Ancient statues and wall paintings also known as hieroglyphs have revealed a lot about the fashion history of ancient Egyptians. Furthermore, there are some pieces of clothing that have been found from ancient tombs and houses, in addition to perfume containers, make-up kits and jewelry. Clothes were created for comfort, but Egyptians didn’t only see them as convenient but also creatively expressed their culture, status and personality through fashion. They were the first human society, who had a sense of style. Egyptians adored the human body and wanted the clothes to be flattering.
Women in ancient Egypt wore ankle length sheath dresses made from linen, which were light and cool for the hot climate. The dress was draped over the body and tied or sewn to keep it in place. The dresses were never tailored. Peasant women had plain linen dresses and servant girls wore dresses made from colored fabric sewn in a checkered pattern. Upper class women had pleaded dresses with fringes. Sometimes a transparent garment was worn over the dress. Formal clothes were more elaborate and detailed. Very rarely there were clothes made of wool.
Usually the clothes were white but red, blue and yellow was used on some occasions. Colors had a meaning for Egyptians. For instance, blue reminded of Amon, the god of air. Green represented life and youth and yellow was the symbol of gold. Red symbolized violence and wasn’t used often. Black was only used in wigs. White was a sacred color which represented purity.
Kalasiris was the most distinctive garment worn by Egyptian women during Old, Middle and New Kingdom. It was a long, ankle to calf length tube dress made from linen and sewn at the sides. It had two straps that went behind the neck and came together at the front, exposing the breasts. Women’s clothes didn’t change as much as men’s during the centuries. However, the top in Kalasiris dress changed over time. More fabric was used to cover the breasts. The dresses were mostly white, but some women dyed their dresses and embellished them with different patterns. Some Kalasirises were made from very thin, see-through materials, most likely linen that was very finely woven. Poorer women used heavier materials and the cut wasn’t exactly the same either.
For over 1000 years it was common for men and women not to wear anything on their torsos. The upper body wasn’t covered. Pharaohs and the upper class wore the schenti, a knee-length kilt which was tied around the waist. After Egypt conquered Syria, they got introduced with a new and better cloth; a tunic. It was a basic rectangular piece of clothing with a hole for the head in the middle. The sides were open and the length was past the waistline. The look was completed with a belt, which hold the tunic together. Tunic was usually worn with a schenti. Egyptians improved the tunic by sewing the sides together and adding sleeves. The garment was bleached white and decorated with pleats and folds. They later extended the tunic, so it looked like a robe with long and wide sleeves. It was worn together with a long skirt.
Men wore knee-length kilts made from linen as well. The kilts had a pleaded or a stiffened front. During cool weather they wore cloaks. Lower class men only wore a loin cloth, which was a piece of garment that only covered the private parts. Later they had loin skirts, which slightly resemble the skirt in today’s world. In 1500 B.C men started covering their upper body by wearing tunics. Children’s clothes were similar to their parents’ and they also wore make-up. Poor children had no clothes at all until they reached puberty.
Hieroglyphs show that Egyptians walked barefoot most of the time. In New Kingdom era 1500 B.C there are more records of sandals being used. People covered their feet with sandals made from leather or plant fibers. The design was very simple. Sandals protected their feet from hot desert sand and helped feet to stay cool. Although sandals were the most common footwear at the time, fur-lined boots have been discovered as well. Wealthier people had precious metals and jewels embedded on their sandals. Some designs show turned up toes to keep the sand out of the shoe. Sandals were mostly used by kings, queens and other people on top of the hierarchy. Workers still walked barefoot.
Who was Cleopatra
Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C. and died 30 B.C. Her father was a ruler Ptolemy Auletes XII, and her mother was believed to be Cleopatra V Tryphaena. Their family had ruled Egypt for centuries. After her father died, she became the ruler of Egypt at the age of 18 with her 10-year old brother Ptolemy XIII. According to ancient findings she was married to her brother, which was a common Egyptian tradition.
Cleopatra’s life was a constant struggle to keep her throne and influence. She wanted to be a sole ruler without her brother Ptolemy XIII, but he refused to let that happen. She had romantic relationships with both Mark Antony and Julius Caesar, with whom she had children. Cleopatra was very intelligent ruler, although her life was chaotic at times. She is known as the last Pharaoh of Egypt, since after her death Roman Empire took over Egypt. Cleopatra ended her life by letting a snake bite her. She wanted to be in charge of her own destiny and didn’t want to become a slave after being at the top of the hierarchy for so long.
Although there are many contradictory opinions about her beauty and appearance, she was regarded as a beauty icon. Yet it is said that she was highly intellectual woman and what compelled people the most was her charm, wit and friendly appearance. She spoke several languages, as well as excelled in math, philosophy, oratory and astronomy. She knew exactly how to use her charm as an asset in politics.
Cleopatra is recognized as a fashion icon of her time. She is especially known for her make-up style and luxurious jewelry.
Beauty and hair
Ancient Egyptians created several beauty products. They made mirrors from bronze and copper and created make-up kits with applicators. Both men and women wore make-up to protect their skin from the desert climate but also for cosmetic purposes. Perfumes were used as a deodorant and cones of perfumes were worn on top of the head. When the cone melted it released a scent. People bathed regularly and used oils and ointments for their skin to make it softer and to smell better.
Ancient Egyptians used eye shadow mainly to protect their eyes from bright sun light, but also for cosmetic purposes. The first eye paint was thick bright green paste which was made from the mineral malachite. When Cleopatra became the ruler, Egyptians had a wide range of cosmetics to choose from. Rocks, plants and minerals were used to create make-up.
Cleopatra preferred to use the bright green paste on her lower eyelids and blue eye shadow on upper eyelids. She also added gold pyrite flecks made from ground lapis lazuli stone. She used black kohl as a mascara. It was a mixture of powdered lead sulfide and animal fat to darken eyebrows and lashes. As a lipstick and a blush, she used red ochre, a type of clay colored red by iron oxide. At the time, reddish brown dye called henna was trendy, it was used to make a nail polish. Egyptians also used it to paint their palms with henna designs and symbols.
For Egyptians, clean hair represented cleanliness. Men shaved their faces but priests had to shave their whole bodies. Wealthy people shaved their heads or cut their hair shorter and wore wigs made of real human hair, however it was sometimes mixed with plant fiber. Shiny black hair was regarded as youthful and vital. Wigs were easier to maintain than real hair, but not everyone could afford to buy one.
Wigs were usually made of about 300 strands. Each strand had 400 individual hairs. After that hair was covered with beeswax and resin. The strands were attached to a net by using singular hairs. Hairs were looped over and whipped around the net and finally waxed to keep them still. Egyptians had several hairstyles to choose from. They were proud of their wigs and didn’t hide the fact that it wasn’t their real hair.
Cleopatra’s hair was black, straight and shoulder length, she also had bangs. Sometimes she braided parts of her hair and embellished them with golden jewelry such as beads. Headdresses were common among Egyptians. Kings wore the pharaonic headdress and various gods of Egyptian mythology also had their own headdresses. Women styled their hair in different fashionable styles and wore headdresses as well.
Jewelry was very important for women, especially to Cleopatra. However, all social classes had them. Queens were buried with jewelry, so it could be used in the afterlife. The most popular jewelry was an amulet which was believed to protect the wearer. The amulets were often sacred symbols, such as the eye of Horus. Both men and women wore collars made of strings of beads, anklets, bracelets, finger rings and armbands. Jewelry was usually massive and heavy. Some people got their ears pierced and wore earrings. Cleopatra wore massive, golden headdresses and snake shaped armbands. She also accessorized with huge amount of other jewelry.
The amount of jewelry was a reflection on the social status of a person. Even the poor tried to gather as much jewelry as possible. Their jewelry was brightly colored and often made from pottery. It was more affordable. Most often jewelry was made from gold, it stayed shiny and it was easy to work with. After gold, the second common material was semi-precious stones, like lapis lazuli. Inexpensive materials, such as colored cement, covered with transparent quartz was used to make stones that looked like lapis lazuli. Egyptians wanted to make colorful jewelry, so they used colored glass as well.
Cleopatra was able to adjust to any kind of occasion and always dressed accordingly. Her style was similar to other wealthy people in Egypt but she styled her look to be more unique with jewelry and make-up. She wore Roman and Egyptian fashion based on ancient wall pictures. She had white linen dresses as well as luxurious evening gowns.
Re-creating a wig
I re-created a Cleopatra inspired wig. I bought a basic black wig with bangs and cut it a little shorter as seen in the pictures. I decided to go with her braided hairstyle. I braided parts of the hair from both sides. After the hairstyle was ready I added golden accessories on the braids. I completed the look with a golden necklace, which I used as a head-piece.
Cleopatra was a phenomenal ruler and probably the most famous one in Egypt’s history. She has left a mark on the history books by being unapologetically herself and being a trendsetter. She didn’t necessarily invent any styles but she used them for her advantage. She has demonstrated how plain white dresses can be accessorized to look glamorous and how you can be creative with make-up and different hairstyles. Certainly all Egyptians were quite skillful when it comes to fashion and beauty, but Cleopatra took it to the next level and was always a stunning sight. Her life story has inspired many books and movies. Her name is heavily associated when talking about ancient Egypt. Her signature style has been copied by several designers and make-up artists, as well as people who are inspired by her in one way or another. Today Cleopatra is a major inspiration for Halloween costumes. People want to copy everything from the clothes and make-up to a wig and the jewelry. Her style constantly affects the fashion world and you can see Egyptian influence in some of today’s new fashion collections.
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