Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Clothing

Ancient Egyptian clothing consisted of the same basic elements for hundreds of years. Most garments were based on rectangles of flax. The Egyptians had an appealing fashion sense, with an awareness of line and style to enhance female and male beauty. In a land of sometimes scorching heat, where all work was performed manually and with simple tools, the Egyptians made use of their resources and limited technology to create beauty and sophisticated designs that survived them by more that three thousand years.

Walk Like an Egyptian, by chatirygirl, CC, Some rights reserved, via Flickr
A diorama of ancient Egyptians in the Royal Museum of Scotland
The people of ancient Egypt celebrated the beauty of people, textiles, jewelry, artistically applied makeup, elaborately dressed hair -- and skilled artists left images of Egyptians of all occupations and social classes in timeless ancient Egyptian garments. Whether you want to develop your own fashion sense, explore how fashion has evolved from antiquity to contemporary runway fashion, research the daily lives of ancient Egyptians or make an ancient Egyptian costume, learning about ancient Egyptian clothing will give you a sense of sensual, lasting style.

Ancient Egyptian Men's Clothing

The men's garment, called the shenti, wrapped around the body at the waist. Some versions had cords attached to tie the garment, and in other versions the fabric's knotted at the waist or held up with a knotted cloth belt.

Ancient Egyptians by Alkan de Beaumont Chaglar,
CC, Some rights reserved, via Flickr
Over time, the shenti evolved from a short, form-fitting kilt to a longer kilt, extending to the knee and then to the ankle. Egyptian men often went shirtless and sometimes wore a simple shirt-like garment with their shenti, usually belted with cloth. In later dynasties, some Egyptian men wore a tunic reaching to the knees over the shenti. Egyptian men wore loincloths made of linen or leather, either as their sole garment or under a shenti.

Priests in ancient Egypt are often shown wearing long robes, usually in white linen. One type of priest wears a leopard skin over one shoulder.

Working men usually wear only a kilt, the shenti. Some styles of shenti project forward from the body in front in a wedge shape and are usually knotted at the waist. This style often has fine pleats. There are simple shirts in Egyptian men's clothing, generally a simple tunic style, with or without sleeves. 

Egyptian farmers grew flax and women wove the flax into linen. Rectangles of linen formed sheaths, tunics, shentis, capes and robes. Undyed, natural linen seems to have been the most popular fabric for Egyptian clothing, and some examples survive. In later periods, Egyptian clothing became more intricately pleated.

Egyptian Relief From the Ashmolean Museum by Alun Salt, CC, Some rights reserved, via Flickr

 The Tomb of Nefertari (18th Dynasty)

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Note the high-waisted gowns. Nefertari was the great wife of Ramesses II, the powerful pharaoh also called Ramsses the Great. He built a monumental temple in Nefertari's honor. Although she had several children, they all seem to have died before their father, who had an unusually long reign. Ramesses had many wives and Nefertari was clearly his favorite. Nefertari's tomb lies in the Valley of the Queens and displays some of the finest and most colorful tomb paintings ever discovered. A commentator on a PBS special suggested the tomb painters expressed their love for Queen Nefertari through their art.

Ancient Egyptian Dresses in Nefertari's Tomb Paintings

The ancient Egyptian dresses depicted in the tomb display the classic figure-enhancing style -- close fitting sheaths the fit closely below the breasts and through the torso and hips, and fall gracefully to the floor. The gowns' straps are usually wide straps over the shoulders, and sometimes the gowns have soft sleeves. Most of the gowns are the classic white or cream of linen, but one notable gown is a bright coral -- a popular color in ancient Egyptian jewelry. In the tomb paintings, Nefertari and the ancient Egyptian goddesses often wear the wide jeweled collar that was popular for men and women for centuries. Nefertari and the goddesses also wear elaborate headdresses.

Egyptian clothing for women included a form-fitting sheath. In early versions this ancient Egyptian dress has two wide shoulder straps and the skirt falls from just below the bust. The close-fitting bodice and skirt made of translucent linen showed the figure through the cloth. These gowns were ankle-length. Certain gowns followed the same lines, except with one shoulder strap instead of two. Later Egyptian dresses sometimes had sleeves.

Ancient Egyptian fashion often featured linen so fine it was transparent, showing women's figures clearly through the gracefully draped fabric. Bare-breasted ancient Egyptian clothing styles were common for all classes of women, either gowns that started just below the bust, or brief costumes similar to a sarong, such as those worn by dancing girls or acrobats shown in art by ancient Egyptians. Female musicians are also shown performing bare-breasted. The images of ancient Egyptian women of all classes and occupations appear natural and respectful, without the prurience or figure distortions common in western images of women's bodies.
Altes Museum (Berlin) - Nefertiti 01 by George M. Groutas,
CC, Some rights reserved, via Flickr

It's sometimes challenging to tell whether a specific image of an ancient Egyptian woman is intended as a queen or goddess, because queens are sometimes shown with the attributes of goddesses, including the same headdresses. Royal women wore the most detailed headdresses. One of the most famous portraits in the world, the bust of Nefertiti, the wife of pharaoh Akhenaten shows the queen wearing a close fitting tall crown and a wide jeweled collar. The crown is probably missing a cobra. Nefertiti may have ruled Egypt on her own after Akhenaten's death, possibly even as a pharaoh -- as some other female rulers did, although the evidence remains sketchy.

Egyptian clothing for women and men tended to be practical for the hot climate and the activities of the wearer. The Egyptians had an eye for beauty and fashion. Hair styles were often ornamented and men and women sometimes wore elaborate wigs -- including the mummies. The dead were often laid out with a wig on.

In addition to their high-profile roles as queens, princesses, priestesses, healers and even pharaohs, ancient Egyptian women were also warriors. Although images of women fighting in battle were originally considered imaginative, evidence has emerged proving that ancient Egyptian women fought alongside men, according to a fascinating article about women in ancient Egypt on the BBC website.

Updated February 10, 2012 copyright 2011 Travis Arts, all rights reserved.


Canadian Museum of Civilization: Mysteries of Egypt: Clothing and Adornment 

Emory University: Michael C. Carlos Museum:  Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art

From Warrior Women to Female Pharaohs: Careers for Women in Ancient Egypt  


  1. An impressive post, I just gave this to a colleague who is doing a little analysis on Linen Sarongs. And he is very happy and thanking me for finding it. But all thanks to you for writing in such simple words. Big thumb up for this blog post!

  2. Thank-you - this was very helpful. Thanks for giving up your time to make a useful and reliable source. Currently doing a project on Ancient Egyptian fashion - got most of what I needed from here!

  3. could you do one for children egyptain clothing it would have been more helpful-alot helpful

    1. ancient Egyptian kids ofen wore no garmets

  4. do you think you could write the publisher

  5. Egyptian women had no idea of Islam


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