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Clothing Of The Egyptians

( Originally Published 1928 )



THEIR history has been recorded from 4000 B.C. The Pharaohs, or rulers, reigned until the conquest by Alexander the Great, 332 B.C. During this period the costuming was purely Egyptian. For authority we go to the wall paintings, bas-reliefs, statues and treasures of the tombs. There were thirty-one dynasties : during the fourth, 2900-2750 B.C., the pyramids were built; in the eighteenth, 1580-1350 B.C., were erected the obelisks now seen at New York, London and Rome; in the nineteenth dynasty, 1350-1205 B.C., the great Rameses reigned, and the children of Israel were oppressed. Herodotus, the Greek historian, visited Egypt in the fifth century before Christ and wrote of its costumes and people.

The opera of "Aida" is costumed in the period of the Pharaohs.

From 332 B.C. the Ptolemies (Greeks) ruled until the death of Mark Antony in 30 B.C. Historians tell us that Egyptian sculpture came under the influence of the Greeks, who introduced their gods and their arts into Egypt. Charles Knight says : "It is uncertain how much, or if any part, of the costume of the Pharaohs was retained by the Ptolemies" ; however, there is a sculpture in the great temple of Deudera, Upper Egypt, representing Cleopatra and her son, Caesarion, dressed in the costume of the Pharaohs. This is usually worn by actresses when playing the Queen. Sarah Bernhardt wore a mixture of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Arab, her hair a glorious red in striking contrast to Jane Cowl's black bob. Cleopatra was thirty-nine when she died, and granting that age could not wither her, the lady was hardly a flapper—a fact which actresses should consider when essaying the role.

From 30 B.C., the Roman emperors held sway until the successful invasion by the Arabs, 638 A.D. The opera "Thais" is timed during the early Christian period, when Egypt was under Roman rule.

From very early times Egypt was famous for its linen, so sheer that often tunics fashioned of it were worn one over another, arranged in starched folds resembling mod-ern accordion pleating, an effect plainly visible in many statues. Priests were allowed to wear linen only in the temples, in such regard was the fabric held; all mummies were wrapped in sheets of it.

The wall paintings in the British Museum give, evidence of the Egyptians' skill as dyers, a profuse intermixture of colors revealing a predominance of crimson and yellow.

The Kilt.—The principal garment of the men was made either of plain linen or some richer material, with a heavily embroidered girdle, often decorated with jewels, placed over it. To the kilt of a Pharaoh was added a lion's tail.

The Tunic.—Of sheer linen descending to the feet, this garment was worn sometimes over, sometimes under, the kilt, with long winglike sleeves. An old wall painting dated four thousand years before Christ, shows an Egyptian princess strolling in a tight-fitting garment like the dress slip of a modern woman, save that it is cut more immodestly low in the neck and more modestly long in the skirt, reaching to her ankles, the whole suspended by straps over the shoulders. Later, a broad girdle encircling the hips, was drawn very tight with long ends descending to the feet. Fringe was used as border trimming.

Jewelry and Ornamentation.—The upper part of the body was frequently covered with wide necklaces and breastplates of gold, rich with lapis lazuli, red jasper, turquoise, gold beads, and enameled work in which the Egyptians excelled. The Louvre and the British Museum are well stocked with jewelry taken from the tombs; scarab rings, bracelets and armlets in the form of serpents, pearl earrings, large pins to stick in the hair, wonderful beads in blue and green, rings in profusion—for all classes wore them—also amulets, placed in the tomb at time of death, to ward off evil.

A very pretty decoration for women was the laying of a blue lotus flower on the head so that it hung over the center of the brow. One wall painting shows a gathering of women—possibly an afternoon tea or the first federation of women's clubs—each adorned with a lotus flower in this fashion. These ladies were not strangers to cosmetics, their complexions showing a much fairer coloring than that of the men; apparently some form of liquid whitening was in use. Their eyes, as well as those of the men, were blackened with kohl, a powder considered beneficial to those organs. From the quantities of porphyry jars we know the women were much addicted to per-fumes and ointments. The hands and feet of both sexes were stained with henna.

Footgear.—The sandal had a long curved-back toe piece woven of palm leaves. Embroidered leather shoes, heelless and soft, were also in use.

Hairdressing.—Wigs of black wool were much worn by both men and women, and, as usual when wigs are in vogue, the natural hair was either cut short or shaved. Herodotus says the priests had shaven heads, whereas in other countries they left their hair long. The Horus lock was a braid hanging over one ear, a decoration of royal males in childhood. The beards of mummies are often woven with gold thread. False ones representing braided hair extending down from the chin, appear on coffin lids; one made of lapis lazuli inlaid on a gold base is on the recently discovered case of Tut-ankh-amen. The beard was only allowed to grow from the tip of the chin, but to the length of six or seven inches. On the stage, unless care is taken to stiffen, the beard waves in the air, every time an actor speaks, in a ludicrous way suggesting a goat's.

Crowns.—The uraeus was a serpent of gold wound about the head, its use restricted to royal personages. It frequently is incorrectly placed on the headdress of dancers and actresses impersonating Egyptians, no matter of what rank or character. A royal diadem of 3000 B.C. be-longing to Tut-ankh-amen is of gold made in a simple fillet style. A vulture and a serpent (uraeus) surmounting the band are removable. Carnelians, lapis lazuli and turquoise beads stud the fillet, also the long bow ends at the back. Gold uraei decorated in the same manner hang each side of the bow. The double crown of Egypt was a combination of the ancient white crown of Upper, with the red one of Lower, Egypt.



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