Histrory of Fashion: Ancient Egyptian Dress
The Eighteenth Dynasty, which spans the time period from 1550 until 1292 BC, is probably the most famous of all the dynasties of ancient Egypt. This is the age of the rule of Tutankhamen, as well as of Amenhotep IV and his wife Nefertiti. This is also the Dynasty of Hatshepsut, considered one of the most successful pharaohs and the longest reigning woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty.
Until the Eighteenth Dynasty, the women wore kalasiris, or sheath dress, made from a tube of material sewn along one side. The traditional kalasiris was simple in shape. It fell from below the breasts to above the ankles and was held by two shoulder straps. This could vary however. Archeologists have found kalasiris supported by sleeves instead of straps, or just one strap instead of two. It could also extend over the breast or up to the neck. Although paintings and sculptures portray such costumes as molded tightly over the body, these depictions are deceptive. Surviving clothing is loose and flowing for ease of movement.
Women also wore an ensemble of two separate pieces. It consisted of a wide skirt with horizontal folds and a short, tight bodice with slim-fitting sleeves. It opened back and front and had to be secured with thin cords.
In the Eighteenth Dynasty new dress styles appeared. Depictions of Nefertiti show her in a long, flowing, pleated linen drapery or wearing a long, tight dress under a pleated tunic with wide sleeves that came down to the elbow. A belt fastened below her breasts forms an Empire line, while a beaded collar hung at her neckline.
There was remarkably little change in womens clothing after the Eighteenth Dynasty, even during the Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty (304-30 BC). As established by the first pharaohs, the exclusive use of draped linen garments and the wearing of similar styles by men and women remained almost unaltered as the main features of ancient Egyptian costume.
The traditional male garment was the white linen kilt or schenti, a rectangular cloth wrapped around the lower body and tied in front. Beneath it, men wore a triangular loincloth sometimes fastened with cord ties. The length, fullness and method of adjustment of the kilt changed with the the wearers social position and the historic epoch.
The original schenti was made of leather or hide, which was later replaced by a light cloth, usually linen.
Later kilts were more angular and heavily starched. The stiff cloth would stick out and create a triangle, which emphasized the genital area. This zone was considered sacred for its procreation role.
Mens costume evolved gradually. One of the first innovations to follow the schenti was the loin skirt. In the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 BC), men wore long linen skirts over the kilt. They varied in length and were sometimes held in place by a decorative belt.
Egypts conquest of Syria in the 15th century BC introduced the tunic and the robe. The Syrian weavers imported sophisticated weaving techniques that led to better textile production. The tunic, a short sleeved nightshirt, could be worn over the schenti, while the robe was complicated in form and was made from of fabric twice as long as the wearers height. It had a wide neckline, wide sleeves and the skirt was gathered at the waist. The robe is probably the most unusual Egyptian garment.
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