History of fashion: ancient egyptian accessories

Published: 16th December 2009
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Jewelry and ornaments
Ancient Egyptian attire, with the exception of nobility's garments, was simple and unadorned. Color and wealth were displayed through accessories, mainly jewelry, which both men and women wore. The simple white pleated clothing was often richly enhanced with wide collars made of shells, beads, flowers, and precious stones set in gold - a style that originated during the Old Kingdom. However these decorative pieces were only a sample of the range of jewelry available. Jewelry was part of ancient Egyptian wardrobe since before the Dynasties and Egyptians had mastered the art of jewelry making. Necklaces, armlets, bracelets, and anklets were made of gold, coral, pearl, agate, onyx, and chalcedony. Silver was the substance of the gods' bones and was mainly used for ornamentation.

Accessories also had religious or political significance. The pharaohs' regalia was highly symbolic. The cobra, worn on both the crown and the hood-like head-dress, was a symbol exclusive to kings in Egypt. And so was the ankh, which was a sacred sign of life. The crook and flail represented authority over the land and the people. Amulets, such as scarab beetles, were worn in life and then buried with the dead for protection.

Flowers were often used as adornment, not only for their beauty, but also for their sacred qualities. Archeologists have found mummies wearing collars of flowers. These were often used in religious ceremonies.

Hair and head-dresses
Hair styles indicated a person's position. Children's hair, for example, was short with a long strand falling from the right-hand side of the head. Married women often wore shoulder-length locks, which framed the face while the rest of the hair fell down the back of the head. Premarital women and young servant girls sometimes held their hair with ringlets to either side of the face.

Hair could be either concealed or revealed by a head-dress. The most famous of ancient Egyptian headgear were the pharaohs' crowns, such as the red crown of Lower Egypt, the towering white crown of Upper Egypt, the double crown of united Egypt (i.e. the combined red and white crowns), and the blue crown of battle.

The ubiquitous fabric head-dress, the bulky klaft, primarily served to protect the wearer from the heat of the sun. Made from a thick material, it was fixed at the temples and fell in folds over the shoulders.

Wigs were worn by both men and women. They had both a functional and aesthetic purpose. Because of the heat and the habitual preoccupation with cleanliness, royalty and the nobility shaved their heads and wore wigs made of real hair. The poor, on the other hand, wore wigs made of wool. Cleopatra is known to have possessed wigs in several hair shades. Women's wigs reached their greatest proportions in the New Kingdom, falling below the shoulder and featuring ornate accessories such as gold bands and rings, colored glass and jewels. Men wore wigs mainly for religious events.

Prior to the 9th century B.C., there is little evidence of footwear being worn by either kings or priests, nor in depictions of deities. However, by 814 B.C., sandals appeared. They consisted of two straps and a sole and protected the feet from the hot desert sand, while keeping them cool. Both men and women wore the same type of sandals, made in a coiled technique using grass and clean palm leaves, papyrus, wood, and goat skin. Shoes were for indoor wear; they would be carried during a journey, and put on when a party arrived at their destination.

Beauty and grooming
Hygiene was very important in ancient Egypt, in part due to the local climate and life conditions. Egyptians followed strict grooming regimes, often dictated by decrees. They had their skin exfoliated, rubbed their bodies with oils, body scrubs, or incense, cleaned their teeth by chewing the root of Salvadora persica, and kept their breath fresh by gargling with milk and chewing herbs.

Both men and women wore make-up. Women lightened their skin with a yellow ocher color. Men used orange-tinted paint to darken their face skin. Black kohl or green malachite powder was used to underline the eyes. Eyebrows were enhanced with grey powder. Red lip gloss was mixed from fat and ocher. Rouge was also popular.

Make-up and perfumes were made and sold by priests who kept their formulas secret. They extracted the scent from plants and flowers by steeping them in oil to create an essential oil. The substance was stored in cloth and later tightly wrung to collect the perfume drops.


The author is the founder and owner of Adriana Allen LLC - a European fashion brand offering handmade and one-of-a-kind handbags and fashion accessories. You can learn more about world fashion, fashion's history, and how to buy fashion accessories at our official blog

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