Egyptian dress was evidently as much ordered by fashion as is the dress of more modern nations. It was unlike modern dress, however, in that the costume of the men showed more changes than did that of the women and seemed of greater importance. For a period of about thirteen hundred years all Egyptian women, whether princess or peasant, old or young, bride one garment, a simple dress. It was without folds and so narrow that the form was plainly visible.
This garment reached from just below the breast to the ankles and had few variations in style. These were generally in the arrangement of the shoulder straps or braces which served to hold the dress in place. These straps were straight bands and were usually worn over both shoulders. They were, however, sometimes arranged to form a V-shaped neck. Occasionally only one or even no strap was used, in which case the costume was made adequately narrow to keep it in place. The usual ornamentation for the dress was a little embroidery at the hem.
Improved commercial relations and greater intercourse with foreign nations affected Egyptian fashions. The same narrow dress was first arranged to cover the left shoulder and to leave the right one uncovered and the arm free.
Later there were various changes, such as the addition of fullness and the use of a short sleeve for the left arm. Over the dress a wide, loosely flowing cloak or mantle was worn. It was fastened over the breast and hung straight down to the feet.
The dress and the mantle were made of fine, transparent fabrics. Many other variations appeared from time to time; the most important was an additional thick, non-transparent underdress which fitted the figure closely and somewhat reflected it. The outer dress was given even more fullness which was frequently arranged in plaits. There were also dresses with two sleeves, short mantillas with fringed borders, short aprons, and girdles.
Both linen and wool were used for the costumes. They were spun and woven by hand and dyed in various colors, such as red, saffron, and blue.
While the garments worn by the Egyptian women were simple in texture and arrangement, the accessories with which they completed their costume were elaborate in design and rich in coloring and offer many suggestions for the decoration of modern costume. They included ornaments, head-dresses, shoes, etc. In the early periods women seem to have worn sandals, though they were adopted later. They were chiefly of one form, fairly heavy in the sole, with straps; but they were made of a variety of materials.
In Egypt the care of the head was especially important.
It was a hot country where covering was evidently needed to protect the head from exposure to the sun. The hair of the Egyptian woman was well cared for and elaborately dressed. Wigs were evidently frequently, if not generally, worn. At first the fashion of all classes was a heavy coiffure of straight hair hanging in two tries over the shoulders. Later the ends of these tresses were made into a fringe, and still later the full length of the hair was divided into a number of locks and braided or curled. In addition to the elaborate hair-dressing there was the head-dress representing a lotus bud, a vulture, an asp, according to the rank and position of the wearer.
Ornaments were used throughout all periods. The most valued of these were evidently the colored embroidered necks or collars which were made of leaves of papyrus or of fabrics and were embroidered in a great variety of interesting designs in gay-colored wools. There were also bracelets, earrings, and anklets which in many cases matched the collars in design and color.
Source de James D Vincent