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Ancient Egyptian Dress

“ The dress of the ancient Egyptians consisted not simply of the egyptian clothes they wore but also of elaborate costume jewelry which served to embellish their usually plain costumes, wigs which they wore over their own cropped hair, and striking cosmetics which not only enhanced their features but were also thought to have hygienic and medicinal qualities was another addition to their egyptian
costume Jewelry. Their clothing was simple and did not change a great deal over the millennia, although more elaborate styles did appear during the New Kingdom. The universal material was linen, which was light and cool to wear. Wool seems almost never to have been used, possibly because of religious taboos, although the native Egyptian sheep were not wool bearing, and cotton was unknown until the Coptic period. Egyptian Garments were

draped round the body rather than tailored, and sewing was kept to a minimum. The chief form of decoration was pleating, and from examples of garments which have survived it is clear that a mechanical process was used to put the small, regular pleats into the cloth and' that some form of starch or size was used to fix them. The nature of the implement which created the pleats is unknown, but it may have consisted of a board cut in peaks and grooves into which the cloth was pressed. Coloured or patterned cloth was rarely used. One reason for this is that it is very difficult to fix dyes into linen without a mordant, the use of which was unknown in ancient Egyptian. Garments with coloured patterns are depicted in tombs and a few examples have survived, but the technique of their production was not native.
It was developed in the Near East and only brought to the Egyptian with the introduction of the vertical loom. The use of woven patterned textiles by the Egyptians was never wide spread and may have been limited to the royal household. Let us briefly survey the changing fashions of ancient Egyptian up to the New Kingdom, after which there was little change or development. The basic egyptian costume for men, throughout the period, was a kilt, falling to just above the knee and made of a rectangular piece of linen folded round the body and tied at the waist with a knot or fastened with a buckle. Variations on this simple theme include a squared end, a rounded end, a starched front forming an apron, and pleating.

In the Old Kingdom this is the only type of male costume depicted, although a cloak of some sort must have been added for cool weather. Official and ceremonial attire was more complicated. Priests, for example, wore leopard skins wrapped around their torso and falling over the kilt like an apron. Working men often wore only a twist of linen around their loins or went naked. Children are also frequently depicted naked, as are those indulging in rigorous exercise. Women wore simple sheath dresses falling from the breast to just above the ankle. These appear to have been made of a rectangle of material sewn down one side, roughly hemmed and with straps attached to the top edge to support the dress. Their extreme figure hugging style may be put down partly to artistic licence the desire of the artist to show the form of the women body beneath. Examples of dresses which survive from the Early Period are much more baggy and have sleeves. Indeed, if the dresses were as tight as portrayed, they would have been difficult to put on, let alone walk in. [1]” “On their feet the ancient Egyptians wore sandals made of woven reed, grass or leather. The standard form consisted of a thong passing between the first and second toes and attached to a bar passing over the instep. In the Nineteenth Dynasty a style with an upturned toe appeared, a forerunner of the Turkish slipper.

Among the earliest examples of this type are the delicate, red leather sandals found in the cosmetic chest of the lady Tutu, wife of the scribe Ani. An integral part of costume was a wig or hairpiece added to the natural hair. Many Egyptians shaved their heads or cropped their hair very short, although some did retain a full head of hair which they kept elaborately dressed. Sculpture and wall scenes show that there was a great variety of hairstyles to choose from, both for everyday wear and festive occasions. There does, however, seem to have been an element of idealisation in the rendering of wigs, as there was in egyptian clothing, for surviving examples are far less elegant than their regular, sculpted counterparts. [2]”

[1] – [2 ]
Extract from “Egyptian Life”, Written by Miriam Stead. Published by British Museum Publications, London,1986.

Most bellydance enthusiasts want to come to Egypt at some stage – whether it be for the amazing costumes and trinkets, the dance and music or for the ambiance of the country and its people. Egypt has always experienced popularity as a tourist destination for its pyramids and temples, historical monuments and culture; but now with festivals, safe travel and a fresh dance scene, Oriental dance tourism has exploded! For first time visitors or seasoned travelers, there are some helpful tips for a great holiday to Egypt. I hope you enjoy this “dancer’s” travel guide! Shopping in Egypt is great! You can buy cotton clothes, shoes, costumes, Bedouin rugs, trinkets, Islamic lamps, leather goods, handbags, music cds, henna, spices, apple tobacco, perfume bottles, perfume oils, Arabic music, dvds, shishas, fabrics, weavings, ramadan tent fabric and so much more! Khan el Khalili is the best place for trinket shopping, but there are fixed price shops around too. Jewellery, Cotton clothes, shoes, kaftans - Ramses shopping annexe, Yamama centre Zamalek, Zamalek shops on Mirashli and Gezira el Wosta, Talat Harb square, Tahrir square Downtown, NEW City Stars Heliopolis, Arcadia Market, Dandy Mall Maadi. Egyptian cotton towels, sheets, bathrobes - Omar Efendi store in Mohandisseen, Nefretiti herbs sells beautiful soaps, Egyptian oils and cotton bathrobes and towels from unbleached organic cotton. 26 Gezira el Wosta st, Zamalek. Cottons from Khan el Khalili’s nontourist quarters – Attaba shopping area. Or traditional downtown shops sell cotton and Ramadan tent fabric. Amazing contemporary fabrics – beautiful Islamic and Sufi designs on cotton available in Zamalek, Ahmed Heshmat st Egyptian Prices - Really excellent quality "professional" bellydance dream costumes purchased in Egypt generally range from 1500-2500 LE ($300-$500 USD) with full trimmings - and should include veil and accessories, with excellent stitching and beadwork. But quality does vary, and some designers charge in USD - so designer prices can get quite steep, around $1200 for a glamorous top-of-the-range outfit. Luckily you can find bargains, especially Baladi style dresses and two piece costumes for around $100-$200 USD, especially at Khan el Khalili. Funnily enough, tacky downtown lingerie stores sell the most amazing tight, colourful lycra fitted dresses that look like Baladi dresses – obviously meant to be sexy nightwear – but no-one would guess! Around $20! Here are some of the main designers around Cairo. Hallah Moustafa’s private Atelier in Giza, where dancers can get tailor made costumes and see her workshop. An ex- LA haute coture designer with excellent costumes and unique, designs. She's creating designer bellydance jeans too!

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