Ancient Egypt 2675-332 BCE: Fashion

Arts and Humanities Through the Eras. Editor: Edward I Bleiberg, et al. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2005.

Cloth Production


Linen was the most popular cloth for ancient Egyptian clothing. There are rare examples of both sheep’s and goat’s wool garments and of palm fiber clothing found in the archaeological record. But Egyptians of all ranks and classes wore various grades of linen clothing in all periods. The flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) was the source of Egyptian linen. There is good evidence that flax grew in Egypt as early as 5000 B.C.E., but flax was not native to Egypt and might have originally been imported from Syria. The flax plant matures in three months from seed to flower. After its blue flowers died, the Egyptians pulled the plant from the ground rather than using a sickle to harvest it. The dead flowers are the source of the seeds and they remained part of the plant until the whole stock dried. Then the cultivator removed the seeds either by hand or using a tool called a rippling comb. The seeds were planted for the next crop. Workers then retted the plant by alternately wetting it and drying it in the sunlight. The retting process loosened the fibers inside the plant stem. Preparation for spinning the fibers included washing, drying, beating, and combing. The plant fiber then would be turned into thread by spinning it. The Egyptians used hand spindles consisting of a stick used for a shaft and a whorl that acted as a weight to stretch the fiber and kept the spindle moving at a constant pace. Spinning twisted the fibers of the flax stem together to form a longer piece of thread. Spinning also included a process called attenuation that fully extended the fiber. Twisting then added to its strength. Finally the spinner wound the thread onto a shaft. The resulting linen thread was both strong and elastic.


Weavers used spun thread to make cloth. They removed spun thread from the spindle once it was finished and strung it on a loom, forming the warp. The warp was the system of parallel threads kept under tension on a loom. The weft is the system of threads passed over and under the warp to form cloth. Egyptians used both horizontal and vertical looms to weave. Horizontal looms rested on the ground with the warp stretched between two beams. Pegs in the ground held the beams in place. A predynastic tomb (before 4000 B.C.E.) in Badari, a village in Upper Egypt, contained a representation on a bowl of a horizontal ground loom. Vertical looms leaned against walls. An upper beam could rest on limestone blocks set up against house walls. Such looms could be up to five meters (sixteen feet) high, allowing for long pieces of cloth. Each loom supported the four main patters of weaving in ancient Egypt. The simplest form was balanced tabby, where there are an equal number of warp and weft threads per square centimeter or inch. The Egyptians also wove faced tabby weaves. These weaves include either more warp (warp-faced) or more weft (weft-faced) threads per square centimeter or inch of fabric. They also made tapestry weaves, a process where the warp and weft were different colors. Often in tapestry, a weft thread did not reach from one end of the warp to the other, but was interwoven in the place where the color was needed to form a pattern. Known tapestry from tombs seems restricted to the royal sources. Though not a separate weave, the Egyptians also added loops of threads to the warp in a process called weft-looping. The resulting cloth resembles modern towels. The Egyptians used weft-looping to create delicate patterns.

Linen Qualities

The Egyptians had names for several different qualities of linen. An inscription in the tomb of Rekhmire, a vizier in the time of Thutmose III (r. 1479-1425 B.C.E.), refers to royal linen, bleached linen, fine linen, and close-woven linen, among other types. Some archaeological examples of linen also have symbols on them in ink that Egyptologists believe refer to the quality of the material. Differences in quality refer to fineness of the cloth. Some examples from the tomb of Tutankhamun are nearly transparent. Thus artistic representations of “see-through” costumes are likely to be accurate. Another quality that set certain linens apart was color. By the First Dynasty (3100-2800 B.C.E.) the Egyptians used brown thread to weave cloth. Excavators found red cloth fragments at Meidum, the site of Sneferu’s pyramid (2625-2585B.C.E.). In the New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.E.) colored cloth is even more common. The Egyptians used both ocher and plant material to make dye. Ocher is an iron oxide (the technical name of rust) mixed with clay. Naturally occurring ocher is yellow, but heating it transforms the color to red. Thus ocher could be used to produce either yellow or red cloth. A number of Egyptian plants could also produce red dye. These include madder root (Rubia tinctorum), safflower (Carthamus tinctorum), henna (Lawsonia alba or L. inermis), and alkanet (Anchusa tinctoria). Blue dyes also came from plants. The Egyptians probably made it from woad (Isatis tinctorum), which is found in Egypt. Yellow dye came from safflower and pomegranate (Punica granatum). Imported dyes found in Egyptian textiles include indigotin that creates blue, and alizarin that creates red. These dyes, much like the flax plant, most likely originated in Syria, and the Egyptians imported them. Thus textiles other than natural linen color must have been relatively expensive and available only to the wealthy.

Textile Workshops

The vast majority of textile workers in ancient Egypt were women. Representation of weavers, laundresses, and even the flax harvest depict women doing this work. Yet the supervisors were all men. The exception to this division of labor was the male weavers who operated the vertical looms. Women dominated horizontal weaving while men were responsible for the heavier vertical looms. Regardless of who worked the looms, almost every sort of Egyptian home had spinning and weaving workshops. Small houses in the village at Kahun in Middle Egypt, dating to the time of Senwosret II (r. 1844-1837 B.C.E.) and later, were production sites for small-scale spinning and weaving. The larger the household, the more women would be assigned to textile workshops. Nobles’ estates, royal palaces, harems, and temples (gods’ houses) also contained workshops staffed by large groups of women. Among the papyri that refer to cloth are two examples from the Middle Kingdom (2008-1630 B.C.E.). In Cairo Papyrus 91061, a man named Nakht wrote to a man named Aau that the weavers had finished a bolt of cloth and that he had sent it already. This papyrus thus suggests that cloth was shipped long distances within Egypt. A list of 38 servants in Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446 includes twenty weavers. This list suggests through the titles that weavers could specialize in particular kinds of cloth. From these papyri, many scholars have also concluded that cloth played an important economic role in Egyptian life. Egyptians needed cloth for their own clothing but also used it as an offering to the gods. From archeological evidence, it can be seen that cloth could also be used to pay wages in-kind. Cloth was produced both in private domestic settings and in large institutions such as palaces and temples and was a vital cog in ancient Egyptian economy.



Two kinds of evidence survive for modern scholars to study ancient Egypt clothing. The Egyptians included complete wardrobes for the deceased in their tombs to wear in the next world. Thus it is possible to study garments that were folded for storage in the tomb. Many Egyptian garments, however, were not constructed like modern Western clothing, but rather were simply squares, rectangles, and triangles of cloth or leather that were arranged on the body in different styles and foldings. Thus some garments such as elaborately folded dresses or kilts can only be understood through the second kind of evidence available: a careful study of artistic representations. Yet this evidence is often problematic in itself. Artists who worked in two dimensions presented combined perspectives on a garment, including, for example, both a side view and a front view in the same representation, as was the convention for representing the human face in two dimensions, and these often left the viewer without a clear view of the shape of a garment. Three-dimensional works of art are thus more helpful in understanding the shape of a garment, though not all the details of the folds would be obvious even from the best statues. Furthermore, certain artistic conventions forced artists to represent clothing as tight-fitting when it is clear from the archaeological evidence that dresses, for example, were usually worn looser—otherwise walking would have been impossible. Furthermore, in art, especially from tombs and temples, people wear only their best clothing even in situations that seem incongruous for such finery. Senedjem and his wife, two Nineteenth-dynasty (1307-1196 B.C.E.) tomb owners, are represented in their tomb plowing in their most elaborate clothing. Everyday wear thus can only be observed from the wardrobes left in tombs for the deceased to wear in the afterlife. For these reasons scholars have tried to combine the archaeological evidence of tomb wardrobes with artistic evidence to achieve a fuller understanding of ancient Egyptian clothing.


The loincloth was most likely a universal item of clothing in ancient Egypt. Tutankhamun’s tomb contained fifty loincloths, and workmen also wore them, as is seen in tomb paintings. Loincloths were made from both cloth and leather, though leather loincloths had a specialized use. The cloth loincloths, worn by both women and men, consisted of two triangular pieces of linen sewn together to form a larger triangle with three equal sides. The top and sides were hemmed and strings were attached at either corner of the top. The strings allowed the wearer to tie the loincloth around the waist with the cloth covering the wearer’s buttocks. Some representations of workmen suggest that some men did not bother to make additional ties in the garment, leaving the front open. Others tucked the tip of the garment in the front of the waist after pulling it between the legs. Some people added a sash that tied at the waist. The major differences between the loincloths of royals and the loincloths of workmen were in the quality of the cloth and the stitching. Tutankhamun’s loincloths were soft and silky linen while workmen’s loincloths were more sturdy and coarser. The stitching in Tutankhamun’s loincloths was more delicate with smaller stitches than those found in ordinary people’s loincloths. Men began wearing leather loincloths starting in the New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.E.). Soldiers, sailors, craftsmen, and servants wore them to protect their linen loincloths while they worked. Yet they were also found in tombs belonging to kings, officials, and Nubian mercenaries. The burials that Egyptologists call pan graves, long associated with Nubians, often include mummies wearing leather loincloths. Leather loincloths consisted of one piece of hide, usually thought to be gazelle skin. The hide resembled a mesh because the leather worker cut either slits or diamond-shaped holes in it. Some examples are either patched or uncut over the area that would cover the buttocks. The garment also had ties that were part of the hide rather than added as in linen loincloths. Many of the archaeological examples of leather loincloths have connections to Nubia. There are examples of leather loincloths from Nubia in the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. For this reason most scholars believe that this fashion originated in modern-day Sudan.


Aprons are cloth strips hanging from a belt or sash that wrapped around the wearer’s waist. Upper-class Egyptians wore aprons over or under other garments such as kilts while aprons could be a workman’s only garment while he performed certain labors. In the Fifth Dynasty (2500-2350 B.C.E.) there are tomb representations of men capturing a bull and slaughtering a bull wearing only such aprons. Men wore an apron with a short kilt. This apron was shaped like a four-sided piece of cloth with a half-circle of cloth added to the bottom. Tomb reliefs include representations of these aprons in the Sixth Dynasty (2350-2170 B.C.E.) and again during the Middle Kingdom (2008-1630 B.C.E.). By the New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.E.), men had a wider choice of clothing types to wear with a pointed apron. Some men represented in Old and Middle Kingdom reliefs and paintings wear a triangular apron over their kilts. Artists represent the apron as a triangle that rose above the kilt in the front. One point was tucked into the waistband while one side of the triangle hung parallel to the hem of the kilt. The artistic emphasis on this item of clothing and the fact that the pleats of the triangle normally run in a different direction from the pleats of the kilt have led many scholars to believe that it is a separate item of clothing. Others have suggested that the triangle of cloth is actually the end of the kilt tied in some elaborate manner. Since no archaeological examples of the triangular apron have been recognized, it is not possible to determine whether it is a separate item of clothing or not.


Kilts were wraparound garments that men wore to cover all or part of the lower half of the body and legs, and were worn throughout ancient Egyptian history. Only a very small number of archaeological examples of kilts are available for study. There are, however, nearly countless examples of men wearing kilts in Egyptian art. The length of the kilts varies greatly. It is likely that the length varied with economic and social status. Cloth was expensive and so poorer people tended to wear clothing with less material. The standard wraparound kilt probably consisted of a rectangular piece of linen wrapped around the waist. The ends were often inserted into a sash worn around the waist. The ends of the sash sometimes visibly hung from the waist and over the front of the kilt. Men often wore two kilts over one another. In this case one kilt was pleated while the other was flat. Some kilts also included decorations such as fringes, tassels, and pleats. During the New Kingdom, two additional kilt styles came into fashion. The sash kilts were one piece of cloth that were gathered and then tied in the front without a separate sash. The ends of the cloth hung in the front and were arranged in elaborate decorative patterns of folds. Typically they appear to cover part of the small of the back in addition to the buttocks. Sash kilts could be worn alone or in combination with bag tunics. The sash kilt could also bear fringe decoration on the edge. The scalloped-edge kilts were worn in combination with bag tunics and triangular aprons. Scalloped-edge kilts, as their name implies, were characterized by a cloth with vertically gathered large folds that resemble a scallop when worn. Women did not wear kilts, but could be depicted in art wearing skirts. The length of skirts seems to depend on social status and access to cloth. Poorer women wore shorter skirts out of economic necessity. In general, however, women wore dresses more commonly than skirts in ancient Egypt.

Archaic Wraparound

Both men and women could wear the archaic wraparound. The wearer could tie together two corners of a rectangular piece of cloth, placing the knot on the chest just below one shoulder and the opposite arm passed through the circle now formed by the top edge of the cloth. Kings, laborers, and fishermen could wear this garment with a sash. King Narmer (thirty-first century B.C.E.) wears it on the Narmer Palette with additional aprons and a bull’s tail. But workmen depicted in Old Kingdom tombs also wore a simpler but similar garment. Men continued to wear the archaic wraparound through the Old Kingdom until about the twenty-first century B.C.E. In the Middle Kingdom (2003-1630 B.C.E.) and New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.E.) only gods wore the archaic wraparound. Gods’ fashions were inherently more conservative than the clothing of the living. Women wore a long version of the archaic wraparound. Surprisingly, only female servants wore it, and it continued into the Middle Kingdom.


Dresses were women’s clothing consisting of a section fit close to the upper body and a skirt that was either flowing or tight. Women of all social classes wore dresses as their most common garment. The clothing scholar Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood recognized three basic ancient Egyptian dresses: the wraparound dress, the v-necked dress, and the bead-net dress. A wraparound dress consisted of one large piece of fabric that was wrapped around a woman’s body in various ways. The fabric was not cut to shape. The wraparound dress could include or omit shoulder straps. In the archaeological record, it is easy to confuse a wraparound dress with bed linen. They are both rectangular in shape. But careful examination of both folds and wear marks on certain cloth rectangles reveals that they were indeed dresses rather than bed sheets. In the archaeological examples of these dresses, the rectangle of cloth measures about two meters by one meter (six feet by three feet). The cloth is finished on four sides with hems. The cloth was wrapped two to three times around the body depending on both the length of the cloth and the wearer’s body. The top line of this dress could be worn either over or under the breasts, depending on the amount of material available and the task the wearer performed. Often women wore either single or double straps with the wraparound dress. The straps covered part of the torso. There was a wide variation in the way the straps were worn. Women wore either one or two straps, arranged either across the body or hanging straight from the shoulder. The straps also varied in width from broad to narrow. These straps were probably decorative but might have served some practical purpose. Vogelsang-Eastwood suggested they were neither pinned nor sewn to the wraparound dress. The majority of wraparound dresses both in art and from archaeology are white.

Sheathes and Complex Dresses

Many art historians have claimed that the most common dress that ancient Egyptian women wore was a sheath with either one or two straps. Vogelsang-Eastwood argued convincingly that this sheath is actually a wraparound with straps. She doubted the reality of the sheath dress because there are no archaeological examples of it among the twenty known dresses from ancient Egypt and because no woman’s grave has contained the pins that would have attached the straps to a sheath. Moreover, many scholars have commented that the sheath dress would have been difficult to wear while performing the tasks portrayed in tomb and temple paintings and reliefs. Kneeling, bending, and walking would have been impossible if women wore a sheath that was as tight as artists portray. Thus the art historian Gay Robins suggested that the tight sheath was only an artistic convention and not a real dress. A more accepted dress form by art historians was the complex wraparound dress. Artists first depicted women wearing the complex wraparound dress during the New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.E.). Women created these dresses from large cloth rectangles wrapped in various decorative manners. Sometimes a second, smaller length of cloth secured the garment in place as a sash. The wearer could drape the cloth over one or both shoulders, wrap it around the lower part of the body, and tuck it into itself at the waist. Other versions of the dress included knotting the cloth under the breast. The dresses could be pleated or plain. Women at all social levels wore the complex wraparound dress.

V-Necked and Beaded Dresses

V-necked dresses were tailored and cut to shape. Some examples have sleeves, while others are sleeveless. The sleeveless v-necked dress first appears in the Third Dynasty (2675-2625 B.C.E.) and continues into the New Kingdom. Both royal women and upper-class women wore this dress. There are some examples with pleats, though pleating is less common than plain examples. V-necked dresses with sleeves survive in the archaeological record in greater numbers than sleeveless v-necked dresses. The seamstress made the bodice and sleeves from two pieces of cloth that she attached to a large rectangle of cloth that formed the skirt. Archaeologists have discovered examples of these dresses dating from the First to Eleventh Dynasties (3100-1938 B.C.E.), proving their popularity for at least 1,200 years. Yet artists never seem to represent such dresses in the artistic record. This evidence provides a caution concerning the reliability of tomb and temple representations to provide a complete picture for modern scholars. Bead-net dresses were often worn over V-neck dresses as well as wraparound dresses and were constructed in geometric patterns. Two archaeological examples date to the Old Kingdom. The beads are cylinders of blue or green faience threaded into a diamond pattern. In the artistic evidence the bead-net dresses are worn over a wraparound dress. In art the bead-net dresses are fairly common in the Old and Middle Kingdoms, but decline in number during the New Kingdom.

Bag Tunics

Both men and women wore bag tunics. They could wear them either full-length or half-length. Though the full-length bag tunic superficially resembled the modern Egyptian galabiyah due to its shirt-like nature, the bag tunic differs from the modern costume because male and female galabiyahs are constructed in entirely different ways. Bag tunics for men and women, however, were both made from a single piece of cloth, folded, and then sewn together on two sides, leaving holes for the arms. The bottom was left open. A key-hole shaped opening was cut in the shorter side to allow the wearer to pull it over the head. The ends and the openings were hemmed. Some bag tunics were made from heavy material while others were from fine material, and people of all stations owned both kinds. Vogelsang-Eastwood and others suggested that the differences in weight represent summer and winter wear. Some bag tunics were also decorated. They could have fringe, bead work, gold or faience sequins, applied patterns, or embroidery. The full-length bag tunic first appeared in the Middle Kingdom and became widespread in the New Kingdom. While both men and women wore the full-length bag tunic, only men wore the short bag tunic. This garment was identical to the long bag tunic, differing only in its length. The existing archaeological examples of short bag tunics date to the Eleventh Dynasty (2081-1938 B.C.E.) and to the New Kingdom (1539-1075B.C.E.). They vary in length from seventy to ninety-three centimeters (27.5 to 36.6 inches). Mainly workmen wore these garments that seem to replace the archaic wraparound worn during the Predynastic Period and the Old Kingdom. These changes suggest that the Egyptians increasingly wore sewn garments during the transition to the New Kingdom.

Shawls and Cloaks

Shawls and cloaks are similar because people wore them over other garments. In Egypt, shawls and cloaks were both fashioned from oblong, square, or rectangular pieces of cloth. Scholars have paid little attention to archaeological examples of shawls. Of nineteen shawls that Howard Carter, the archaeologist, mentioned in his notes on the tomb of Tutankhamun, scholars have had access to only one fine linen example. Carter, however, discovered it wrapped around the neck of a statue of the jackal god Anubis. Thus it is not clear that this is an example of human clothing. In tomb and temple reliefs, some officials in the Middle Kingdom wore pleated shawls. But the majority of representations of shawls are worn by foreign musicians during the reign of Akhenaten (1352-1336 B.C.E.). Cloaks were similar to blankets, a large oblong, square, or rectangular piece of cloth worn for warmth. People could either wrap them around the body or knot them at the shoulder. No archaeological examples have been recognized, but artists often depicted people wearing cloaks. Normally wraparound cloaks were worn over both shoulders and held together with the hands, especially in Old Kingdom examples. In some Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom examples in art, the cloak passes over only one shoulder and is wrapped tightly around the body. More active people, such as hunters and chariot drivers, wore knotted cloaks. The difference in whether an Egyptian wore a wraparound or knotted cloak seems to depend on whether his/her hands needed to be free. Thus the wraparound cloak was worn when a person could hold the cloak closed, while active people whose hands were otherwise occupied knotted their cloaks.


There were three types of accessories that could be added to most types of clothing: sashes, straps, and codpieces. Sashes differed from belts because they were made from cloth rather than leather. Sashes were an important element in ancient Egyptian clothing and were commonly illustrated in depictions of men and women. Surviving examples of sashes from archaeological contexts are made from rope or tasseled cloth. In general the cloth sashes had hemmed edges and tassels at the ends. Sashes could be very wide, varying between five and sixteen centimeters (two to six inches). Sashes also varied by economic status. The cheapest sashes must have been ropes that workmen wore. Some soldiers in relief scenes wear broad cloth sashes that hang down from the waist in the front. They could be placed so that they covered the top of the kilt or beneath the top edge of the kilt. Scholars have not studied sash placement but it is possible that certain fashions predominated in different times. The most variety, as is often the case, is visible in representations from the New Kingdom. Women rarely wore sashes in artistic representations. Like sashes, it was men who commonly wore either single or double straps that extended from the shoulder to the opposite hip. The straps could be either one or two pieces of cloth. Both high officials and workmen could wear such straps, though they appear most commonly worn by officials. Women wore separate straps while dancing or doing strenuous work in the fields, but straps were not common for women except in these special circumstances. The codpiece was an accessory only worn by men and usually was used for protection. Several battle scenes dating to the Middle Kingdom show men wearing a separate garment over the genital area. The American Egyptologist H. G. Fischer suggested that it is a codpiece or penis sheath that originated in Nubia. The Egyptian officials Ukhhotep and Senbi wore similar garments on a hunting expedition in a relief of Dynasty Twelve (1938-1759 B.C.E.).


Use of Wigs

Most scholars believe that some ancient Egyptian men and women often wore wigs regardless of the style of their natural hair. The more elaborate styles that artists represented for upper-class men and women were almost certainly wigs. Representations of rich women often include a fringe of natural hair at the forehead, under a wig, leading scholars to believe that it was a sign of wealth and status to wear a wig and that vanity had little to do with it. Most scholars assume that all people above a certain station were depicted with wigs on, yet it is not always clear whether the style in a statue, relief, or painting is a wig or is natural hair.

Men’s Hairstyles

During the Old Kingdom (2675-2170 B.C.E.), men wore both a close-cropped style and a shoulder-length style. The shorter style probably represents natural hair cut close to the skull. The wearer swept the hair back in wings, covering the ears, when wearing the shoulder-length style. Men also wore moustaches and sometimes a goatee in this period. Working men wore their natural hair cropped closely. Only workmen were ever depicted with gray hair or with male-pattern baldness. This difference between richer and poorer men in statues, reliefs, and paintings reflects a wider convention of portraying upper-class tomb owners in an idealized manner, at the most attractive point in their lives. The major distinction between men’s hairstyles of the Old and Middle Kingdoms (2008-1630 B.C.E.) was in the shoulder-length style. Often in the Middle Kingdom men tucked their hair behind the ears when wearing shoulder-length hair in contrast to the covered ears of the Old Kingdom. This feature of the hairstyle probably relates to the fashion for large, protruding ears during this period. Men also wore wigs pushed farther forward than they had during the Old Kingdom, indicating that a low forehead was considered attractive in this period. While early in the New Kingdom, men continued to wear the same styles that had been popular in the Middle Kingdom, men’s styles became more elaborate around the reign of Amenhotep II (1426-1400 B.C.E.). Artists portrayed a hairstyle with two different styles of curls: one in triangular-shaped wings, or lappets, at the side of the head and one down the back. Scholars sometimes call it the lappet wig because of these overhanging folds of hair. These details made hairstyles appear more complex and suggest that men paid more attention to their hair in this period of relative peace and prosperity.

Women’s Hairstyles

Women also could wear either a short or a long hairstyle in the Old Kingdom. The ideal was heavy ringlets that could just frame the face, or a longer wig that included hanks of hair over each shoulder and down the back. Scholars call this style “tripartite” because the wearer divided her hair into three sections. Tripartite hairstyles could be shoulder-length or longer. Often a fringe of natural hair was displayed over the forehead when wearing a tripartite wig. Almost all women wore the same styles regardless of class. During the Middle Kingdom, women added short, curled wigs to the possibilities for coiffure. Royal women also began wearing the so-called Hathoric wig, named for the goddess Hathor. This style resembled the way Hathor wore her hair when depicted on the capital of an architectural column. The thick, wavy hair came forward over the shoulder and curled, sometimes around a ball. Natural hair remained visible down the woman’s back. At the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539-1292 B.C.E.), royal women continued to wear the Hathoric wig and the now ancient tripartite wigs. When human women wore this style in depictions, the artists decorated it with additional rows of horizontal ringlets. Goddesses, however, wore their hair in the most conservative fashion, recalling the Old Kingdom style. Upper-class women also added a full-length style called enveloping. Rather than dividing the hair into three parts as in the tripartite wig, an enveloping style presented the hair as a continuous mass enclosing both shoulders and the back. In the Eighteenth Dynasty, enveloping styles generally reached the shoulder blades. Women’s hair was a component of their sexual allure. Images of young women on cosmetic articles such as mirrors or the objects called cosmetic spoons, have especially elaborate hairstyles. In The Story of Two Brothers,written in the Ramesside Period (1292-1075 B.C.E.), the scent of a woman’s hair prompts a man to kill her husband because he desires

Unisex Styles

During the reign of Akhenaten (1352-1336 B.C.E.) men and women could wear nearly identical styles. The most popular unisex style was the Nubian wig. This hairstyle consisted of tapering rows of tight ringlets in layers. Such hairstyles can be found in sub-Saharan Africa in modern times and most likely derived from hairstyles in Sudan (ancient Nubia) during the New Kingdom. Another Nubian style worn in New Kingdom Egypt was the rounded wig. This wig hung in ringlets to the nape of the neck. Both men and women wore the Nubian wig and the rounded wig. Moreover, both royalty and commoners wore these styles. The royal wearers had more complex wigs, but basically the styles were the same for all. These styles, however, were abandoned at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. During the Ramesside Period (Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties, 1292-1075 B.C.E.), long hair was the defining stylistic characteristic. Men continued to wear the lappet wig, and women still wore enveloping and even tripartite wigs. But now men’s hair could reach below the shoulders. Women’s hair could reach their waists.

Shaved Hairstyles

Both male and female children could wear the so-called “side lock of youth.” In this style, most of the head was shaved, except for a long tuft of hair gathered at one side and usually plaited. This style also associated the child with certain gods who played the role of a child within a divine family. In many periods of Egyptian history priests shaved their heads, and perhaps other parts of their bodies, to achieve ritual purity. Especially in the Ramesside period, artists depicted processions of bald priests carrying the god’s boat or performing other ritual actions.


Connection Between Deities and Royalty

Royalty in ancient Egypt wore crowns that connected them to the gods. In almost every artistic depiction of the gods, the gods can be seen wearing a crown that identifies them with some sort of aspect of nature or power. When a king or a queen wore a crown that was similar to the depicted crown of the deity, they were connecting themselves with power and the protection of that god or goddess. Kings, queens, and princesses also wore crowns that identified their rank and function, while also enhancing the wearer’s appearance and status by association with precious materials and by making the wearer to appear physically taller. A very limited selection of archaeological examples of crowns has survived into modern times. These examples include only circlets and some kerchiefs. The circlets were crafted from gold, silver, and gemstones. Thus precious materials worn by the deities and the royal family enhanced and demonstrated their high status. Moreover, precious materials associated royalty with the divine. Gods, in Egyptian belief, had skin made from gold. Thus the addition of a gold element to a human’s headgear suggested a close connection with the divine. Additionally, reliefs and sculpture portray royal and divine crowns that were very tall. These tall crowns often included feathers that made the wearer appear taller and allowed him or her to dominate a scene. This height also connected the wearer to the divine by being closer to the heavens; one text described Queen Hatshepsut’s crown “piercing the heavens.” Along with height, some accessories on crowns also linked the wearer with the divine. The solar disk, for example, was often a central element of a crown and associated the wearer with the sun god, Re. The Uraeus-snake (cobra) was also often part of the crown and symbolized the sun god’s eye. The god’s eye represented the fire and radiance of the sun that consumed potential enemies. The Uraeus thus represented divine protection for the wearer.


The number of Uraeus snakes on a crown can often help an Egyptologist determine its date. In the earliest periods, kings wore the Uraeus attached to a stripped kerchief called the Nemes. Egyptian kings wore the Nemes with Uraeus and the Uraeus on a circlet from the First Dynasty through the Sixth Dynasty (3100-2170 B.C.E.), but in this period did not wear it with the tall crowns. During the Sixth Dynasty (2350-2170 B.C.E.) royal women also began to wear the Uraeus. At the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty in the reign of Ahmose (1539-1514 B.C.E.), royal women started wearing a double Uraeus as part of their crowns. These snakes wore miniature versions of the king’s primary crowns—the Red Crown and the White Crown—on their heads. Sometimes the double Uraeus flanks a vulture’s head on the female crowns. This combination represented the goddesses Wadjit and Nekhbet who were symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt. When a deceased king wore the double Uraeus, however, it represented the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, the chief mourners for the king. During the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (760-656 B.C.E.), rulers from Sudan (ancient Kush) adopted the double Uraeus as part of their cap-like crown. Women’s crowns also included the Uraeus with the head of a gazelle or ibis. By the Ptolemaic Period (332-30 B.C.E.) queens adopted triple Uraeus adornments to their crowns. Finally, some tall crowns adopted in the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 B.C.E.) incorporated a base made from multiple Uraeus snakes. Amenhotep III’s son, Akhenaten, adopted this base as a circlet and wore Uraeus snakes around some of his crowns. The expansion of the importance of the Uraeus correlated with the importance of the sun god, especially during the reign of Akhenaten. The Uraeus was thus a basic element of royal crowns in all periods, but was used in a variety of ways.

Animal and Plant Elements

Some crowns incorporated elements in shapes derived from other animal’s bodies. These features also associate the wearer with the god who had an association with that animal. Thus falcon feathers on the crown associated the king with the falcon god Horus. The curved ram’s horn, a symbol of the god Amun, became part of the royal crown as early as the reign of Amenhotep I (1514-1493 B.C.E.) and associated the king with the chief of the Egyptian pantheon during the New Kingdom. Some crowns were woven from reeds or were made from other materials in the shape of plant elements. Some crowns worn by queens and princesses incorporate plant elements that suggest youthful beauty. Some kings’ crowns and even the crowns worn by the muu-dancers during funeral dances were made from reeds.

Red and White Crowns

At least as early as the Old Kingdom (2675-2170 B.C.E.), kings wore nine different crowns. These crowns probably represented different aspects of the king’s office. Similar crowns appeared in the coronation of Hatshepsut (1478-1458B.C.E.) and of Ptolemy V (209-180 B.C.E.). Thus kings separated by thousands of years wore essentially the same crowns. The most commonly represented crowns were the White Crown, Red Crown, and Double Crown. The Red Crown and White Crown were the oldest crowns that Egyptian kings wore. Kings wore them from at least Dynasty 0 in the Predynastic Period (3200-3100 B.C.E.) and continued to wear them until the end of ancient Egyptian history. The Red Crown took its name from the oldest Egyptian name for the crown, desheret (“red thing”). By the Middle Kingdom (2008-1630 B.C.E.), Egyptians called the Red Crown the net—the Egyptian name of the goddess Neith. The Red Crown identified the king as ruler of Lower (northern) Egypt. The White Crown takes its name from the Egyptian hedjet (“white thing”). The White Crown designated the king as ruler of Upper Egypt. These crowns might have been made from leather or fabric. The Pyramid Texts include references to the Red Crown and White Crown where their colors associated them with planets and stars. From the earliest periods until the reign of Thutmose IV (1400-1390 B.C.E.) the Red Crown and White Crown were worn alone or combined in the Double Crown. By Thutmose IV’s reign, the Red Crown or White Crown could be worn over a Nemes kerchief. This trend continued through the subsequent Ramesside Period (1292-1075 B.C.E.) when the Red Crown or White Crown always was worn with additional elements.

Double Crowns

The name “Double Crown” is a modern construction. The Egyptians called the Double Crown pas sekhemty (“the two powerful ones”). The king wore the Double Crown to symbolize his rule over both Upper and Lower Egypt. Gods associated with kingship also wore the Double Crown. The god Horus wore it because each king was a living manifestation of this god. The god Atum wore the double crown to emphasize his cosmic rule. The goddess Mut wore the Double Crown over a vulture cap. Because Mut was the divine mother and a consort of the chief god Amun, her headgear stressed her connection to the king. The Double Feather Crown, called shuty (“two feathers”), was nearly always worn in combination with another crown. The major elements of the Double Feather Crown are two tall feathers, from either an ostrich or falcon, and the horns of a ram and a cow. The first king known to wear this crown was Sneferu (r. 2625-2585 B.C.E.), and kings continued to wear it until the end of ancient Egyptian history. The crown originated in Lower Egypt in the town called Busiris and was worn by its local god named Andjety. Busiris later was the Lower Egyptian home for the god Osiris who also sometimes wore feathers. The chief god of the pantheon Amun, the fertility god Min, and the war god Montu all also wore the Double Feather Crown. Their characteristics might have been conveyed to the king when he wore the crown. The Double Feather Crown sometimes included Uraeus snakes and sun disks. The king wore this crown during one segment of the coronation. The Double Feather Crown could also be worn with the Atef Crown.

Tef Crown

The Atef Crown combined a cone-shaped central element that resembles the White Crown with the Double Feather Crown. Sahure (r. 2485-2472 B.C.E.) was the first king known to wear the Atef Crown, and it continued in use until the end of ancient Egyptian history. The god of the afterlife, Osiris, as well as the ram god Herishef, the royal god Horus, and the sun god Re all were depicted wearing an Atef Crown. In the New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.E.), the Atef Crown also bore a sun disk and Uraeus snakes. Thutmose III (1479-1425 B.C.E.) also added the fruit of the ished -tree (probably the persea tree) to the crown, associating it with the eastern horizon where this tree grows. The meaning of the word “atef” in Egyptian remains in dispute. It might mean “his might” or “his majesty.”


The blue and gold striped cloth arranged as a kerchief on the king’s head and called the Nemes is also very ancient. The earliest known representation was part of a statue of King Djoser (r. 2675-2654 B.C.E.). The Nemes is included in the emblem of the royal ka (spirit) called the Standard of the Ka. The Nemes’ association with the royal ka suggests that the Nemes somehow represents kingship itself. By the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539-1292 B.C.E.), the Nemes covered the king’s head while he wore other crowns on top of it. The king also wore the Nemes when he appeared as a sphinx, such as at the Great Sphinx of Giza, or when he appeared as the falcon god Horus. The Khat Kerchief and the related Afnet Kerchief may be the funerary equivalent of the Nemes. The pairs of statues that guard New Kingdom royal tombs wear the Khat and Afnet Kerchiefs. Tutankhamun’s mummy is also depicted wearing the Khat. The goddesses of mourning, Isis and Nephthys, also wore the Khat. This strong representation among funerary goods suggests that the Khat and Afnet aided in rejuvenation after death.

Cap Crown

The Cap Crown first appeared in the Old Kingdom (2675-2170 B.C.E.). Circles or horizontal lines decorate the cap crown in most representations. It is blue or gold in representations that include color. The preserved Cap Crown that Tutankhamun’s mummy (1332-1322 B.C.E.) wore, in contrast, was white and decorated with blue faïence and gold beads. The king often wore the Cap Crown when performing religious rituals. Queen Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten (1352-1336 B.C.E.), also wore the Cap Crown. Kushite kings of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (760-656 B.C.E.) wore a Cap Crown with a double Uraeus snake. The color of the Cap Crown and the circle decoration relates it to the Blue Crown. The Blue Crown, called the kheperesh in Egyptian, first appeared in the Second Intermediate Period (1630-1539 B.C.E.). It shares both the color and circle pattern with the older Cap Crown, and thus some Egyptologists believe they are related. The Blue Crown is most likely the crown that the king wore most often while performing his duties in life during the New Kingdom. Because the king also wears this crown while riding in a war chariot, the crown is sometimes called a war crown, though this is probably an error. The crown represents action, both in peace and in war. When combined with the Nemes, however, it represents a deceased king.

Women’s Crowns

Fewer crowns were available to royal women than to men, and they are slightly better understood. Female crowns relate clearly to goddesses and wearing them associated the queen or princess with the characteristics of the related goddess. The oldest known female crown is the Vulture Cap. The vulture was the sacred animal of the goddess Nekhbet of Upper Egypt. The hieroglyph of a vulture was the writing of the word “mother,” and thus the mother goddess Mut wore the Vulture Cap, too. The Vulture Cap thus associated the queen with Nekhbet and stressed her role as mother of the next king. Fertility and motherhood were also symbolized by cow horns added to the queen’s wig, a symbol of the goddess Hathor. Royal women after the Sixth Dynasty could wear the Uraeus snake, a solar symbol associated with the eye of the god Re. Since the Egyptians recognized the eye as the Lower Egyptian goddess Wadjit, wearing the Vulture Cap (Nekhbet) with the Uraeus (Wadjit) could symbolize the union of Upper and Lower Egypt. When queens wore tall feathers, they were meant to represent the eastern and western horizons. The feathers thus also connected the crown to the cult of Re who rose and set on the horizon as the sun. The base for the feathers was interpreted as the marsh of Khemmis, the place where the goddess Isis raised her child Horus, the infant king. Thus the crown could combine symbolism from both solar religion and funerary religion.

Jewelry and Amulets


Archaeology has provided many examples of Egyptian jewelry for study. Upper-class Egyptian men and women wore jewelry and considered it essential for being fully dressed. Jewelry served to protect people, according to Egyptian thought. The areas most in need of protection were the head, neck, arms, wrists, fingers, waist, and ankles. Thus hairpins, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, finger-rings, decorative girdles, and ankle bracelets all became popular as a means of protecting vulnerable areas. Unlike modern jewelers, who normally use casting to shape their products, Egyptian jewelers more often hammered sheet metal, then cut, shaped, crimped, and soldered it to make settings for stones. Jewelers also hand-wrought wires for chains. Often tomb jewelry was inexpensively gilded wood or steatite (soapstone) rather than solid gold. Only the wealthiest Egyptians could afford to bury solid-gold objects. People who could not afford jewelry made from precious metals and semi-precious stones but who still desired the protection it could give used flowers, seeds, and shells for personal adornment. The most popular inexpensive substitute material was faience. Faience is made from fired sand with a glaze made of soda-lime-silicate. Jewelers could make faience jewelry in molds. Thus faience could imitate nearly any shape. It also could be colored in a wide variety of shades from white to green to blue. Many scholars believe that, though inexpensive, faience was also popular because of its dramatic transformation from sand as a raw material to a glittering colored surface.


Many items of Egyptian jewelry were symbolic as well as expressions of wealth and status. The Egyptians thought that the gods’ flesh was gold and their bones were silver. Thus these two precious metals associated the wearer with the divine. Colorful semi-precious stones could also represent various ideas through symbolism. Red stones represented powers such as the sun. Green represented regeneration and growth, important for the symbolism of rebirth into the next world. Deep blue represented the heavens and the waters of the Nile. Royal jewelry beginning in the Old Kingdom had a standard red/green/blue pattern that tied together the most important concepts through symbolism.

Boatman’s Circlet

The Egyptians called the first known head ornaments worn both by men and women the boatman’s circlet. Originally it was a headband made of woven reeds that kept a boatman’s hair in place while he worked. Wealthy women such as Seneb-tisi who lived in the Twelfth Dynasty (1938-1759 B.C.E.) had a gold head circlet imitating the boatman’s headband. Princess Khnumet, also of the Twelfth Dynasty, was buried in a headband of gold imitating the reeds of a boatman’s circlet but with additional blue, red, and green stones to represent flowers.


A headband or circlet becomes a diadem when a royal person wears it. Gold headbands with added Uraeus-snake or vulture were worn by queens in the Twelfth Dynasty. Princess Sit-Hathor-Yunet wore a diadem with fifteen inlaid roundels, papyrus flowers, and a Uraeus-snake. A royal woman of the Eighteenth Dynasty wore such a diadem with a gazelle rather than a Uraeus, a sign she was a secondary queen.

Wig Decorations

Burials of the Twelfth and Eighteenth Dynasties also have revealed wig decorations. Seneb-tisi, a woman who lived in the Twelfth Dynasty included gold rosettes spaced at regular intervals on her wig. Princess Sit-Hathor-Yunet wore short gold tubes threaded on the hair of her wig. One of the royal women from the Eighteenth Dynasty wore a head covering of gold rosettes strung between beads over her wig.

Rings And Earrings

Finger rings of gold, silver, bronze, copper, or faience often incorporated hieroglyphic signs, especially signs for words that signified characteristics Egyptians prized. Thus jewelers made rings from the ankh (life) hieroglyphs along with signs for eternal existence, healing, protection, and stability. One popular ring form was a bezel or base for a scarab beetle with an inscription on the bottom. Often the inscription was the name of a king, a deity, or a wish for health. Unlike rings, which were standard jewelry long before 2000 B.C.E., ear ornaments joined Egyptian jewelry in the Second Intermediate Period (1630-1539 B.C.E.) and did not become popular until the New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.E.). Popular styles included hoops, pendants, studs, and plugs. Both men and women wore earrings, though kings did not wear them in representations, even though several royal mummies have pierced ears. Earrings were included among Tutankhamun’s treasures, but the mummy did not wear earrings even though he had pierced ears and wore many other kinds of jewelry. This is a puzzling contradiction.

Beaded Collars

In Egypt’s long history there were several trends or fads in jewelry. But the longest-lived item was the beaded collar. There were two types of beaded collars worn by men, women, and deities. They included the wesekh (“broad”) collar and the shenu (“encircling”) collar. The wesekh collar consisted of several rows of upright tube-shaped beads, strung close together. The bottom row used pendants shaped like a beetle, a symbol of eternal life, or a simple drop-shaped bead. The shenu collar used similar tube-shaped beads in alternating segments strung vertically and horizontally. Both collars were symmetrical, a general characteristic of Egyptian jewelry. They both also used the larger beads in the center and gradually reduce the size of the beads toward the edges, as well as terminals to gather the stringing of the beads. Finally they both used counterweights worn toward the back that relieved the weight of the necklace on the neck. The menat or counterweight also made it possible for the beaded collar to lie properly at the neck. The menat thus became a symbol of stability.


Simple beads on a string around the neck developed into both collars and chest ornaments called pectorals. A pectoral is a piece of jewelry that hangs over the chest. The first pectorals were pendants with the name of the king inscribed on them. They were made from precious metals often inlaid with semi-precious stones. Some examples were shaped like a shrine with the king’s name in a cartouche in the center. In the New Kingdom, pectorals often substituted a scarab for the king’s name. The scarab beetle was a symbol of the sungod. These scarab-beetle pectorals were worn only by mummies, not living people.

Arm/Leg Ornaments

The Egyptians wore armlets on their upper arms and bracelets on their forearms and anklets around their ankles. Both men and women wore armlets, bracelets, and anklets. All three could be either flexible or rigid. The flexible armlets, bracelets, and anklets were made from beads, while the rigid type is called a bangle, made from elephant ivory or precious metal. Bracelets were popular in both the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Armlets came into fashion only in the New Kingdom. Among the most famous sets of bracelets were the thirteen worn by Tutankhamun’s mummy. They were made from gold with inlays of precious stones. They included protective symbolism such as the vulture, the Eye of Horus that could represent healing, and the scarab beetle representing the sun god. Anklets are indistinguishable from bracelets. They can be either made from beads or can be rigid bangles made with a hinge. It would not be possible to pass a rigid bangle over the entire foot to reach the ankle. Thus they were made with hinges that allowed them to open. There are many representations of men and women wearing anklets, but they can only be recognized when a mummy is wearing one. Tutankhamun’s anklet, for example, looks exactly like a bracelet. Yet because it was discovered around his ankle, its true purpose is known.


Jewelers were represented in tomb paintings, relief, and on stelae. Tomb representations of jewelers show them at work at work benches and using their tools. In the tomb of the Sixth-dynasty (2350-2170B.C.E.) prime minister Mereruka, people who weigh precious metals then melt them are represented with gold workers and bead stringers. Several dwarves work as jewelers in this scene, a common phenomenon. Dwarves had an association with Ptah, the patron god of craftsmen. But also it is possible that the small hands of dwarves were an asset in working with jewelry. In the New Kingdom, the best representation of jewelers is in the tomb of another prime minister named Rekhmire (reign of Thutmose III, 1479-1425 B.C.E.). Here men are represented drilling stone beads and stringing them as if they were in an assembly line. Stelae include the names of jewelry workers and imply that they were at least middle-class workers.