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Egyptian And Asiatic Costumes And Dress

( Originally Published 1926 )

"They wear linen tunics fringed round the legs, which they call calasiris, and over these they throw white woolen mantles; woolen clothes, however, are not carried into the temples, nor are they buried with them, for that is accounted profane."

The Egyptians believed in life after death. With that end in view they built their tombs and preserved their dead. Their dwellings were temporary, the materials being of a light texture, probably mud, reeds, and bricks; but the tombs were to be the permanent resting-place, hence their stability. "They were a gloomy people with a gloomy religion; the soul could not exist without the body, therefore the embalming and preservation of the mummies in the tombs."

The opening of the tomb of Tut-ankh-amen in 1923 and the discovery of his household furniture, chariots, jewelry, and even costumes, gave an impetus to the designers of materials and dress which recreated the atmosphere of Egypt, and one might well have imagined oneself back in those ancient days, with their wealth of color and queer angular designs. From the paintings found on the walls it is comparatively easy to reconstruct scenes in the life of these people.

The season is the fall and the Nile has returned to its banks; the farmers are working in the fields, ploughing the soil and planting their crops of wheat and barley. Along the road comes a group of slaves dressed in blue linen, their black bodies shining in the hot sun. They are a part of the hundred thousand men martyred every three months in building the Pyramids, and are on their way from the quarries back in the hills.

Following them into the city, we pass homes where the ordinary occupations are being carried on. Some families are sitting in the open having their morning meal, the men wearing the same short apron like garment that was worn by the slaves, the women and children in bright colors, red, yellow, and green. In front of other houses the men are weaving, while the women, like our modern women, are carrying on business in the market places.

It is the day of a religious procession and the road is soon filled with groups of people. Men of high station are being carried in a seat swung between two mules; they are dressed in immaculate white linen over which a second garment of white wool is thrown. They are adorned with necklaces, collars, armlets, and anklets of gold set with precious stones. Their head-dress is cap-like, with a circular curtain which falls over their shoulders to protect from the great heat of the desert. Fine, healthy specimens they are, and show the excessive cleanliness which is a part of their religion.

Occasionally a group of ladies are seen; their dress is similar to that of the men, except their single garment reaches to the ankle and is gay in color. They too wear the head-dress, but it is made in the shape of a bird, the head coming out over the forehead, and the wings forming part of the protection for the neck and shoulders; their black hair shows on the forehead in tight curls, but is covered on the sides by strings of beads, and curls from the wig that was worn by most Egyptians. Around their necks they wear a flat collar of brilliant-colored embroidery or jewels. The women of Egypt are held in great respect and are accorded many privileges, being allowed to dine with their husbands and to be seen in public places.

The crowd grows denser, the city is in view. Young men when meeting their elders step aside to allow them to pass, or, if acquaintances, salute with the hand hanging down at the side of the knee. From the river comes the sound of music, men and women from the outlying districts are arriving in boats; some of the women are playing the castanets while others sing and clap their hands; the men play flutes and also sing.

A procession of priests who are to conduct the sacrifice descend the temple steps; shining white linen robes, dazzling in the sunshine, shoes made from the byblus-plant; they are carrying long wands and wearing masks in the shape of the sacred ibis, hawk, bull, and ram. Their towering head-dresses denote their rank and represent the Nile and the plants which grow on its banks.

The sacred bull, a pure-white animal without a blemish, is being led to the place of sacrifice. The people fall in line and the procession fades into the distance. So we may picture to ourselves the colorful scenes of centuries ago.

They showed all the characteristics of the African race, deep, swarthy complexion, splay feet, with spreading toes, long, swinging arms, sharp shoulders, and square, flat hands. The profile was placed obliquely on the spine, and the jaws and chin were very prominent, and wherever the hair showed in painting or sculpture it had the tight curl of the African.

The clothing was light and diaphanous, due to the extreme heat. The lower portion of the body was covered with an apron-like garment, wrapped so tight that it was difficult to take a step; the length of this garment varied at different periods, showing the influence of other peoples, especially the Greeks. Necklaces, bracelets, armlets, and other jewels in the form of beetles, dragons, asps, and strange symbolic eyes decorated the neck, arms, and ankles. Two belts, one below the bust and one at the waist-line, were supported by embroidered straps which crossed at the shoulders. Some of the figures show a tunic reaching from the shoulders to the feet ; this was probably worn by the highest order of men and women.

The Egyptians were expert wig-makers, wigs being a fashion common to both men and women. They also wore heavy head-dresses which covered the entire head, and often towered high above. The neck and shoulders were generally covered with lappets for protection against the heat. The decoration was symbolic; priests used feathers, lotus-leaves, birds, and other natural forms to denote their rank. Isis and her attendants may be recognized by the "disk and horn, representative of the orb and phases of the moon." In religious processions masks were worn representing the head and bust of various sacred animals, such as the ibis, the hawk, the bull, the dog, and the ram.

Materials. The byblus and papyrus plants furnished materials for the tighter and shorter costumes, the narrow ribs showing on the apron which was wrapped around the thighs. Flax and occasionally cotton were used for the more ample dresses, heavily embroidered with color and gold for the wealthy classes. Herodotus speaks especially of the linen garments, which were kept spotless. The lower classes wore an indigo-dyed linen, and green, yellow, red, blue, and violet were quite commonly used for embroideries and even entire garments.

The Egyptians were especially successful in the use of the primary and secondary colors. The men wore a white wool outer garment, which was discarded upon entering the temples; it was considered profane to carry any material made from an animal fibre into the presence of their gods. Silk was not known until after the Roman conquest in 332 B.C., when flowing draperies were introduced by the Greeks and Romans.

The linen wrappings found on the mummies were so well preserved that they could be laundered after thousands of years, and textile experts have been able to form a clear idea of the method used in weaving; the thread was thrown downward instead of upward, as is done by all of the other early people. Herodotus states that the men stayed at home and wove while the women trafficked in the markets. Some of these linens have the lustre of silk and are so fine we marvel they could be made by the simple Egyptian methods.

Asiatics.—Since civilization progressed from Egypt to Greece by means of the people of the "Fertile Crescent," costume may be studied through the bas-reliefs and sculpture left by them.

The Hebrews have left no monuments or records that are of much value to the student of costume. The Phoenicians and Assyrians probably influenced their fashion in dress, being of the same origin. We are in the habit of thinking of their dress as it is erroneously pictured by the painters of the sixteenth century.

Assyrians.—Assyrian civilization nearly parallels that of Egypt, and its influence is felt in most of the old monuments of Greece and Etruria and in the sculpture and paintings on Greek vases. The dress of the Assyrians is more modern in character than that of Egypt, and shows a greater knowledge of construction. Pantaloons were worn by the men and women, and a vest-like garment, high in the neck and with long sleeves, covered the upper part of the body.

The pantaloons reached to the ankles, where they were either tied or were held in place by the shoe. The vest was closed in front by buttons or clasps. Over these garments was worn a mantle with a fringe attached, not woven on like that of the Greeks. The material of the vest or tunic was heavily embroidered, painted, or woven in patterns, the designs being sprigs, stripes, zigzags, lozenges, and checks. Color played a large part in design.

Hair-dressing. The men were effeminate, they painted their eyebrows and covered their black hair with gold powder and gold threads, their beards and hair being curled like the Egyptians'. The women's hair was not curled, but was banded in a way similar to that of the Greeks; great care was taken of it, and they rivalled the Egyptians in the making of wigs. They were fond of precious ointments and perfumed the entire body. Each person of high estate had his parasol-bearer, who followed him, grasping the long handle, which supported a fringed and curtained canopy.

Their entertainments were very elaborate; the guests, dressed in scarlet robes and resplendent with jewelry and heavy with cosmetics, were received in rooms with brilliantly painted walls and floors covered with carpets that were the envy of the known world. The banquet of rich meats and fruits was served on gold and silver plates by slaves; others perfumed the guests with their choice of five perfumes, saffron, cinnamon, nard, fenugreck, and lily, carried in vases of gold. Flowers decorated the rooms and soft music filled the air, but, unlike the Egyptians, the guests were not crowned with flowers until leaving for their own homes.'

Parthians, Medes, and Persians.—The dress of the Parthians, Medes, and Persians was similar to that of the Assyrians, except that they added a tunic of a different texture and pattern, reaching to the thigh. This was clasped on the shoulder, and held in place at the waist by a girdle. The older men added to this garment a long mantle which was bordered by a distinct fringe, sewed to the edge of the material. The women when at home wore skirts over their pantaloons, but the Amazons when at war dispensed with these, or shortened them to the knee. The materials used for these garments were varied, from the skins of animals, which were used for the pantaloons, to the thinnest kind of tissue richly embroidered or painted in all-over designs.

Head-dresses.—Many of the present types of head-dresses or caps have their origin among those worn by these Asiatic peoples. The Parthians had a cylindrical cap, wider at the top than the bottom, with a diadem surrounding the crown or decorated with different emblematic ornaments. This was called "mitra" by the Greeks, and is still worn by Armenian priests. The "cidaris" was the distinguishing cap of the Medes and Persians; it was conical in shape, some-times with a point, and at others cut off like the mitra, and was generally loaded with ornaments.

The Phrygian bonnet, perhaps the most familiar of all these' caps, had the point or top bent forward, like our liberty-cap. Its four long flaps were made from the paws of animals. The cap might be of soft material or of metal richly embossed. The lighter caps often dispensed with two of the flaps, and had the others fastened together at the top of the head with a string. This bonnet was worn by the officers of the Byzantine Empire, and was borrowed from them by the dignitaries of the Turkish Empire and the Doge of Venice. When worn by the Amazons, "we often see the beak with the bill of the griffin, and the spine or baok of the casque rise in the jagged crest of that fabulous animal—with whom the Amazons are represented as constantly at war." ' Minerva is sometimes represented in a helmet of this kind.

Foot-gear.—The shoes of the Eastern people also show a fair knowledge of construction, for, owing to the colder climate, they were made like half-boots, laced in front, not unlike a moccasin, with hanging flaps made of the legs of animals; they wore shoes and slippers, but never the sandals of the Greeks, which left the toes bare.

Compared with modern dress the Asiatics far outdistanced the Egyptians. They must have been much farther advanced in a knowledge of construction, their garments showed thought in cutting, fitting, and sewing together. They were also the first of the "trousered race" or "Barbarians," as they were called by the Greeks and Romans. The dress of the modern Persian is practically the same as that of his far-away ancestor.

The women of the Oriental nations East Indians, Singalese and some others still follow the type of dress worn by the Egyptians; a' strip of material several yards long is wrapped tightly around the lower part of the body and a sari or shawl is draped over one shoulder and under the other arm. They have added a modern touch, however, by wearing a white waist beneath this shawl.

The women of modern Egypt wear black when appearing out-of-doors. Among the lower classes even the face-veil is black, with a curious brass cylinder in the centre of the forehead, having one, two, or three rings, depending upon whether the woman is single, engaged, or married. Color is supplied by the men, who are very gay in their long broad-cloth coats of green, blue, violet, and deep red, their broad sashes, and cashmere scarfs, which they throw carelessly over their shoulder in the daytime, and use to cover their head and neck as soon as the sun has set.

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