Ancient Egyptian Clothing Part 2 – Diaphanous cloth and jewels abound

In my last blog, I gave a brief introduction to ancient Egyptian clothing from the predynastic period to the end of the Middle Kingdom. In the second part of this, I will take you through the fashions of the New Kingdom a time when Egypt’s empire grew and stepped onto the international stage. The style of the New Kingdom saw great advances and is often the era depicted in film and television that deals with ancient Egypt no matter what the historical time period is (Figure 1-2). But the representation of ancient Egypt in television and film is for another time.  

As a quick overview of Ancient Egyptian chronology. Late in the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1650–1550 B.C.), the Theban rulers (Dynasty 17) began to drive the Hyksos kings (Dynasty 15) from the Delta. This task was completed by Ahmose I, who reunited Egypt and established the New Kingdom[1]. Dynasty 18 falls into this era and you are probably familiar with a few of them. King Tut and Queen Ankhensamun, Nefertiti and Akhenaten and Ramesses the Great to name a few. All of these kings also conducted military campaigns that extended Egypt’s influence in the Near East and established Egyptian control of Nubia to the fourth cataract. As a result, the New Kingdom pharaohs held a great dealt of wealth.

Figure 3: The Lady  Tjepu in this tomb painting wears a perfumed cone on her heavy wig, a delicate side tress, and a semitransparent, fringed linen dress. All the height of fashion in the 18th Dynasyty. https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/3743

Women’s fashion in the New Kingdom

Figure 4: A tomb-painting representing Queen Ahmose-Nefertari you can see the effort of the artist to give the linen a translucent affect and he wearing of the newly adopted caplet. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA37994

The beaded dresses of the late Middle Kingdom that I showed you last week now become more commonplace in the New Kingdom within the noblewomen. But the complex adornment didn’t stop at, elaborate wigs with beads and different styles; pleated, fringed, and layered hairstyles with a length to the shoulders or below[2]. New Kingdom dress is much more elaborate and more detailed than those that come before it and it marks out in depictions by the diaphanous sheer linen and many pleats the garments possess. Sheer gowns of light linen were in favour among the upper-class women, often ornamented with a sash or cape, belted at the waist, and again accented by a headpiece and jewellery [3](Figure 3and 4). The linen used in these garments became increasingly fine and more highly worked, with the use of draping and pleating effect to create more elaborate designs, long sleeves for example were often finely pleated and started to resemble bird wings. In my mind that makes me think of those amazing gold/iridescent pleated capes that performers sometimes wear on stage. Alongside these more detailed fashions, another garment that became popular amongst the noblewomen during this time was the adoption of a capelet over their dress. The capelet, or shawl cape, was a rectangle of linen twisted, folded, or cut, and usually attached to an ornamented collar.

Men’s Fashion in the New Kingdom  

Ancient Egyptian Men’s fashion developed quickly that of the women’s during the New Kingdom. Kilts during this period dropped length to below the knee and were often worn alongside a sheer, loose-fitting blouse. The addition of jewellery, broad collars, sandals and other adornments separate upper-class new kingdom men’s clothing. (Figures 5-6 Horemheb and Wife + Userhat and Wife Receiving Offerings).

Figures 5-6:
Figure 5: New Kingdom Male Fashion shown in statues – Horemheb and one of his wives both wear the pleated dress of the New Kingdow.
EA36 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA36
Figure 6: This tomb painting shows Userhat and Wife Receiving Offerings dressed in their finery. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/545135
Figure 7: The loinsloths of Kha on display in the Egyptian Museum Turin with their laundry mark clearly visible. Authors own photo. S. 8613

Underwear evolved further in this period from rougher triangular loincloths that wrapped between the legs and waist to a finer piece of cloth either sewn to waist size or tied at the hips[4]. During the excavation of the Theban architect, Kha TT8 alongside 26 knee-length shirts were found about fifty loincloths, including short triangular pieces of material that would have been worn in the context of agricultural or building work[5]. He and his wife Merit each had their own individual laundry marks, and it is known that there were professional launderers attached to the workmen’s village at Deir el-Medina where Kha and his family lived[6]. (Figure 7).

Professions and other classes

Figure 8: Femal musicians now as shown in the banquet scene from the tomb of Nakht dressed in much more elaborate garmetns than before as well as jewellery and other adornment. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/548576
15.5.19d, j–k

In general, the lower classes continued to wear the simple kilts, this was true of both sexes of this social demographic. Although now more women appear to cover their upper bodies. Furthermore, servants, who were previously shown in art as nude, now were not just clothed but shown wearing much more elaborate dress[7]. The clothes worn by the servants of officials and dignitaries were often more refined than those of the general populace[8] (Figure 8).

Priests, viziers and certain other types of officials all marked their status with particular items or styles of dress. The vizier a term usually employed to refer to the holder of the Egyptian title tjaty was usually depicted wearing a long robe that came up to his armpits[9]( Figure 9). Whilst a sm-priest was usually shown wearing a leopard-skin on top of the expected long kilt and shirt [10] (10Sem priest EA10470).

Figure 9 (Left) A vizer depicted wearing a long robe that came up to his armpits EA5620 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA10470-5
Figure 10: A sm-priest shown wearing a leopard-skin on top of the expected long kilt and shirt EA10470 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA10470-5

I hope you have enjoyed this whilst stope tour of ancient Egyptian clothing from early Egypt to the peak of its international power. What shall I explore next?


References

[1] Roehrig, Catharine H. “Egypt in the New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1070 B.C.).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nking/hd_nking.htm  (October 2000)

[2] https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1037/fashion–dress-in-ancient-egypt/

[3] https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1037/fashion–dress-in-ancient-egypt/

[4] https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1037/fashion–dress-in-ancient-egypt/

[5] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 76

[6] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 76

[7] https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1037/fashion–dress-in-ancient-egypt/

[8] Strudwick, H., 2006. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. London: Amber Books. Page 376

[9] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 76

[10] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 76

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