The most common textile in ancient Egypt was flax. While being aware of other materials, the ancient Egyptians preferred to use linen; a product made from the flax plant. They used the flax plant because there was an abundance of it due to the good climate and a strong water source from the Nile River The fact that linen is flax, a plant based material, is the reason for its ubiquity in ancient Egypt; as the ancient Egyptians believed that animal based fabrics such as wool were impure. Aside from this, other animal based products, such as animal pelts, were reserved for priests and eventually saw adoption by only the highest class of ancient Egyptian citizenry. Linen is also light, strong and flexible which made it ideal for life in the warm climate, wherein abrasion and heat would wear and tear at any fabric worn by its people. Thus, aside from this small minority, every ancient Egyptian used linen as their predominant textile.
The material quality of garments itself could distinguish the classes, where unlike the lower class, those of the upper class used finer linens, depicted in statues and paintings by their translucency. They also used more complex drapery, designs and patterns that included dyed threads and feathers. These materials were expensive and the wearer showed greater status by wearing them. On the other hand, cheaper thicker linen was used within the lower class, where shorter garments were worn by the working class for better mobility in the fields.
Men in ancient Egypt often wore a loincloth (or schenti) which was common in all classes; men of a higher class wore longer schenti, often pairing them with draped cape or tunic whereas the poor would wear them by it. It was considered acceptable for men and woman alike to bear their chests, in both upper and lower class. A complete lack of clothing, however, was often associated with youth or poverty; it was common for pre-pubescent children of all social classes to be unclothed up to the age of six and slave girls to remain unclad for the majority of their life. Certain clothing was common to both genders such as the tunic and the robe. Around 1425 to 1405 BCE, a light tunic or short-sleeved shirt was popular, as well as a pleated skirt.
Clothing for adult women remained unchanged over several millennia, save for small details. Draped clothes, with very large rolls, gave the impression of wearing several items. It was in fact a hawk, often of very fine muslin. The dress was rather narrow, even constricting, made of white or unbleached fabric for the lower classes, the sleeve starting under the chest in higher classes, and held up by suspenders tied onto the shoulders. These suspenders were sometimes wide enough to cover the breasts and were painted and colored for various reasons, for instance to imitate the plumage on the wings of Isis.
Clothing of the royal family was different, and was well documented; for instance the crowns of the pharaohs, feather headdresses, and the khat or head cloth worn was all worn by nobility.
Shoes were the same for both sexes; sandals braided with leather, or, particularly for the bureaucratic and priestly classes, papyrus.
Beauty and cosmetics in ancient Egypt
Embalming made it possible to develop cosmetic products and perfumery very early. Perfumes in Egypt were scented oils which were very expensive. In antiquity, people made great use of them. The Egyptians used make-up much more than anyone else at the time. Kohl, used as eyeliner, was eventually obtained as a substitute [dubious – discuss] for galena or lead oxide which had been used for centuries. Eye shadow was made of crushed malachite and lipstick of ochre. Substances used in some of the cosmetics were toxic, and had adverse health effects with prolonged use. Beauty products were generally mixed with animal fats in order to make them more compact, more easily handled and to preserve them. Nails and hands were also painted with henna only the lower class had tattoos. It was also fashionable at parties for men and women to wear a perfumed cone on top of their heads. The cone was usually made of ox tallow and myrrh and as time passed, it melted and released a pleasant perfume. When the cone melted it was replaced with a new one (see the adjacent image with the musician and dancers). The use of cosmetics differed slightly between social classes, where more makeup was worn by higher class individuals. as wealthier individuals could afford more make-up. Although there was no prominent difference between the cosmetics styles of the upper and lower class, noble women were known to pale their skin using creams and powders. This was due to pale skin being a sign of nobility as lighter skin meant less exposure to the sun whereas dark skin was associated with the lower class who tanned while taking part in menial labor such as working in the fields. This led to paler skin represented the non-working noble class, as noble woman would not work in the sun.
Wigs and Headdresses
Queen Ahmose, Pharaoh Thutmose I, and daughter Neferubity – note the youthful side lock on the child and the royal attire and wigs on the adults
Although heads were shaven as both as a sign of nobility. and due to the hot climate, hairstyle was a huge part of Ancient Egyptian fashion through the use of wigs. Wigs were used by both sexes of the upper and lower class; the quality of wigs depended on the amount of disposable income available, which created a visual rift between classes. Good quality wigs were made of human hair and were ornamented with jewels and woven with gold. In the court, the more elegant examples had small goblets at the top filled with perfume; Pharaohs even wore wig beards for certain special occasions, There is evidence of cheaper wigs made from wool, which were further substituted the woven gold used in its more expensive counterpart with beads and linen. The ancient Egyptians talent with substitution enabled wigs and headdresses to be worn by all social classes; for example. The nemes headdress, made from stiff linen and draped over the shoulders was reserved for the elite class to protect the wearer from the sun. On the other hand, headdresses such as the pschent were exclusive for the Pharaoh. Pharaohs also wore various crowns to identify different divinities, such as the horned crown of the goddess Hathor. In both social classes children were represented with one lock of hair remaining on the right side of their head the most common headgear was the kaften, a striped fabric square worn by men.
Jewelry could be worn by all and was even woven into hair, resulting in wigs containing ornamental decorations. A peculiar ornament which the Egyptians created was gorgerinan assembly of metal discs which rested on the chest skin or a short-sleeved shirt, and tied at the back. Some of the lower-class people of this time also created many different types of piercings and body decorations; some of which even included genital piercings, commonly found on women prostitutes of the time[dubious – discuss].
It was common for Ancient Egyptians to be covered in jewelry; however, the upper class’s wealth allowed them to be more lavish, with jewelry made from gold and silver, among other items. Accessories were often embellished with inlaid precious and semi-precious stones such as emeralds, pearls, and lapis lazuli, to create intricate patterns inspired from nature. Common motifs included white lotuses, palm leaves, and even animals that represented the gods. Although the jewelry used by the lower class had similar motifs and designs, they were made with cheaper substitute materials. Copper was used in place of gold and glazed glass or faience – a mix of ground quartz and colorant – to imitate precious stones. The most popular stones used were Lapis Lazuli, Carnelian, and Turquoise. Jewels were heavy and rather bulky, which would indicate an Asian influence the lower classes wore small and simple glassware; bracelets also were heavy. They wore a large disk as a necklace of strength, sometimes described as an aegis. Gold was plentiful in Nubia and imported for jewelry and other decorative arts.