Clothing

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN CLOTHING

by: Monsunmola Ogunmola

Clothing Material

The Egyptian climate with its hot summers and mild winters favored light clothing made from plant fibers, mainly linen and in Roman times occasionally cotton, an import from India. Wool was used to a lesser extent, and seldom by Egyptians proper. Small amounts of silk were traded to the eastern Mediterranean possibly as early as the second half of the second millennium BCE and traces of silk have been found in Egyptian tombs. Animal skins, above all leopard skins, were sometimes worn by priests and by pharaohs in their role as first servants of the god. Such outfits were found in Tutankhamen's tomb and were depicted quite frequently on the walls of tombs. At times kings and queens wore decorative ceremonial clothing adorned with feathers.

Production

The manufacture of clothes was apparently mostly women's work. It was generally done at home, but there were workshops run by noblemen or other men of means. The most important textile was linen. It was produced from flax, the quality ranging from the finest woven linen, the byssus for royalty, to the coarse cloth peasants wore.

The first stages of the linen production were performed by men: They reaped the plants and by beating and combing the plants they extracted fibers from them, which could be spun into thread, the first of the stages often performed by women. When the cloth was still woven on horizontal looms, which were often just pegs rammed into the ground and where the weavers had to crouch on the floor, it was generally women who performed the task. During the New Kingdom vertical looms were invented. These new loom were physically more demanding and were generally operated by men.

As the sewing of clothes was very labor intensive and the art of tailoring to fit in its infancy–the tightly fitting dresses which the without exception incredibly shapely women are displayed in notwithstanding–many garments consisted simply of a rectangular pieces of cloth draped around the body and held together by a belt. But the cloth was often hemmed to prevent fraying, with either simple, or rolled and whipped hems. At times garments had parts, which had to be stitched on such as sleeves or shoulder straps. The seams used were generally simple or lap-over, though run-and-fell and overcast seams were also known. The number of different stitch types was also limited: running stitch, overcast stitch, and twisted chain stitch.

The tools used such as knives and needles changed over the centuries. Blades were made from stone during the Neolithic, then from copper, from bronze during the Middle Kingdom and finally from iron, though flint knives, which had sharper edges than iron ones, continued to be used to an ever decreasing extent until Roman times. Needles were fashioned from wood, bone and metal. The Egyptians succeeded in making eyes in millimeter thick copper needles. Scissors came into general use late in Egypt's history though the principle was known since the second millennium BCE.

Clothing was very luxurious in the ancient and medieval world, because without engine-powered machines it was very hard to make. As a result, most people had very few changes of clothing; many people probably owned only the clothes they were wearing. Many children had no clothes at all, and just went naked. In the Stone Age most clothing was made of leather or fur, or woven grasses. By the Bronze Age people had learned to spin yarn on a spindle and to weave cloth out of the yarn on looms. Although many clothes, especially coats, were still made out of leather or fur, most clothes were made out of wool (from sheep) or linen (from the flax plant) or cotton. Some rich people wore silk. In the Middle Age (the medieval period), people invented the spinning wheel, which made spinning yarn go about four times as fast. Clothes were a little less expensive than they had been before, but still most people had only one or two outfits.

People wore different kinds of clothes. Clothes helped to show where you were from, and whether you were rich or poor, and whether you were a girl or a boy. Around the Mediterranean, in Egypt and North Africa and Greece and the Roman Empire, people mostly wore wool or linen tunics (like a big t-shirt). Women wore long tunics, and men mostly wore short ones. Over their tunic, they might wear a wool cloak, if it was cold. Further north, in Europe, a lot of men wore wool pants under their tunics - as you probably do today. In West Asia, both tunics and pants were also pretty common, but they were made out of linen, and then in the Islamic period people began to use more silk and cotton. In China, too, people wore tunics, and a lot of people wore pants. Their tunics and pants were made out of hemp and ramie and silk, and later out of cotton. But in India and Africa, people mainly made their clothes without sewing, out of one big piece of cloth wrapped around themselves in various ways, like a woman's sari in India, or her kanga in central Africa. Most people's clothes were made out of cotton or silk.

Unlike most of the people of the ancient Mediterranean, the Egyptians did not wear just one or two big pieces of cloth wrapped around themselves in various ways. Instead, both men and women in Egypt wore tunics which were sewn to fit them. These tunics were like a long T-shirt which reached to the knees (for men) or to the ankles (for women). They were usually made of linen and were nearly always white. Most Egyptians, both men and women, do not seem to have covered their heads with any kind of cloth. They often went barefoot, but sometimes they wore straw or leather sandals.

Men who were working outside usually wore short skirts instead of tunics, which may have been made as in West Asia by winding a piece of linen cloth around your waist and legs. Both men and women wore blue and green eye-shadow and black kohl eyeliner, when they were dressed up fancy. People also wore kohl around their eyes because it helped to keep the glare of sunlight down (which is why football players do the same thing today). Men wore their hair short, and shaved their beards and mustaches, while women wore their hair down to their shoulders. Both men and women wore gold jewelry if they could afford to.

Egyptian Shoes

Many people in ancient Egypt went barefoot their whole lives. It was warm there even in the winter, and people thought shoes were an unnecessary expense. Kids, especially, didn't usually have any Most people who did have shoes wore shoes made out of straw or reeds. Shoemakers took the straw or reeds and wove it into flip-flops that you could buy at the shoe store. (The ones in the pictures are missing the top cords, which have broken or gotten lost).

References

Ancient Egyptian Clothing How Linen Was Made, Grooming, Clothing of Workers, Clothes of Wealthy, Getting Dressed, and Hair. Web 28, March, 2011. http://www.islandnet.com/~kpotter/egyppt/cloth.htm

"Ancient Egypt Warfare." Ancient Egypt - Gods, Pyramids, Mummies, Pharaohs, Queens, Hieroglyphics, History, Life in Ancient Egypt, Maps. Web. 28 March. 2011. http://www.ancient-egypt-online.com/ancient-egypt-warfare.html

Garments clothing, material, shoes. Web, 28 March, 2011. http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/clothing.htm

"The Hyksos People of Ancient Egypt." Ancient Egypt - Gods, Pyramids, Mummies, Pharaohs, Queens, Hieroglyphics, History, Life in Ancient Egypt, Maps. Web. 28 March. 2011. http://www.ancient-egypt-online.com/hyksos.html

Egyptian Shoes Ancient Clothing, Shoe, Web, 28 March. 2011 http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/egypt/history/greeks.htm