Egyptian Traditional Dress Biography
In ancient Egypt, linen was by far the most common textile. It helped people to be comfortable in the subtropical heat. Linen is made from the flax plant by spinning the fibers from the stem of the plant.Spinning, weaving and sewing were very important techniques for all Egyptian societies. Plant dyes could be applied to clothing but the clothing was usually left in its natural color. Wool was known, but considered impure. Only the wealthy wore animal fibers that were the object of taboos. They were used on occasion for overcoats, but were forbidden in temples and sanctuaries.
Peasants, workers and other people of modest condition often wore nothing, but the shenti (made of flax) was worn by all people. Slaves often worked naked.
The most common headdress was the khat or nemes, a striped cloth worn by men.
Royal clothing is particularly well documented, as well as the clothing and crowns of the Pharaohs.The pharaohs would wear leopard skins over their shoulders and added a lion’s tail to hang from their belt.
From about 2130 BC during the Old Kingdom, garments were simple.The men wore wrap around skirts known as the Shendyt, which were belted at the waist, sometimes pleated or gathered in the front. During this time, men's skirts were short. As the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, 1600 B.C., came, the skirt was worn longer. Then, around 1420 BC, there was a light tunic or blouse with sleeves, as well as a pleated petticoat.
During the Middle Kingdom it became the fashion for men and women to wear a short skirt known as the kalasiris, under their long sheer skirt.
During the Old, Middle and New Kingdom, Ancient Egyptian women often wore simple sheath dresses called kalasiris. Women's clothing in ancient Egypt was more conservative then men's clothing.The dresses were held up by one or two straps and were worn down to the ankle, while the upper edge could be worn above or below the breasts. The length of the dress denoted the social class of the wearer. Beading or feathers were also used as an embellishment on the dress. Over the dress, women had a choice of wearing shawls, capes, or robes. The shawl was a piece of cloth around 4 feet wide by 13 or 14 feet long. This was mostly worn pleated as well. Female clothes only changed slightly through the millennia. Draped clothing (with many varieties of drapery) sometimes gave the impression of completely different clothing. It was made of haïk, a very fine muslin.
Egypt had a range of traditional costumes. The farmers (fellahin) basically wear gallibayas. In the cities the upper classes adopted the clothes of their conquerors - Ottoman Turks from 1500s, and later European from 1798. To the south the Nubians have their own distinctive costume and across the desert the Bedouin also have a separate style of clothing.
Peasant women would wear a gallebaya outdoors but in the city gallibaya tended to be worn only indoors. For public wear a woman would wear a wide woman's dress called a tob sebleh.
Wide trousers were worn as underclothing (tshalvar or shintijan) gathered below knee and falling to ankles.
The woman's kaftan was called a yelek. This was lined, with the neck open to breast and buttoned or laced along side seams for shaping. It had high side slit over trousers. Girded with shawl. Women would wear a shirt under the yelek, and a djubbeh or binnish over it.
In Alexandria and Cairo, women would also wear the melaya luf - a large rectangular wrap worn for modesty, warmth, and used to carry things.
City women often worn a bur`a - a long rectangular face veil either of white cotton or open weave - and a headscarf (sometimes over a skullcap - taqiyah). Another headcovering was the mandil (headscarf) sometimes decorated with pom poms. Among the fellahin a bag like hattah was sometimes worn.
Basic traditional Egyptian garment for men is a long shirt (gallibaya). Tilke also distinguishes one with a looser fit under the arms (eri) and very wide version of the gallibaya called a kamis which was worn by fellahin. While working fellahin would hitch up the skirt of the gallebaya and wrap it around their thighs.
Trousers (sserual) were sometimes worn under the gallebaya.
Over the gallebaya a kaftan (often striped) was worn. A kaftan is a full length garment like a coat with long wide sleeves open in front and often bound by a fabric belt (hizan). Over the kaftan was a binish - a cloth overcoat with wide sleeves - often slit below usually dark grey and unlined. Alternatively, a djubbeh which had was more complex cut than the binish could be worn especially by Turks during the Ottoman occupation. The `ulama also wore a jubbah over stripped kaftan. The jubbah was a long, wide sleeved gown which reached to feet and was buttoned half way down.
Tarbushes, shishas (1926) However, from the 1800s European dress replaced traditional dress among the Ottoman court and this was taken up by members of the elite. Therefore, senior civil servants and members of the ruling intelligentsia could be seen in Egypt in European style clothing.
However European headwear was not adopted. Instead Sultan Mahmud Khan II decreed that checheya heargear would be worn. In Egypt this was called "tarboosh". Later Mohammed Ali was to incorporate the tarboosh as part of the military uniform. This was abolished as headwear after the 1952 revolution. For further information on the layers worn see Male Headewear
What was not worn by Egyptians was the Arab kufeya and `igal - except possibly among some Bedouin.
Nubia straddles the south of Egypt and the North of the Sudan. After the building of the Aswan dam many Nubians were relocated in Aswan. Nubians belong to five main tribes - two of which (Kanuz and Fadija) are in Egypt. The Kanuz people are the northernmost.
The Kanuz women wear dresses formed by horizontal lengths of fabric each of which is longer than the one above giving a dress with almost a flounce at the bottom. For special occasions - such as weddings a semi-transparent layer is added over the dress. Fadija women wear a wrapped garment a little like a sari.