Fashion Stories in Ancient Egypt - Your visual diary to My Fashion Stories Box Podcast
Hi there fashion, stories and fashion history lovers! Welcome to My Fashion Stories Box Podcast Visual Diary!
Our today’s visual diary will be dedicated to Ancient Egypt. If you didn’t listen to the podcast dedicated to Ancient Egypt yet, head there now! You will meet our heroes Amenhotep and Anipe and discover their life during the reign of the great Ramses the 2nd.
Ancient Egypt has always been a fascinating period for me, since early teenagerhood. The mysteries of the gods, the shining of the Tutankhamun funeral gold mask, the attraction of the hieroglyphes and the Nile haunted my life at a point I even wanted to be an egyptologist and dreamt to relocate to Cairo, visit the pyramids and enjoying a cruise on the Nile river, following the journey of the God Sun Amun Ra in the sky.
And, naturally, I wanted to dedicate my first podcast episode to this fabulous civilisation.
The historical context
First, I would like to introduce you to some of the names I mentioned in the podcast.
We have Ramses the 2nd, also known as Ramses the Great, one of the most powerful pharaoh in Ancient Egypt history. He was a king of the 19th dynasty and his reign was considered as the Golden Age of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation.
It’s during his reign that we found remains of the first peace treaty of the human history signed with the Hittites, the Anatolian power of that time. If you visit Turkey and are fascinated by this period of time, I highly recommend you to go to Hattusha, the capital city of the Hittites, in the Corum province, not far from Ankara and visit Nemrut Mount in the Adiyaman region, not far from Gaziantep.
I decided to set up my story in fashion history during his reign.
I also mentioned Hatshepsut, a queen of the 18th dynasty, and the second female pharaoh after Sobekneferu in the Ancient Egyptian history. Indeed, power wasn’t just men’s prerogatives in the Ancient Egyptian civilisation. These two names , unfortunately, didn’t go as mainstream as the ones of Nefertiti, one of the religion reformer pharaoh, Amenhotep IV, or better known as Akhenaton, and, of course, the infamous Cleopatra.
It’s refreshing to have a civilisation giving the same rights to women (the feminist in me speaking).
The stereotypes we have in mind about Ancient Egypt
Of course, when we speak about Ancient Egypt, we have an array of stereotypes coming to mind. The hieroglyphs, the particular way they represented people, with a front torso and a profile face, the cats, the mummies…
The cinema industry also vehiculates a certain representation of what we imagine Ancient Egypt was. I will include a non exhaustive list of movies for your references and, with this post, I hope you will be able to spot the names of the main Ancient Egyptian outfits :)
If we look back at our two heroes in Stories in Fashion History, Amenhotep and Anipe, we can notice that the way of dressing was basic: a piece of fabrics wrapped around the body, even if not completely naked.
Menswear fashion in Ancient Egypt
Let’s look at Amenhotep to have an idea of the men’s fashion at that time.
The basic piece was the “shendit” (or “shendyt”), a short of wrap skirt made out of one piece of fabrics. The shendit was usually pleated in two layers tied together and including a triangle part on the front.
The shendit could be short or long in linen but also in leather, leopard and lion skins being exclusively worn by the pharaohs though.
During the Antiquity period, tailoring wasn’t practiced. People would wrap their bodies in pieces of fabrics which length and quality would depend on the gender, and status in the society.
For example, in the Ancient Egyptian society, you couldn’t dress better than the pharaoh and his queens, meaning that the finest and best quality fabrics and accessories were reserved for them.
The shendit was usually white, as this color has the power to reflect the sun and the warmth of it, contrary to dark colors which absorb heat. Indeed, as you may know, the climate in Egypt is rather hot and people were trying to keep as cool as possible.
The shendit was a democratic kind of garment. It was worn by slaves, workers, farmers, soldiers, priests and pharaohs alike. The only differentiation point, as we mentioned, was the quality of the fabrics used.
Womenswear fashion in Ancient Egypt
Now that we have an idea on how Ancient Egyptian men used to dress, let’s look at the fashion for women.
What do you think? Did they dress as Elisabeth Taylor or Monica Bellucci when they were interpreting the all powerful Cleopatra?
Let’s look at Anipe’s wardrobe. Anipe, as every Ancient Egyptian, would wear the Kalasiris. This garment is the most distinctive and important piece of that time. Basically, it looks like a long dress made out of linen or muslin.
The kalasiris was usually long until the ankles, knotted and pleated. Some straps could be used too as in this picture:
And, depending on the draping system used, the kalasiris could also feature a shawl effect.
All Ancient Egyptian women would wear the kalasiris. However, the transparency and delicacy of the fabrics used for it would reflect the social rank of the wearer: the more transparent and fine the fabrics was, the higher was the rank of its wearer.
Jewelry fashion in Ancient Egypt
To contrast with the relative sobriety of their outfits, Ancient Egyptians would compensate with big and effective jewelry.
Jewelry was having a function of adornment and social power but also a function of protection against the Evil Eye.
Ancient Egyptians would wear amulets to ask protection from the Gods.
Jewelry would be made from gold, a material which was considered as the flesh of the gods.
Stones will be used for embellishments but also for their properties and meanings.
Each stone and gem had a meaning:
Emeralds for immortality and fertility
Malachite to promote healing
Garnet, symbolizing the extremes of anger and fire, and victory and life
Turquoise, symbolizing life and happiness
Carnelian, to purify the blood, and symbolizing stability and protection
Obsidian, symbolizing death
Amethyst, symbolizing royalty
As examples of Ancient Egyptian jewelry, you have cuffs, arm cuffs, bracelets, necklaces, collars, rings… representing gods, the Horus eye, the Ankh symbol of life, eagles, scarabs…
Hair fashion in Ancient Egypt
Hair accessories were worn by both Ancient Egyptian men and women, most of the time from the upper class.
Crowns, bead ornaments, gold, metals or stones accessories were widely worn on the top of wigs.
Hair accessories could also represent divinities whose powers were supposed to protect the wearer.
Any ornaments worn on top of or as part of a wig were a show of power and wellness.
Wigs were worn by both men and women. Generally, Ancient Egyptian would shave their hairs and wore wigs made of dark hairs.
On top of their wigs, Ancient Egyptians, when at home, would wear a perfume cone. These perfume cones were also offered to guests as a way to refresh themselves, as if they took a shower upon arrival.
Not only did these perfume cones smelt good, they also had some properties to preserve the hairs of the wigs with oils.
Footwear fashion in Ancient Egypt
In order to protect their feet from dust, stones and any danger hidden in the sand of the desert, Ancient Egyptians would wear a sandal-like shoe made of papyrus or leather.
Make up fashion in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians liked to make up, not just for aesthetics purposes but also for health benefits.
Indeed, the famous Egyptian eye with this long kohl line around the eyes was first a way to protect the eyes from sand dust and sun reverberation and avoiding eye infections.
Alongside with the kohl line, Ancient Egyptians would use ochre as red lipstick, malachite for eye shadows and henne to decorate their nails and hands.
Yes, Ancient Egyptians liked to be stylish :)
Modern designers inspired by Ancient Egypt
Now that we went through the wardrobe of Anipe and her brother Amenhotep, let’s look at how modern designers took inspiration from Ancient Egypt.
And I must admit that I discovered I wasn’t the only one having a fascination for this period of time…
Here is a list of designers who put the shendit and kalasiris to the next level.
Zuhair Murad Spring Summer 2020
Chanel pre fall 2019 collection
Givenchy Fall 2016 collection
Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring Summer 2004
Paco Rabanne in the 60s
And more I suppose! Feel free to share with me your findings in terms of Ancient Egypt’s fashion inspiration. I will be happy to add them too :)
Movies taking place in Ancient Egypt
And, as a bonus for you, here is a non exhaustive list of movies taking place in Ancient Egypt:
The Ten Commendments 1956
Exodus: Gods and Kings 2014
And, my favorite more for the humour than for the historical accuracy, Asterix Cleopatra Mission (2002) :)
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that you learnt many things about Ancient Egyptians and their outfits.
Now you are ready to spot any Ancient Egyptian references in your favorite designers’ collections!
Didn't listen to the podcast yet? I got you covered! Head here to all the episodes of My Fashion Stories Box Podcast!
Feel free to follow the podcast My Fashion Stories Box on your favorite podcast platform, on social media and on the blog for a visual diary alongside with each episode.
See you there!