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ANCIENT EGYPTIAN CLOTHES
Dr. Sherin Elkhawaga
|The ancient Egyptians made their own clothes from what their environment and nature gave them. Egypt has mostly a hot climate thus the use of clothes reflect material that is lightweight to suit this type of climate. The ancient Egyptians thus used clothes made of linen.
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The ancient Egyptians both men and women wore linen clothes all throughout the hot weather. The men wore short skirts around their waists called kilts, while the women wore straight fitting dresses with straps on their shoulders. The wealthy men wore pleated kilts, and the older men wore a longer kilt. When doing hard work, men wore a loin cloth, and women wore a short skirt. Children usually ran around nude during the summer months.
HOW LINEN WAS MADE
Linen is a fabric made from plant fibers. The plant fiber comes from flax plants that grow abundantly along the banks of the Nile. The flax plants are plants having small leaves, blue flowers and stems about two feet tall. Flax was pulled out of the ground, not cut. This work was done mostly by men. Half-ripe flax stems made the best thread. If the stems were too ripe, they were used for mats and rope. Flax stems were soaked for several days then fibers were separated. Then the fibers were beaten until soft. The resulting fibers are then spun into thread. The thread is woven into linen fabric from which the garments are made. Most Egyptians wore garments made from linen. This type of fabric is light, airy, and allows freedom of movement, which are important characteristics because of the hot and sometimes humid climate of Egypt.
In Ancient Egypt, women were predominately in charge of textile manufacturing and garment making. Garment making was a household chore, but woman also worked for aristocrats in spinning and weaving shops. Every garment from the decorative dresses of queens and the elaborate, pleated kilts of the pharaohs to the simpler kilts and aprons of the common people were handmade by woman.
The tools involved in garment making include knives and needles, both of these needed to be molded, shaped or craved. In predynastic times, knives were made out of stone and the needles were made from bones. However, during the Old Kingdom, they were both made out of copper. Then, in the Middle Kingdom, bronze replaced the copper. Knives and needles were molded. Surprisingly, the eyes of needles were not bored. They were "scratched out with a hard, pointed instrument, probably a stone." With these tools and linen, garments were fashioned to suit the needs of the people based on climate and the social status.
. All men, from the tomb worker to the pharaoh, wore a kind of kilt or apron that varied in length over the years, from halfway above the knee, to halfway below it. It was tied at the front, folded in at the side, or in two knots at the hips. A sleeved, shirt-like garment also became fashionable. Men were always clean-shaven, they used razors made from bronze to shave their beards and heads. Women wore straight, ankle-length dresses that usually had straps that tied at the neck or behind the shoulders. Some dresses had short sleeves or women wore short robes tied over their shoulders. Later fashions show that the linen was folded in many tiny vertical pleats and fringes were put at the edges.
The wealthy people both men and women wore long see-through robes that were pleated. Noblemen would sometimes wear a long robe over his kilt, while the women wore long pleated dresses with a shawl. Some kings and queens wore decorative ceremonial clothing with feathers. Wealthy people wore sandals made of leather that had straps across the instep and between the first and second toes.
Most people went barefoot, but wore sandals on special occasions. The king wore very elaborately decorated sandals, and sometimes decorative gloves on his hands. The sandals were sometimes made of palm fiber or braided papyrus together with leather sandals.
Clothing styles were chosen for comfort in the hot, dry climate of Egypt, while in the winter, wraps and cloaks were worn.
Women did not dress without washing (rich people had a tiled area for washing). After washing, they rubbed themselves with scented oil then they placed a large rectangle of linen over their heads, gathered the loose corners up and tied them in a knot below the chest. The usual toilet articles were tweezers, razor and comb.
Priests washed several times a day and they had to remove all body hair to be pure enough to approach the god. They could not wear leather sandals or wool clothing (considered unclean). They wore a leopard robe when serving the god Amun.
The Egyptians cared about their appearance a great deal. The women spent a lot of time bathing, rubbing oils and perfumes into their skin, and using their many cosmetic implements to apply make-up and style their wigs. Using a highly-polished bronze hand mirror, a woman would apply khol, a black dye kept in a jar or pot, to line her eyes and eyebrows, using an "brush" or "pencil" made of a reed. Men wore this eye make-up as well, which was not only a fashion but also protected against the eye infections which were common in Egypt. They would use a dye called henna to redden their nails and lips. Wigs were worn by men and women. Wigs were made from human hair or wool. They wore curled wigs for special occasions.
Egyptians adorned themselves with as much jewelry as they could afford. Wealthy people wore broad collars made of gold and precious stones liked together, which fastened at the back of the neck. Pairs of bracelets were worn around the wrist or high on the arm, above the elbow. Rings and anklets were also worn. Women wore large round earrings and put bands around their heads or held their hair in place with ivory and metal hair pins. Ordinary people wore necklaces made of brightly colored pottery beads.
About the Author
Egyptian radiologist,interested in egyptology.