Ancient Egypt to Present the Costume and Culture Term Paper

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Ancient Egypt to Present: Costume & Culture

This paper discusses widely various aspects of life in Egypt from ancient times to the present. Ideally, daily life for common citizens as well as life for royalty in Egypt will be compared with the different methods of dress and textiles used for Egyptian peoples. Also, a great deal of focus will be brought onto the culture, laws, and rights of the people. A significant portion of this paper will discuss various items of jewelry, adornments such as headdresses and tattoos; as well as various wigs and hairstyles, along with other methods of body care and treatments.

Although ancient Egyptians had very little variety to the style and type of clothing worn, the exception to this rule was Egyptian royalty ( However, in modern Egypt, since the acceptation of the Muslim faith, a small percentage of women choose to wear the traditional hijab (robe with a veil), but most women and men also wear fashions greatly influenced by Western culture; such as, jeans, loose fitting shirts that are layered, comfortable sandals or flats, and perhaps a veil (Abaza, 282). This style of dress for modern Egyptians is known as "ethnic chic" or "Islamic chic."

Clothing & Textiles

From ancient times to the present there is one unwavering factor that influences the style of dress for Egyptians: the weather. Egyptians have always been subject to extremely dry, hot weather that is punctuated only briefly by monsoons during summer ( These means that clothing has, and always will be of a lighter weight cotton fabric meant to protect skin from the sun but also keep the wearer cool ( In modern day Egypt, as was mentioned previously, clothing is mostly worn in light layers, however, for some people who were working outdoors in Egypt little was worn but a small loincloth (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). Even after the production and manufacturing of wool was discovered, linen was the main textile in Egypt, which was made from the woven fibers of flax, which could range in color from light brown (a mature flax plant), white (from washing and drying in the sun), and pale green (a young, not fully mature flax plant); the colors along with the stiffness and volume carried connotations of status (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). The tools used to weave the yarns of flax, which would then become linen were rudimentary wooden spindles and a pottery spinning bowl, which eventually became wooden loom tools and different types of sewing needles (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). Modern day Egypt still use linen for clothing, but have also expanded to using muslin, chiffon, gauze and cotton (Russel, 21). During the nineteenth century, advertisements for Singer sewing machines began to be introduced into the Egyptian market for women, most likely increasing the manufacturing abilities in clothing and textiles (Russel, 24).

Laundry and washing was a particularly tiresome task that took a lot of energy for Egyptians to complete, but a task that was required nonetheless as they definitely believed that cleanliness was next to the gods (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). As the was no soap during this time, servants in the pharaohs palace would have whole teams to complete the laundry, including a "chief washer to the pharaoh," who was in charge of making sure everything got done (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). The procedure was to manually beat, wash (with lye and castor oil, or some sort of soapy plant base like soapwort), rinse, and then wring out each piece of linen, which was transferred to the outdoors to dry (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). Common people usually had an even harder time washing their clothing because they had no access to boiler pots, and usually went to the river banks to do the washing, or hauled water back to their homes in earthen pots (Ancient Egypt: Clothing).

Compared to common citizens, who usually wore plain linen tunics, skirts or loincloths; Egyptian royalty had a completely different way of dressing which spoke to their wealth and importance that such beautiful items for dressing were available to them ( Royalty usually had a garment for every body part, with men wearing elaborate tunics complete with kilts that would usually have detailed shawls or wraps, topped off by intricate headdresses. Female royalty would also wear skirts and tunics, but also had long, snug-fitting dresses with slits in the front to show the legs, perhaps with complicate pleating or specialty dye jobs, which were rare, but not unknown (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). Most people went barefoot in Egypt, but when an occasion was called for shoes they usually made them out of strips of reed or leather that was fashioned into an upturned thong or kind of slipper, depending on the style needed for the season (Ancient Egypt: Clothing). Sandals were available to everyone effect the very poorest people, and the pharaoh himself could be seen wearing intricate golden sandals, but often was portrayed as going barefoot as well (Ancient Egypt: Clothing).

Adornments & Beauty

In addition to their clothing, royalty would further dress themselves with elaborate jewelry, tattoos, piercings, perfumed oils, wigs and makeup. Women and men of important and wealth had access to beautiful jewelry that ranged from bangles, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and neck pieces to rings, anklets, pendants, amulets, hair pieces and loose jewels for decorating the hair or clothing (Batten, 154). Materials for the jewelry were usually made from gold metals, gems and pearls (Batten, 156). Both men and women would wear rings, earrings, bracelets and armlets ( Since men and women were obsessed with cleanliness, their heads would often be shaved, along with any other body hair, and wigs would be worn to formal parties in lieu of natural hairstyles ( Usually, young girls would wear their hair short, or with pigtails, and boy would shave their heads except for a small lock of hair, to protect them from head lice (Chaudhri, and Jain 164). Wigs could be made from "sheep's wool or human hair" which would be groomed and kept clean by placing an oil cone on the top which would melt, leaving the wig shiny and pleasant smelling (Chaudhri, and Jain 164).

Smell was extremely important to Egyptians, and to be a smelly person or with bad breath was enough for public shamefulness (Chaudhri, and Jain 165). As master's of perfumery and essential oil distillation, Egyptians used perfumed oils and cone solids in every life; for protection from the sun, for moisture during dry weather, to cleanse the skin during bathing, and to condition and perfume one's body and hair (Chaudhri, and Jain 165; In addition to using various oils for body care, Egyptians were also the forerunners or cosmetics and dyes for the body. For "lips, cheeks and nails, a clay called red ochre was ground and mixed with water. Henna was used to dye the fingernails yellow or orange," (Chaudhri, and Jain 165). Other makeup that was heavily used for cosmetic purposes and for eye protection was a substance called Kohl, which was made using a gray lead ore, burnt almonds, lead, antimony, oxidized copper or ash that was then mixed with oil and applied to the eyes using a stick (; Chaudhri, and Jain 164). This Kohl makeup was believed to protect eyes from the sun's rays, to heal eye infections or bring back poor eyesight to the wearer ( Various dyes were used to color the skin, hair, eye brows, and cheeks (Chaudhri, and Jain 164).

Some tools and equipment used for beauty included highly polished mirrors for applying makeup and various cosmetics; small jars or boxes for any makeup product like Kohl, solid perfumes, oils, cleansing creams, dyes, or powders; and special stands or boxes for storing wigs and hairpieces ( When going out to a party or special occasion women would often bring their makeup kits with them and store them under their seat (Chaudhri, and Jain 164). In today's modern Egypt the cosmetics industry has expanded to include various products for self-tanning, skin lightening cream, deodorants, various kinds of soaps, perfumes, and dental care (Russel, 21).

Contemporary Egypt

Egypt did not being to see advertising for different soaps, cosmetics and fashion until the turn of the century 1900s, where the first sorts of advertisements to come out were aimed at women with different perfumed soaps (Russel, 24). By the 1900s the Muslim faith was already a very important part of how women chose to dress. The first advertisement for various department stores and dress shops sometimes made Egyptian women feel included, in that they could come in and get personalized fittings, for looser styles but still Western and Islamic friendly; however, some of the shops pushed the highly stylized clothes of Paris, which did not fit Egyptian women's mindset, body type or clothing requirements (Russel, 26). By the 1920s the market was starting to change in advertising which now portrayed high quality materials in either a Western style dress of those women who chose to wear a veil (Russel, 29). However, a change…

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