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Social Role of Clothing in Ancient Egypt

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The development of the language and function of clothing and adornment within society during the dynastic period of Ancient Egypt.


From the great pyramids and the sphynx down to the burial chambers for the pharaohs. Ancient Egyptians are known throughout history as an intelligent civilisation, riddled with hidden language and sacred rituals. The people who aged during this time became familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the royals and learned recognise everything. Not everything relied on spoken language. Some relied heavily on dress codes, fabric, jewels and movement.

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Ancient Egyptians relied heavily on their attire and adornments to help segregate the classes and age groups. Children, slaves, men, women and pharaohs all had separate clothing that was appropriate for them and their stature.

With the definition of classes using clothing, textiles play a large role in this. Workers and pharaohs were required to wear different fabrics as only permitted to do so in certain areas to not anger the gods.

The jewellery and amulets worn by the people were always large and colourful. Adorned with stones, glass, gold and silver, these played not only an aesthetic role in culture but also a ceremonial and religious one.

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The Dynastic era of Ancient Egypt is an era that is synonymous with opulence and grandeur. The royals and the slaves were greatly divided through not only blood and wealth but also through garments and adornments. Each group of people had their own textiles they were permitted to wear and to stray from these was taboo. Much like the hierarchy in modern society, the lesser people had to come up with more creative ways of distinguishing themselves from each other whilst remaining within their constraints. Wigs, Makeup, jewellery and beads were all methods used to covey a status or a basic form of language.

Slaves were always naked; left to work relentlessly for the tyrants who owned them. Often branded only with the insignia of their captors. Workers and peasants wore simple white linen clothing to keep them cool and protected from the harsh desert climate. The pharaohs were permitted to wear animal pelts, crowns and adorn themselves with precious stones “The Pharaoh could wear six different crowns, which were the main insignia of his power.

Each had its own symbolic value; the two most important were the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red of Lower Egypt.” (Hagen and Hagen, 1999). This was to signify to the people their royal stature and further divide them from the commoners. The pharaohs and royalty were easy to distinguish throughout the land through their selected attire. These pieces were known to be synonymous with them. It was believed in their religion that the Pharaohs would take their place amongst the gods and goddess when they departed the realm. To dress in anything other than the extravagant garments would not be fitting of the gods.

The general population wore items much less opulent. Even with a civilisation as old as this one, the Ancient Egyptians still segregated the sexes my means of clothing and embellishments. The men were clothed in short white shendyts made from linen. These were sometimes pleated at the front and belted. The women donned more conservative apparel; a tight-fitting sheet dress of varying lengths, adorned with discarded feathers and crafted beads. The different lengths to the kalasiris symbolised different levels of stature. This could be worn either above or below the breast line and accessorised with many different trinkets.

The brave soldiers paid to fight in Egypt’s name, were dressed in leather with a leather shield for protection. These warriors believed they looked fearless and intimidating when a tail was attached to their garments. With the plethora of enemies Egypt had, it was essential for the warriors to be distinguished from the people.

The designs of Ancient Egyptian jewellery can be seen repeating through trends in modern day costume jewellery. Although meaningless to modern society, the original pieces held great significance and religious possession. “Jewelry and amulets help us understand ancient Egyptian religion, trade networking, and class” (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, 2018)

Jewellery was permitted to be worn by all classes and sexes, it was the textiles that differed. The poor community would wear large necklaces and pendants made from resources like clay, glass and material where the royals had access to gold, white gold, silver and semi precious stones. The Egyptians had an intricate eye for detail and were capable of distinguishing the varying shades of colour. Each colour held special representation and was used to signify different things. “Each color of stone represented a different characteristic and god which was believed to bring luck, protection, fertility, etc. For example the symbol of Eye of Horus was often depicted with green or turquoise stones which represents protection…” (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, 2018).

The pharaohs were often buried with these jewelleries as amulets to ease the passing into the afterlife on onto their trials for god status. That was why it became an important part of the burial ritual and many pieces of intricately calved and fashion amulets have been uncovered in the tombs of the great Kings of Egypt.

Words were not needed to be spoken about roles and royalty. Their garments, or lack there-of, conveyed the message better than what anyone could anticipate. Society relied heavily on subtle nudges.


In conclusion, without these differing textiles, trinkets and clothing the definition between all classes would be far more difficult. In a society that relied heavily on their religion and Pharaohs, the need to stand out from the commoners was a necessity and seen as being god like.

The ability to convey a story or your stature through your garments and accessories was not something solely owned by the Ancient Egyptians, but it was something that had been perfected by them. Enabling each class and sex to have their own signifiers made segregation easier. The population was quickly able to ascertain who was who and determine whether they were in trouble or simply communing with their fellow people.

Language is not something that is purely spoken or written. They may be the most common forms brought to mind but there are also subtle hints in everything. Clothing reserved for royalty is not worn by those who are not of blood, Jewellery for the Pharaohs was of a higher value and quality to that of slaves, Makeup can be used to covey emotion as well as signify rituals and battles. These subtle nudges form a basic language that everyone subliminally understands. The basic design of this is a fundamental part of any culture.

This universal language may have evolved to encompass an ever evolving and expanding world, but the basic understanding is still the same as that used by the Ancient Egyptians. It is thanks to this basic instinct that people are able to ascertain status amongst an assortment of people.


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