Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Welcome to the Egyptology Page:  Book of Thoth!  This comprehensive site examines Ancient Egyptian education (institutions, tools, professions), fashion (clothing, accessories, makeup), philosophy, recreation (sports and games), religion (mummification, sarcophagi, myths, over 200 deities), and writing system (hieroglyphics, hieratic, demotic) and features awards, games, museum, library, and newspaper.
Home | Education | Fashion | Philosophy | Recreation | Religion | Writing | Updates


:: Egyptology Page: Book of Thoth ::

Fashion

Introduction
Menswear
**Aprons
**Loincloths
**Long Wrapped Garments
**Shawls and Cloaks
**Straps
**Tunics
**Upper Body Cover
Women's Department
**Long Wrapped Garments
**Sashes
**Shawls and Cloaks
**Skirts
**Tunics
**V-Neck Dresses
**Wrapped or Sheath Dress
Children's Department
Work Clothes
Jewelry
**Introduction to Jewelry
**Armlets, Bracelets, and Anklets
**Belts_and_Decorated_Aprons
**Collars
**Diadems or Fillets
**Earrings
**Neck Ornaments
**Rings
Hairstyles
Cosmetics
Footwear
Bags



Introduction

Our knowledge of Ancient Egyptian fashion rests incomplete. However, thanks to some depictions on tomb and temple walls and to extensive research done by fashion historians and Egyptologists, the scholastic world has acquired quite a knowledge on the topic. Despite the beneficial qualities of this evidence, Egyptian art is reference only in that it is not like looking at a photograph. For one thing, nearly all of the depictions of Ancient Egyptian gowns are illustrated as tight fitting. It is apparent that the creation of tight fitting garments during ancient times was highly improbable because the ancients had not developed a knitting system that permitted this. In addition, since Egypt has a warm climate, wearing closely fitting attire is not appropriate. Thus, it is reasonable to say that the Egyptians most likely wore loose fitting garments instead.

Fabric

Archeologists have found pieces of Ancient Egyptian linen that was suitable for the Egyptian climate. The ancients definitely did not employ wool because they thought it was ritualistically impure: 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, the Egyptians used silk and cotton as fabric for garments, but these materials did not come into prominent use until well after the decline of Egyptian rule. Even at this time, linen was still the fabric of choice in making clothes.

What follows will describe the usage of linen for clothing:

To start off, linen was a difficult fabric to dye for the Ancient Egyptians. Apparently, dyers were not familiar with mordant, the agent responsible in preventing colors dyed into linen from fading. For this reason, the ancients tended to leave the color of linen its original creamy-white or they bleached it to a pure white.

During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, the ancients developed spinning and weaving techniques to create fabrics of varying widths. After they weaved a piece of fabric of a certain length and width, remnants of warped yarn remained at the its ends. Ancient weavers either cut off or used this lingering warped yarn as ornamentation for clothing, typically as a fringe or a tasselor. There were other ways to create fabric in using this and other sorts of ornamentation. The earliest fabrics decorated with ornamental needlework designs date after about 1,500 B.C.E. and not only include ornamentation in the horizontal direction (originally used by the Egyptians) but also in the vertical direction (foreign captives supposedly taught the Egyptians how to weave this way).

From the excavation of burial places, archaeologists have discovered that fabrics could be decorated with any of the following: beads, woven and embroidered patterns, or appliqué.
During Ancient Egyptian history, one's social status was rather easily distinguished by the quality of dress one wore as well as by how many articles of clothing one owned. It would be false, however, to assume that a great indicator of social status was the kind of clothing worn, which was the ever popular linen. In truth, there was no real difference in dress between the king and his/her people. The only difference was the quality and quantity of this fabric. For example, a peasant owned less articles of clothing than did the king, but one's garments had the same relative shape and construction as did the King's. In addition, the cuts of clothing for all ages and classes were simplistic and were created with minimal sewing requirements. Few Egyptian garments had seams (seams occur when an article of clothing made of two or more pieces of fabric is sewn together).
Back to top

Menswear


Aprons

Menswear - Aprons | Left:  reproduction papyrus illustrating the side view of a triangular apron or skirt.  Middle:  front view of a triangular apron, as worn by one of Tutankhamun's guardian statues.  Right:  side view of one of Tutankhamun's guardian statues.
Left: reproduction papyrus illustrating the side view of a triangular apron or skirt. Middle: front view of a triangular apron, as worn by one of Tutankhamun's guardian statues. Right: side view of one of Tutankhamun's guardian statues.


Garments for men that were worn to cover the private areas of the body, worn alone, over a skirt, or over a loincloth and under a skirt, were aprons. This article of clothing was usually made of one or more pieces of cloth that was attached to a belt or sash, which was fastened about the waist. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, aprons were long and narrow and starting from the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom, aprons were triangular in form.

Evidence of this article of clothing has been found in Nubia (one of Ancient Egypt's influences), but not in Egypt herself. Despite this, during the Middle and New Kingdoms, depictions in Egyptian art often showed men wearing skirts with large triangular aprons. However, this is very weak evidence of their use in Egypt. It is difficult to distinguish if these depictions actually show people wearing an apron or, if not, some other type of clothing that was part of the construction of a skirt. The above picture may show men wearing separate aprons or a wrapped skirt that was fashion to look this way.
Back to top

Loincloths

Loincloths were made of linen, triangular in shape, and were meant to be worn under or over garments. Usually, Egyptian laborers worn them as separate garments, wrapping them around their waists like a diaper. To hold these garments in place, one attached strings or a sash to tie it around the waist. Loincloths that have been found were made of leather, in the style of the Middle and New Kingdoms. During the Old Kingdom and the first half of the Middle Kingdom, loincloths were made of cloth (linen).
Back to top

Long Wrapped Garments

From the earliest dynasties until the Middle Kingdom, men of all classes wore long wrapped garments. During the New Kingdom, men were depicted as wearing long, loose, and flowing garments of creased diaphanous linen. The following pictures are some ways to wrap a garment of this kind around the body (the figure shows a woman, but men folded their garments similarly).
Back to top

Shawls and Cloaks

Shawls for men were made from square or rectangular pieces of fabric that one wrapped around the upper part of the body, above the waist. Other cloaks, of the longer kind, were worn as well to ensure warmth. The way one wrapped a shawl or a cloak around one's body varied and was often made to have ends tied together, over the shoulder. During the Old Kingdom, long cloaks were popular; during the Middle Kingdom, short shawls and long cloaks were commonly worn; and during the New Kingdom, one tended to wear knotted and wrap-around cloaks of various styles.
Back to top

Straps

Depictions of men, especially of when they were working, show them wearing narrow straps that wrapped around the upper part of the body. The way to wrap straps around the body varied, which could include the following: wrapped diagonally over one shoulder, diagonally across both shoulders to make an "X", wrapped around the waist, or wrapped at various points around the chest. However bizarre the wearing of straps sounds, doubt not their function, for that ancients used them for a practical reason: to prevent perspiration from running down the body. In other words, straps served the same purpose as sweatbands do in modern times.
Back to top

Tunics

Just as aprons are rather hard to prove to have existed during ancient times, so it is for tunics. However, there is slightly more evidence for the latter than the former. Ancient Egyptian tunics were a mix between similar articles of clothing worn by the Hyksos and Mesopotamians. According to Herodotus, Egyptians called tunics calasiris or kalasiris. This term can also be applied to closely fitting dresses, better known as sheath dresses, which Egyptian women wore. The date of the introduction of tunics in Egyptian fashion is relatively clear: along with other new elements of dress, the tunic appeared in use during the New Kingdom and was probably due to cross-cultural contacts with other civilizations of the Near East or even due to the invasions of the Hyksos. According to tomb paintings, short and long tunics were made with or without sleeves and were often crafted of diaphanous linen. Furthermore, it is apparent that loincloths or short skirts were worn under tunics and that wrapped skirts could be worn over tunics.
Back to top

Upper Body Coverings

The following are some examples of what upper body coverings an Ancient Egyptian might have worn:

Animal Skins:
According to the ancients, if one wore a skin of a ferocious beast, then its powers would transfer to the wearer. In early representations of men's fashion, some men wore leopard or lion skin that they fastened across their shoulders. In later periods, skins were no longer used as much. Instead, fabric replaced animal skins. The substitution affected only general apparel. Ordinarily, kings and priests wore animal skins, in particular sem priests, whose most characteristic feature his leopard skin covering. Eventually, garments made to resemble animal skins replaced the real ones. These garments were made of cloth with leopard spots painted on them. Like real animal skins, Egyptians wore these garments for ritualistic purposes.

Cape-like Garments:
During the Middle and New Kingdoms, cape-like garments were typically made of short fabric that was fastened at center front.

Corselets:
Although it is similar in pronunciation, this garment did not function like a corset. Corselets were sleeveless garments, made with or without straps, and most likely served as a decorative form of armor. In cases where corselets had with straps, they were small and suspended from the shoulders.

Wide Necklaces:
Although necklaces are a type of jewelry, they were used like a cape-like ornament that could be worn alone, over a linen gown, over a short cape, or with a corselet. Wide necklaces consisted of concentric circles of precious and/or semi-precious stones, which included lapis lazuli, turquoise, and carnelian.

Wrapped Skirts:
Throughout Ancient Egyptian history, the most prominent male garment was the wrapped skirt. Some words given to this garment were schenti, shent, skent, or schent. One can also refer to a wrapped skirt as a kilt to distinguish it from those worn by women. However, using this term might cause confusion because Scotsmen rather than Egyptians wore kilts. Combining all wrapped skirts from all periods of Egyptian history and from all social classes, ones gets a formidable list of skirts of different lengths, widths, and fits.

In early periods, wrapped skirts were knee length or shorter and were made to fit closely to the hips. Some skirts were pleated or made with a diagonal line across the front. Even though square shaped fabrics have been found rather than round ones, one could bunch up the end of a square fabric to create a rounded edge; one take the end of a square piece of fabric, pull it up to the hips, and then tuck the end into the waistband. In other words, the pleated style was achieved through draping.

During the Middle Kingdom and according to depictions from this period, wrapped skirts were longer in length, some as long as to the ankles. Shorter versions of Middle Kingdom wrapped skirt appear to have been employed by workers, soldiers, or hunters. From the Middle Kingdom until the New Kingdom, double skirts were also in use. The under skirt was opaque and the outer layer was made of diaphanous material. The outer layer of the double skirt was also made pleated.

During the New Kingdom pleated skirts were introduced. The pleat was characteristic incorporated into both short and form-fitting and long and full skirts. New Kingdom representations show that skirst from this period were constructed of triangular panels, which were mostly for decoration and were located at the front of these garments.
Back to top

Womens Department

Long Wrapped Garments

Long wrapped garments were composed of diaphanous material and served as robes that could be pleated and/or draped. Some women's styles covered the chest while others left it exposed. Women's long wrapped garments resembled somewhat the male version of the same article of clothing, but there were slight differences in the way each draped and arranged these garments. Out of all the garments worn by women, the long wrapped dress was the most complex. One characteristic that supports this is the ways one can wrap the garment around the body.
Back to top

Sashes

In cases where one needed to hold clothing in place, Egyptian women used a sash like moderns do nowadays. Sashes were often made of rope; plain-woven linen, sometimes with fringes or tassels; elaborately designed with embroidery; or double woven fabrics. Even though women wore sashes, men were depicted wearing them more often. Upper class women wore sashes in addition to wearing white linen clothing. Typically, sashes were often the only adornment and color to an Egyptians outfit if she wasn't wearing jewelry.
Back to top

Shawls and Cloaks

Women's shawls were made in the same way as were men's: from square or rectangular pieces of fabric, which one wrapped around the upper part of the body and above the waist. Women wore also long cloaks to ensure warmth. The way an Egyptian wrapped a shawl or a cloak around her body varied and securing either to the body was often made easier with the addition of loose ends that could be tied together and over the shoulder. Long cloaks were popular during the Old Kingdom, Short shawls and long cloaks were commonly worn during the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom saw Egyptians wearing knotted and wraparound cloaks of various styles.
Back to top

Skirts

Most lower class women or women of the laboring class wore skirts. These skirts were fashioned in much the same way as were wrapped skirts that men wore, upper and lower class alike: short or long, pleated or smooth, full or form fitting, or doubled up.
Back to top

Tunics

Just like men, women wore loose fitting tunics, the construction of which was most likely influenced by Mesopotamian and Hyksos styles. A New Kingdom fashion, women's short or long tunics could be made with or without sleeves, were constructed from diaphanous linen, could be worn over loincloths or short skirts, and could be worn under wrapped skirts.

Even though lower class women mostly wore skirts, they could also wear tunics; this article of clothing was a mark of the lower classes and was therefore not worn by upper class women.
Back to top

V-Neck Dresses

First appearing during the Old Kingdom and continuing onward, v-neck dresses were styles of women's clothing that have been found in quantity, especially in tombs. These simple garments could be made with or without sleeves, pleated or plain. In cases where they were made with sleeves, they were of a more complex design, with a tubular skirt joined to the yoke.
Back to top

Wrapped or Sheath Dress

The wrapped or sheath dress was the most commonly worn garment for women from all classes. Even though this dress appears to be a form-fitting garment, it was logically not constructed this way. Depictions illustrate these dresses impractically rather than realistically. If they were actually that tight, they would be practically impossible in which to move around Thus, it was probably a wraparound dress, complete with straps, which were probably not part of the ensemble because no sheath dress of this kind has been found. If an Egyptian woman wore straps with the sheath dress, they wore either one or two straps, which came over the shoulder to hold the dress up. Additionally, lengths of cloth with patterns of wear consistent with wraparound dresses have been found and were worn above or below the chest and draped down to the lower calf or the ankle.

The following is a possible addition of decoration to the wrapped or sheath dress:

Beaded Net Dress:
Since dying linen was an improbable way of applying color, the most probable way that Egyptians decorated a sheath dress was to cover it with a beaded net dress. The art of beadwork was highly developed by the New Kingdom; evidence of this has been found in Tutankhamun's tomb. Other forms of ornamentation may have also included the following: painted designs, appliqués, leather, feathers, beadwork, or woven designs.
Back to top

Children's Department

Not many Egyptian children wore clothing, especially lower class citizens; it was mostly children from royal families from whom archaeologists have gathered information on children's clothing. For example, noble girls were depicted wearing necklaces, armlets, bracelets, anklets, and sometimes earrings. Noble boys were shown wearing an occasional armlet or a bracelet. In other words, small children were typically naked or their dress was minimal, save for some ornamental jewelry. Once boys were of school age, they wore a tunic or a skirt of some kind; once girls hit puberty, they started wearing clothing in the style of their mothers.

Even though non-royal children did not tend to wear clothes throughout their childhood, they do give scholars some significant information: in the rare event that common children wore clothes, their garments were relatively the same as those of royal children's. One difference is lower class boys wore loincloths rather than skirts or tunics.
Back to top

Work Clothes

Military Costumes:
The typical military ensemble of an ordinary Ancient Egyptian foot soldier consisted of the following: a short skirt; a helmet made of padded leather; weapons and a shield; and in some cases, a sleeveless armored corselet with support straps. Generally, soldiers did not wear shoes or sandals. The skirt of a soldier could be just a wrap-around, but it could also have a triangular front, stiffened for more protection of the private area, much like the modern jockstrap. The construction of the corselet, which covered the chest, could have been fashioned out of small plates of bone, metal, or stiffened leather that was sewn into a linen body. In times of battle, the king wore a similar ensemble, but he wore a special, more significant helmet, which was an insignia of his rank. This helmet was called the khepresh or the blue war crown. In addition, the king wore a false beard, a symbol of power. However, just as soldiers and the king rarely wore footwear in battle, the king rarely wore his false beard [see
Hairstyles below for more information].

Religious Costumes
Whatever the ordinary Egyptian wore so did the Ancient Egyptian priest; each dressed similarly, but there were a few differences.

The appearance of a typical priest was thus: a shaven head and other parts of the body; a wrap-around skirt, long or short; and a shawl made of false or real leopard skin, which he draped over his shoulder. The last article of clothing was a mark of priestly distinction, especially of the sem priest and even the king, and was the deviation from an ordinary Egyptians outfit.

Whatever the ordinary Egyptian wore so too did the Egyptian gods and goddesses. For example, throughout Dynastic Egypt, goddesses tended to be pictured wearing a fitted sheath dress. In addition, each deity had his or her own distinctive headdress and/or carried the insignia of their divinity.

Entertainers' Costumes
In illustrations, dancers and acrobats were often naked or wore a band or a belt-like article around their waists. Both male and female musicians were depicted in the same way, with the addition of beaded collars; armbands, bracelets, and anklets; or a headband or diadem. In other cases, musicians wore simple versions of costume particular to a certain period. For example, a musician from Dynasty VIII might wear a kalasiris or New Kingdom musician might wear a costume of full and very sheer fabric, either a tunic or a sheath dress.
Back to top

Jewelry

Introduction to Jewelry

The Ancient Egyptians cherished their supply of gold--this is most evident in their making of jewelry. In addition to using gold, they used silver, which was a rare find in Egypt because it had to be imported from Asia. The rarety of silver may be the reason the Egyptians were never shown as wearing anything made of silver, though objects made from silver have been found.

Another item that the Egyptians had to import was glass, although they had a means of making their own by acquiring it from natural volcanic glass. Only when glass was imported or acquired naturally did they employ it into their jewelry.

Besides using gold, silver, and glass, the ancients used also semiprecious and precious stones to decorate their jewelry. This included lapis lazuli, turquoise, feldspar, and carnelian. With these stones, jewelry makers worked them into collars, pectorals, earrings, bracelets, armbands, and hair and head ornaments.

Decorative motifs were also a popular element found in jewelry and were derived from either the natural world (animal or plant life) or from religious symbolism. Motifs were also employed in temples and tomb chambers, on furniture and functional objects, and in clothing or decorative accessories of clothing.

Because of their strong belief in magic, the Ancient Egyptians believed that if they represented certain symbols of certain religious figures into their jewelry, then the positive qualities of the deity would be transferred to the wearer. A prime example is that which can be seen atop the headdress of a king: either the image of Wadjet (the snake goddess) or Nekbet (the vulture goddess), or both. The image of Wadjet signified that the king was the ruler over Lower Egypt, the image of Nekbet denoted the king as being the ruler over Upper Egypt and both images together meant that the king was the ruler over both Upper and Lower Egypt, which symbolized aslo that the king was the unifier of both lands.
Back to top

Armlets, Bracelets, and Anklets

One of Tutankhamun's many bracelets found in his tomb, shown two ways.  The setting is gold, topped by a scarab beetle made of lapis lazuli and accented with various stones like carnelian, turquoise, and amazonite (feldspar).
One of Tutankhamun's many bracelets found in his tomb, shown two ways. The setting is gold, topped by a scarab beetle made of lapis lazuli and accented with various stones like carnelian, turquoise, and amazonite (feldspar).


Both men and women could wear armlets and bracelets, but it was only women who wore anklets. As with beaded collars, armlets, bracelets, and anklets were mostly fashioned from gold and inlaid with polished stones or were glazed over. They could be made with intricate designs, bear the royal seal of the wearer, be of a solid material or elaborately designed, or decorated with beads.

It was only until the New Kingdom that Egyptians were pictured wearing all three at the same time.
Back to top

Belts and Decorated Aprons

Just as collars were very important decorative pieces for clothing, belts and decorated aprons were as well. Worn over plain white linen, such bejeweled items provided perhaps the only color to a garment. Such jewelry was made from leather, fashioned of beads or appliqué, or decorated with woven designs.
Back to top

Collars

This beaded collar has a beaded pattern of alternating rows of turquoise and carnelian.  Both ends terminate with gold falcon heads.  Attached where the necklace hits the back of the neck is a counterpoise with the same characteristics as the front, save for it has a single gold falcon head.
This beaded collar has a beaded pattern of alternating rows of turquoise and carnelian. Both ends terminate with gold falcon heads. Attached where the necklace hits the back of the neck is a counterpoise with the same characteristics as the front, save for it has a single gold falcon head.


From Old and New Kingdom art it is evident that wide jeweled collars served as the main piece of jewelry in a royal person's ensemble. These collars could be as big as the entire chest area and always had a counterweight or a counterpoise in the back, which served to balance the heavy weight in the front.

Incorporated into most collars were beads made of carnelian, turquoise, lapis lazuli, feldspar, and other stones. These beads were strung through with wire and were affixed to the collar to make intricate patterns of alternating colors. Gold and silver were also integrated into collars.
Back to top

Diadems or Fillets

Both of these diadems belonged to Tutankhamun.  Left:  at the front of this diadem are the vulture and the uraeus, the second's wavy body extending in an arc from front to back, serving to keep the diadem from dropping down over the face.  Extending from the back to the front sides is a pair of uraei.  Dropping from the back are two gold strips.  Right:  another of Tutankhamun's diadems, also worked in gold.  This one has just the uraeus and the band has rosettes as decoration around it.  At the sides and at the back are pairs of gold strips.  Also at the back, extending upward is a tall pair of skinny gold plumes, which call to mind the headdress Atum wears.
Both of these diadems belonged to Tutankhamun. Left: at the front of this diadem are the vulture and the uraeus, the second's wavy body extending in an arc from front to back, serving to keep the diadem from dropping down over the face. Extending from the back to the front sides is a pair of uraei. Dropping from the back are two gold strips. Right: another of Tutankhamun's diadems, also worked in gold. This one has just the uraeus and the band has rosettes as decoration around it. At the sides and at the back are pairs of gold strips. Also at the back, extending upward is a tall pair of skinny gold plumes, which call to mind the headdress Atum wears.


Diadems or fillets were shaped and worn in the same way as are modern sweatbands, with a slight discrepancy: instead of being made of cloth, the ancients fashioned diadems and fillets out of gold or other metals. Like wigs, diadems could be simple or intricate in design. Most examples featured flowers or lotus blossoms and were fashioned out of semiprecious stones such as turquoise, lapis lazuli, and the like. Prince Sithathoreunet's diadem was fashioned similarly, with the addition of detachable golden feathers that hang on either side of the diadem.
Back to top

Earrings

Originally worn by women, men and children wore earrings, too. Children, especially young boys, sported them just until adulthood.

Supposedly an accessory of Hyksos influence, earrings were in fashion during the later eras of Dynastic Egypt, in particular during the New Kingdom. During Dynasty XVII, earrings were broad ornamental disks; those from Dynasty XX were larger rings and were disk-shaped as well.

Egyptologists know for a fact that ear-piercing was practiced not only because of what tomb and temple paintings illustrate, but also because of what some sculpted figures suggest. Example of the latter include the funerary mask and coffinettes of Tutankhamun, which are both of them depicted with the piered ears.

In many tomb and temple paintings, kings are depicted as awarding officers, officials, soldiers, and other persons of import, with rings, earrings, and/or collars of gold to his or her gratitude for the good deeds his subjects performed.
Back to top

Neck Ornaments

Three of the most popularly worn neck ornaments were the pectoral, stringed amulets, and plaques with amulets mounted into them.

A pectoral is a necklace made out of stone, faience, gold, or otherwise. Normally, they were glazed over with a blue or bluish-green color; were most often shaped like the Eye of Horus, which was a symbol of protection; and usually bore the name of the wearer. In some cases, pectorals illustrated a scene of the king's power. For example, a pectoral from the burial place of Princess Meret-- daughter of Senusret III, ruler during Dynasty XII--shows the king in this way.

Pectorals were very popular and were worn by most royals throughout all eras of Dynastic Egypt. During the New Kingdom, they appealed also to all classes of society.

Throughout all eras of Dynastic Egypt, many ancients--both living and dead-- wore amulets, in hopes of warding off evil. What amulet an Egyptian wore depended on what evil he or she wanted to ward off. Amulets string or mounted into a plaque were usually made of metal, wood, faience, terracotta, or stone.
Back to top

Rings

Four rings of various materials and shapes.  Top left:  a gold seal ring with a flat signet bearing the Horus Name of Amenhotep I, Ka-Djoser-Re.  Top right:  another seal ring made out of amazonite (feldspar) with a flat signet bearing the Horus name of Amenhotep III (Neb-Maat-Re).  Bottom left:  a simple tubular ring made of steatite.  Bottom right:  a tubular ring made of steatite with the Eye of Horus carved into the signet.
Four rings of various materials and shapes. Top left: a gold seal ring with a flat signet bearing the Horus Name of Amenhotep I, Ka-Djoser-Re. Top right: another seal ring made out of amazonite (feldspar) with a flat signet bearing the Horus name of Amenhotep III (Neb-Maat-Re). Bottom left: a simple tubular ring made of steatite. Bottom right: a tubular ring made of steatite with the Eye of Horus carved into the signet.


Most rings royal Egyptians wore bore their name in a sealed cartouche. These rings were thus called "seal rings" or simply "seals," whose band was typically made out of gold wire. Seal rings were made of many materials including feldspar, carnelian, and lapis lazuli. These rings served to sign or stamp the name of the king onto legal documents.

Some seal rings contained two names combined: it could be the Horus and Birth Name of the king--Nebkheperre Tutankhamun, for example--or one could be the king's and the other his wife's, both entwined within two cartouches. An example of the latter appears in the Berlin museum in the form of a seal ring made of blue glass that contains both the name of Ankhesenamun and Ay. The appearance of both names together probably indicates that, after the death of Tutankhamun, Ankhesenamun's first husband, the queen married Tutankhamun's successor Ay, who was Tutankhamun's advisor when he lived as king.

The Eye of Horus was also a popular insignia incorporated into rings, which gave protection to the wearer.
Back to top

Hairstyles

The common thought about Egyptian hairstyles is that their heads were shaved and bewigged. However, this is just a generalization. It is true that most royal Egyptians shaved their heads with men making up a large percentage of the shaven populace. Some Egyptians, especially priests and holy men, were obligated to shave their heads and other places of the body such as legs, arms, underarms, chin, and otherwise. Priests and holy men shaved as a means of being purified and clean; one could not be purified if one was not shaven. Another reason most Egyptians shaved their heads was to prevent the invasion of head lice.

It was customary for male and female children to wear the highly recognizable hairstyle called the side-lock of youth, where, most of the area of the head was shaved save one area of the head, which was left with a tuft or a lock of hair at the side of the head. This hairstyle was reminiscent of how the child Horus wore his hair. However, the style could have just been a distinct style of the age group rather than of religious significance. The duration of wearing the side-lock is not certain, but it has been suggested that from a very young age, children wore it just until they reached the age of ten. On the other hand, it has been reported that King Merenre wore the side-lock all his life. What is more, royal sons from the New Kingdom were said to have worn this style until they hit old age.

Whatever the reason for shaving the head, one thing is certain: a vast portion of Egyptians, both poor and wealthy, wore wigs. Wearing a wig did not mean that the wearer had to shave their head in order to do so. In some cases, the hair was cut very short and then a wig was placed over it.

In cases where an Egyptian wore a wig, the composition of it might be any of the following: colored in shades of black, blue, and other natural colors; made of real or fake hair; or, in the case of cheaper wigs, made from wool, flax, palm fiber, or felt. Just as there was a variety of materials used to make wigs, so was there was a variety of lengths. Throughout most of the Old Kingdom, short wigs were commonplace and were composed of tiny horizontal rows of square or triangular curls, the appearance of which resembling a tiled roof. These wigs made the shape of the face different in that they made the wearer's forehead appear rounded or upside down v-shaped.

Long wigs were composed of lightly waved or straight hair, real or fake. Wigs of this length usually framed the face and rounded the forehead. The edges of long wigs were rounded and reached as far down as below the waist and as short as the rounds of the shoulders. Women wore long wigs the most, especially those that were waist-length, whereas men tended to wear shorter wigs. However, men could also wear wigs as long as the rounds of the shoulders.

It was common during the Middle Kingdom that only upper class citizens wore wigs and that lower classmen let their hair grow out naturally, wig wearing was not reserved for just the former groups--royalty and compatriots alike sported wigs. However, upper class wigs were more elaborate than the simple wigs of the lower classes, who could also achieve long lenths by growing out their hair, but this was done only during times of mourning, which spanned seventy days or more. Women were the ones who did not have to follow this rule as much as did Egyptian men; women were the ones who grew out their hair most often, as their role in mourning a decedent consisted of their bearing their upper bodies, throwing dirt on their bodies and on their heads, and tugging at their [long] hair. It is certainly easier to tug at long hair than short.

The final bit of information in this category concerns the beard and facial hair [of men, obviously not of women]. Here, the situation is similar to that of the all-round shaven priest: even the beard was considered unclean to the Egyptian. Since this was the mind-set, most Egyptian men shaved off their facial hair, which meant leaving no signs of a beard or mustache. In fact, it was very rare to see a royal Egyptian wearing a real beard and it was even rarer to spot a royal Egyptian wearing a mustache, especially in depictions. Only shepherds and low class men allowed their facial hair to grow out.

Where one sees Egyptians wearing beards occurs in depictions of the king, who wears a false beard. These illustrations are juxtaposed when one considers at the same time the Egyptian mind-set concerning beards: that they are unclean and forbidden. To add to the opposition, the Ancient Egyptians also considered facial hair/beards as a symbol of manly dignity, an emblem that commanded respect from others. During the Old Kingdom it was customary for the king and his officials to put on their false beards, which were generally tiny in size if it was the king's; long if it was the high official's; and longer still and wider, with a curl slightly bent up at the end if it was the gods'. These false beards were tightly plaited and braided and, to affix them to the chin there were two straps that one could use to wind behind the ears. Despite their convenience, Old Kingdom rulers abhorred wearing them, even if they were for special occasions (somtimes, not even then did they wear false beards). In addition, most rulers were reticent to allow a sculptor or artist to render their likeness with the inclusion of a beard.

During the Middle Kingdom, royal men were less picky: in particular, high officials and those of similar status wore false beards. However, come the New Kingdom, the king became once again recalcitrant in wearing a false beard.
Back to top

Cosmetics

Both men and women followed certain styles and fads in their toilette--that is, in decorating their eyes, skin, and lips. Women were the most frequent participants in such cosmetic rituals, but men also fancied perfumes and color around the eyes just as much as their counterparts.

Cosmetics for around the eyelids and on the eyebrows were especially popular, very expensive and imported from the East or obtained from a resource near Coptos. The best kind after which many sought was the mesd'emt. During the Pre-Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom, eye make-up was made from malachite or copper ore, giving it the green hue; during the Middle Kingdom, both this color as well as black paints were employed; and at the start of the New Kingdom, black kohl (made from galena, a sulfide of lead) came into prominence and eventually replaced the malachite/copper ore-based eye paint or mascara. Whatever the color, however, this eye paint was a very popular cosmetic that gave the wearer's eyes a larger and more brilliant appearance.

In using eye paint, Egyptians recreated with their own eyes the sacred symbol of the Eye of Horus, a part of the body belonging to the falcon god whom the ancients believed protected them from harm and disease; therefore, they considered eye paint a powerful charm, for the lines around the eyes helped protect against the glare of the sun, much like the gel that football players put below their eyes, just above their cheekbones.

For coloring of the lips, Egyptians used various pigments of red ochre or natural dyes in a base of fat or gum resin.

For the fingernails and toenails, the ancients started off with buffing them and then polishing them with henna, a reddish hair dye.

Perfumes of various scents--the most popular being the kyphi, consisting of myrrh, broom, frankincense, buck shorn, and other foreign plants--were applied to the hair, body, and the mouth. Also for the mouth, the Egyptians made pills of honey to freshen the breath. After chewing a honey capsule, the breath of the chewer become sweet. Consider these honey pills as an Ancient Egyptian version of a modern day tic-tac.

Other scents used to freshen the body incuded cedar and sandalwood, barks, flowers, and various other plants. Perfumes were made from fats, alcohol, or oils. Oil was a very important supply for royal Egyptians, especially oils coming from the south coasts of the Red Sea, called Qemi. This oil was often used during the New Kingdom for oiling the hair. Most often seen in depictions, a fist-sized ball was placed into a bowl of oil, the oil settled onto the ball until it was an unknown consistency, and then the ball of oil was placed atop the head of a royal. There it stayed throughout the day, most likely during a festival or a feast. As the party progressed, the oil from the ball slowly trickled down the hair and made it smell sweet.

The ancients considered oil an emblem of joy; therefore it is no wonder that royal Egyptians used it in their toilette. It is said that when the king's procession passed, spectators poured oil on their heads to express their joy at the king's passing. During feasts, it was customary for Egyptians to perform the toilette, eat, and exchange gifts of flowers and necklaces as a group.

For all these cosmetics, there were containers in which to put them, but they were not mass-produced like the cheap plastic and glass containers and bottles of modern times; the ancients took care in everything they made. Royals kept their make-up in beautifully carved boxes or containers, or in chests made from ivory, wood, and other precious materials. Among the tools that were used to apply cosmetics were spoons; palettes for grinding powders; brushes and sticks for applying kohl and lip pigment; and small tubes in various shapes, sized, and designs in which to put lip and nail pigment. Included also in the mix of cosmetic paraphernalia were combs; mirrors, traditionally crafted from bronze and in the form of Hathor; and various trinkets for wigs and the hair, including golden ringlets and other fancy ornaments.
Back to top

Footwear

Not much can be recounted about Ancient Egyptian footwear, as most of the population and people from all walks of life did not wear footwear often, not even the king. It was only during the New Kingdom that Egyptians wore them, or so the depictions illustrate. Nonetheless, there has been some proof of ancient footwear. For example, during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, men of high rank were typically the ones who wore shoes or sandals, whereas women rarely, if ever, wore them. It was probably only during outings or in battle that men wore footwear.

Despite the infrequent use of sandals and the like, the king had sandal-bearers to carry his shoes when he was not wearing them, which was more often than not. One particular pair of sandals is decorated on the bottom with a Nubian or a Sumerian, bound captives. This image no doubt denotes that, every time the king walked, he trampled his enemies.

In relation, it is said that when the king went out to the battlefield, he brought his shoe bearers to carry his sandals. Of course, they would be in carriages behind his larger chariot, but they were risking their lives nonetheless, all for the fact that the king needed a shoe bearer to carry his shoes for him, shoes he rarely wore.

During the New Kingdom, the Egyptians wore sandals more frequently, yet the custom remained that one go barefoot. It was also during this time that one was never to wear sandals before a superior, if he was not wearing any himself. For example, a queen did not wear footgear if her husband, the king, was not wearing any himself. This custom relates to the modern custom of speaking only when spoken to.

Essentially, the ancients employed only one basic form when making a sandal. The following is a general description of such: some sandals had soles made of leather, others of papyrus reed, and yet others with soles of palm bast (tough fibers). The straps were then made of the same material as the sole. The placements of these straps were thus: one strap was placed just below the front of the ankle, another up from the sole and in-between the toes, and sometimes there was a third strap behind the heel to hold better the sandal to the foot. In addition, there were two basic forms of toe for a sandal: one was bent/curled up and over the foot in order to protect the toes, or flat with a round or pointed tip.

It was only until the Late Period that sandals with sides came into existence. These sandals bear a slight resemblance to the modern shoe, but only in form, not in design and sans brand name.

General Construction of a Sandal:
Shoemakers of the New Kingdom--there has been no such leathern evidence from the Old or Middle Kingdoms--made sandals and shoes out of coarse leather, from less valuable skins of oxen or gazelles.

The process of making a simple New Kingdom shoe was the following. First, a man skilled in working with leather (he was not a shoemaker) softened it in a large vessel. Then, he beat it with a stone until it was of appropriate smoothness. Afterward, he used his bare hands to manually stretch and pull it over a three-legged wooden frame until it attained an apt elasticity. The above is just the preparation of the leather for the shoemaker. Once in the shoemaker's hands, he put the smoothed and supple leather on a sloping worktable, where he used a knife with a curved blade and short handle--much like today's device, which serves the same purpose--to cut it into soles or straps. Then, with an awl (a tool for making small holes), the shoemaker punched into the appropriate places of the shoe. It was through these holes that he drew the straps.
Back to top

Bags

Probably the most ancient of all Egyptian crafts is basketry. During the Pre-Dynastic Ear, around 4,000 B.C.E., grain stores and other buildings were formed of clay and then reinforced, for waterproofing purposes, with a layer of matting, a product of basketry. The style of basketry was conservative and practically unchanging for centuries, much like Egyptian dress. In fact, New Kingdom baskets and modern baskets share common features.

Such objects were typically fashioned from nearby materials such as grass, especially from halfa; sedge; papyrus reed; stalk, especially from flax; twig leaves of the date or doum palm; and occasionally leather. Later on, Europeans introduced wicker--a sturdier material-- into basketry.

Being an early craft, basketry influenced the following: cloth weaving, pottery, and carpentry. Pottery was supposedly a discovered art, as it was the product of an accident: a basket surrounding clay, which was actually the reinforcing lining of the basket, went ablaze, burned off, and then left behind baked clay, which was now a pot molded into the shape of the basket. Whether or not this is true, it bears no influence on the validity of the following information.

There were two known methods of making a basket: weaving or plaiting and coiling. For weaving a basket or a bag, the ancients used two or more of the abovementioned materials (i.e. grass) and interlaced them using a weft and warp technique. Three styles could be produced using this method of weaving: the first is the check style, where one warp strand and one weft strand are interlaced to form a checkerboard-like pattern; the second is the twilled style, where a weft strand is interlaced over more than one warp, giving the basket a zigzag look; and the last is the twined style, where two weft strands are interlaced between each warp strand, producing a lightly opened weave.

The second method from making a basket, bag, or mat is to braid or twist a strand of any of the aforementioned materials into a cord. This braided or twisted cord was then coiled into a spiral and then sewn together. To sew the coiled basket together, the ancients employed two stitching techniques, which gave the basket its look. The first is the bee-skep coil stitch, where the stitches are widely spaced out, touching neither the preceding stitch nor the following stitch. The second style is the furcated coil stitch, where every new stitch is sewn into and splits the stitch of the next coil, giving the basket a crocheted look.

As an added feature, a handle was added to the basket or bag, depending on its purpose. If a basket was made with a handle, it was reinforced to prevent it from tearing off the basket. Such a handle was typically attached to a woven bag for portability. On the other hand, lidded storage baskets made of coiled cord typically had a cord attached to it to hang either on the wall of or on the ceiling to keep these out of reach of children and rodents.

In terms of decoration, baskets and bags were typically plain because they were expendable. However, when such objects were adorned, the following ornamentation was used: colors of black, white, and red; decorations stitched into the basket, serving as additional reinforcement; elaborate weaving patterns; and shells and other objects, incorporated into the weaves or coils.

Once the basket or bag was finished, it could be used for many purposes. In general, such items housed whatever possessions an Egyptian had, which could have included beads and rings, tools, jars, and other small objects. Not only were baskets used to hold such objects, but also they were used to hold dry and other goods and materials. For the peasant, it was corn he put into his bag to transport it to a buyer or to his home. For the servant, it was bread he put in his bag to bring to his master. For the builder, it was clay he kept in his basket to easily transport it from its place of origin to the architectural site. For the foundry worker, it was charcoal and raw material he put in his basket.

Basketry was ideal for the Egyptian family, as such containers were affordable, sturdy, lightweight, and easy to come by. They were also ideal because wooden storage chests were too expensive and rare and cupboards were non-existent.

What it all comes down to is baskets and bags were mainly used for necessity rather than for accessorizing; they were mainly used like a grocery bag or storage container than like a purse with which to match one's jewelry, outfit, or wig. However, it was not beyond an Ancient Egyptian woman to put an accessory item, like a mirror, into a bag, which she might carry with her when she went to a feast where she and her friends would engage in eating, drinking, and putting on make-up.
Back to top

Bibliography:

Bunson, Margaret. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. New York: Gramercy Books, 1991.

Cline, Eric H. and Jill Rubalcaba. The Ancient Egyptian World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Dollinger, André. Ancient Egypt: an Introduction to Its History and Culture. September 2006 <http://nefertiti.iwebland.com/index.html>.

Oakes, Lorna and Lucia Gahlin. Ancient Egypt: an Illustrated Reference to the Myths, Religions, Pyramids and Temples of the Land of the Pharaohs. New York: Hermes House Anness Publishing Inc, 2002.

Reeves, Nicholas. Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001, 2005.

Tortora, Phyllis and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. 3rd ed. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1998.





Site Competitions: VE Page | Vote Page | Spirit Page || For You: Adoptions | Awards | Games | Egyptology Links | Link Exchange Program | Search | Translate || Extras: About me | Adoptions | Artifacts | Art | Awards | Banners | Dedications | Library | News Blog | Poetry | Webrings || Contact: Email | Guest Book of the Dead

Copyright © November 2003 & Beyond. Egyptology Page: Book of Thoth. All Rights Reserved

Valid CSS!