books, 1975
[ ] Model of women weaving with a horizontal loom: V.Easy
[ ] Pleated kalasiris, Late New Kingdom: Karl Köhler: A History of Costume
[ ] Linen kalasiris, New Kingdom: University of Indiana website
[ ] Women's clothes: the two pictures to the right are excerpts from 'Ancient Egypt' by Lionel Casson, Time-Life Books, 1975
[ ] Sandals: mfa Boston 
 A few strands of material, which analysis proved to be hydrolysed Chinese silk, were found in the hair of a 21st dynasty female mummy (Inventory No. 15/8 Hrdlicka Museum of Man, Prague) which was discovered in the workers' cemetery of Deir el Medina. (Source of info: Charles R. Jones & Marianne Luban)  The skimpiness of dress of servant girls may have been an attempt of the male grave owners at improving the quality of their after-life.  In the afterworld one put on white sandals to meet the gods, just as one did during temple services:
The instruction addressed to King Merikare
J.H.Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, §430In the Papyrus Lansing the scribe mocks the professional soldier:
M.Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 2, p. 172
J.H.Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, § 245and the subjects of Ramses III are exhorted to transfer their allegiance to his successor, Ramses IV
J.H.Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 412 Papyrus Harris lists the supply of 15,110 pairs of papyrus sandals and 3,720 pairs of leather sandals for the festival of Usermare-Meriamon-L.H.P.-Making-Festive-Thebes-for-Amon.  Pliny's gossypium was cotton. According to him it was grown in the south of the country.
 Most articles of dress found in tombs were made of linen. There were apparently also cultic restrictions to wearing woollen clothing. According to Herodotus wool was not worn in temples
 In the reign of Amenemhet III Horemsaf wrote
 Many of the everyday substances used have not been identified. Lucas (p.172) suggested that it seemed possible that the fused ashes of special plants, or natron, might have been employed for some such purpose as washing clothes or the person...
The papyrus of Imhotep, son of Pshentohe, describes the preparations for the ritual of the transfiguration of the Osiris:
where netjeri, related to netjer - god, is a general term for natron, bed is granulated natron and mw-nw-Hzmn is natron water or fluid.
 R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, Brill Academic Publishers 1966, p.83f.
 Paul T. Nicholson, Ian Shaw, Ancient Egyptian materials and technology, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp.281f.
 After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I. => Sargkammer => Westwand => Fläche über und links neben dem Sarkophag => PT 440
 After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften => 3. Weisheitslehren => Neuägyptische Weisheitslehren => Die Lehre von pChester Beatty IV => pChester Beatty IV = pBM EA 10684 => Beatty IV, Verso
 Adolf Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt, Kessinger Publishing, 2003, p.62
 J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, Chigago 1906, § 992
 A. Lucas, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, London 1989, p.8
 Paul T. Nicholson, Ian Shaw, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.294
 Harold B. Burnham, Veronika Gervers, Studies in textile history, 1977, Royal Ontario Museum, p.243