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Introduction to Fashion

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Our knowledge of ancient Egyptian fashion rests incomplete. However, thanks to some depictions on the walls of tombs and temples as well as to extensive research done by fashion historians and Egyptologists, we have acquired quite a knowledge on the topic. It should be noted that looking at ancient Egyptian art is not like looking at a photograph; depictions of Egyptian dress should be considered as reference only. For one thing, nearly all of the depictions of ancient Egyptian gowns are illustrated as tight fitting. It is evident that the creation of tight fitting garments during ancient times was highly improbable because the ancients had not developed a knitting system that would permit this. In addition, since Egypt is of a warm climate, wearing close fitting attire is not a smart move. Thus, it is more likely that the ancient Egyptians wore rather loose fitting garments.


Fabric Used

Archeologists have found pieces of fabric, once used by the ancient Egyptians, suitable for the hot and dry climate: linen. Wool was definitely not employed because it was thought to have been ritually impure. Thus, priests, visitors to sanctuaries, and the deceased did not dress in such fabric. In fact, if a mummy was found to have been buried, wrapped in the folds of wool, then this indicated that this particular person was considered dishonored. In addition to linen, silk and cotton were used as materials for garments, but were not employed until well after the decline of Egyptian rule. Furthermore, they were used less dominantly than linen. With this in mind, this section will be dedicated to the mention of the usage of linen for clothing.


It is known that linen was a rather difficult fabric to dye, to the ancient Egyptians. Apparently, Egyptian dyers were not familiar with a particular agent that helps prevent the fading of colors, dyed into this fabric: mordant. For this reason, the ancients tended to leave the color of linen as it was--in its original creamy-white color--or they bleached it to a pure white.


During the Old Kingdom as well as the Middle Kingdom, the ancients developed spinning and weaving techniques to create fabrics of varying widths. Once one weaved a piece of fabric of a certain length and width, there would be remnants at the ends of the fabric, where warped yarn remained. The remaining warped yarn was used as ornamentation for clothing--remained as a fringe or tied into a tassel--or they could be cut off. This and other sorts of ornamentation were employed in the creation of fabric. The earliest fabrics decorated with ornamental needlework designs date after ca. 1500 BCE and not only include ornamentation in the horizontal direction (originally used by the Egyptians) but in the vertical direction (supposedly taught to the Egyptians by foreign captives) as well.


From the excavation of burial places, one has found that fabrics could be designed, employing the following: beads, woven and embroidered patterns, and appliqué.


Now, to the good stuff: who wore what and when? During ancient Egyptian history, one's social status was rather easily distinguished by the quality of dress one wore as well as by the quantity of dress owned. I would also add that the type of clothing was also a give-away to one's social status, but that would be incorrect. In fact, there was no real difference in dress between Pharaoh and the lower class people; the only difference was the quality and quantity of dress. For example, a peasant obviously owned less articles of clothing as did Pharaoh, but one's garments would have the same relative shape or construction, as did Pharaoh. In addition, clothing forms for all ages and classes were rather simplistic and were created with minimal sewing requirements; few garments had seams (an article of clothing where two or more pieces of fabric are sewn together to make one garment).


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