Ancient Egyptian Clothing
Contrary to what you see in the movies, ancient Egyptian clothes were not all sewn with gold and made into elaborate designs. In fact, most ancient Egyptian wore the same simple linen clothing throughout their entire lives.
Linen was the most practical material for such a hot climate. It was also abundant since it came from the fiber of the flax plants found all along the Nile River.
Yes, flax is where we get the highly medicinal and nutritious flaxseeds that the health-industry raves about.
Linen was perfect for the weather since it was light and flexible.
For the winter months, they would just put on a wrap on top to keep warm. Though wool was available, it was usually thought to be impure and, along with other animal skins, was not allowed into temples.
As Herodotus explained:
“They wear a linen tunic fringed about the legs, and called calasiris; over this they have a white woollen garment thrown on afterwards. Nothing of woolen, however, is taken into their temples or buried with them, as their religion forbids it.”
A calasiris, or kalasiris, was the long tunic-style sheath dresses or robes that ancient Egyptians wore.
Like some other cultures of Africa, women’s legs were what were conservatively covered, while arms, chest and breasts could go bare. A woman’s kalasiris would reach the calves or ankles, and on top would be held by either one or two straps over the shoulder. It could reach above or below the breasts.
The men wore what look like kilts from the waist down, though sometimes with a shirt on top. While working though, the men would usually wear simple loincloths.
Some workers, especially slaves, worked in the nude. Infants were also left nude, while older children would be dressed like adults.
Most clothing would be white or whitish, though there were a few instances of dyed cloth. The ancient Egyptians were quite fanatical about the cleanliness of their garments, and laundry was an especially important, yet dangerous task.
For more about the textile and laundry work, check out my page How Ancient Egyptian Clothing Was Made & Maintained.
As for style, some of the garments were pleated, either vertically or horizontally, or both. Though because it was a very labor-intensive task, this was not the common style. Most people wore the simple, seamless linen that they would tie around their bodies and hold up with a linen belt.
The clothing was made by women, though the raw materials were collected by men. Tools varied, though mostly simple knives and needles were the usual tools of the trade.
Those who could afford to wore jewelry and accessories. Some of the women’s dresses would be beaded or have feathers.
Most ancient Egyptian walked around barefoot, but they also had sandals to wear on occasion. Sandals were made of straw-like material, papyrus, or leather.
Ancient Egyptian Clothes For Special Occasions
Though animal skins were not worn by ancient Egyptians, high priests and pharaohs usually adorned leopard skin cloaks during rites and rituals. Embalmers would also add jackal-head mask to represent the god Anubis.
On special occasions, royals and elites would wear delicately embroidered tunics and their sandals were beaded and threaded with beautiful designs.
Servant girls, dancers and musicians would wear very little clothing but accentuate their style with accessories.
Other than a crown, the pharaoh would sometimes wear the beautiful gold and blue nemes headdresses, or the simpler khat headdress which was just a cloth worn around the head and hung down the neck.
Queens had access to extravagant jewelry.
And for those who could afford them, wigs were a big deal in ancient Egypt…
Ancient Egyptian soldiers, for obvious reasons, also had their own set of extra accessories on top of the kilts. They had gloves, helmets, scales, etc…
And finally, we couldn’t leave out the dead! Just as it was important for them to have food and other items with them for their afterlife journey, they also had to be dressed well to meet the gods (who were also usually well-dressed). Of course, since the bodies were wrapped (also in linen) they were given clothes to be buried with.
But they did wear death masks, some of them made of gold! Again, it all depended on what they could afford.
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