The land of Pharaohs and Cleopatra located along the river Nile is the gift of the most ancient civilization on the lovely planet which is also considered as the gem of the Arab and the North African continents. This is Egypt, the home to the old-aged pyramids and other archaic monuments. It is known in the Arab world and called by its people as Misr. The rock carvings along the Nile terraces date back to the 10th millennium BC, which is evident that human settlement in Egypt is one of the oldest on the planet earth. The land fertility resulted to the agricultural based economy of the people of this region and the richness of the land gave birth to so many cultures in this territory.
Around 6000 BC, Egypt was the center of the Neolithic culture and the people started living on agriculture, fishing and cattle farming in different parts of Egypt. After several centuries, Egypt was formulated in a pure dynastic domain around 3150 BC by King Menes, and then there is a series of many predeceasing kingdoms ruled by different monarchs in different eras of history. The Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt is associated with the Romans who portrayed themselves in this part of the world as the successors of the ancient Pharaohs and continued the Egyptian traditions and clothing style to remain in the hearts of the native Egyptians. Christianity was brought to Egypt by Saint Mark the Evangelist in the 1st century.
Egypt of the Middle Ages is glorified with the establishment of the Muslim empire after the defeat of the Byzantine Armies in Egypt. Muslim rulers nominated by the Islamic Caliphate remained in control of Egypt for the next six centuries. Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517, after which it became a province of the Ottoman Empire.
Egypt remained under the British occupation in the late nineteenth century and that was ended in shape of a victory for the Albanians led by Muhammad Ali who actually established a dynasty that was to rule Egypt until the revolution of 1952. After the 1952 Revolution by the Free Officers Movement, the rule of Egypt passed to military hands. On 18 June 1953, the Egyptian Republic was declared.
It was important to state the historic background of the nowadays Egypt in few lines for our readers to understand that why traditional clothing in Egypt is so labyrinthine in its nature as it is basically arrayed with the influences of so many intertwining cultures and heritages.
Traditional dress of Egypt is the legacy of ancient Kings and Queens as it was developed in attractive and delicate manner by them in a unique style. It became more charming in the physically fit environment of the then Egypt, as the slender physical appearances were endorsed and praised by the monarchs of the ancient times in Egypt.
Egyptian traditional clothing was so much civilized and sophisticated in its description and quality. Environmental conditions were the basic parameters as the clothes were designed and prepared with lighter fabrics to keep the body cool and comfortable in the harsh weather conditions. In ancient Egypt, linen was the most common fabric as it helped the locals to compete with the subtropical heat and almost in every part of the then Egypt, many small spinning, weaving and sewing units of linen were established.
In the richer and wealthier class of Egypt, sheep-wool wigs were also worn in festivities and wedding ceremonies and the women used to dress-up in linen ankle-length dresses with straps that tied at the neck. The basic form of female clothing was a simple dress called a kalasiris. It was a tube of cloth, sewn along one side, with one or two shoulder straps also used to adorn themselves by magnificent jewelry and ornaments.
Tinted lips and cheeks with red ochre and lined eyes and brows with black kohl were the integral features in their make-up. The most common headdress was the khat or nemes, a striped cloth worn by men. In addition to wigs and varying hairstyles, Egyptians wore different types of caps and head-coverings to enhance their grace.
The pharaohs would wear leopard skins over their shoulders and added a lion’s tail that would hang from their belt. Shaped like a triangle with hide strings stretching from either end of one edge, the piece was tied around the waist and the point of the triangle was pulled up between the lags and tied at the back. The Egyptian men wore wrap around skirts known as the Shendyt, which were belted at the waist, sometimes pleated or gathered in the front. It is pertinent to mention that the men of the lower and poor working class, especially slaves were mostly lived naked. In the ancient times, Egyptian men also wore a strip of cloth to hide their genitals and it was considered an important part of the costume.
Present day’s Thobe or thoub in Egypt, which is a long and normally white shirt along with trousers that normally reach to the ground, is an evolved form of the traditional Schenti or Kilt. The Egyptians wore schenti of woven material that was wrapped around the body several times and tied in front or belted.
Djellaba or djellaba is a Berber traditional long, loose-fitting unisex outer robe with full sleeves worn in the North African countries including Egypt. It differs from the Arabian thawb in a sense that it has a wider cut, no collar (in some case no buttons) and longer, wider sleeves.
Traditionally djellabas are made of wool in different shapes and colors. Jellabiya colours are often white in the summer. During winter, thicker fabric in other colours such as grey, dark green, olive, blue, tan or striped fabrics are used. The dress has become common in the Egyptian women also as they nowadays wear cotton made djellabas in different colors while some prefer them to be worn with scarves and embellished with decorative embroidery.
Over the dress, the Egyptian women sometimes also used to take shawl or ropes in form of a garment around 4 feet wide by 13 or 14 feet long. As mentioned earlier, heavy and rather voluminous body beautification was of primary importance not only in women, but also in men. Both sexes bedeck themselves with earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces and neck collars that were brightly colored. When it comes to the traditional footwear of Egypt, mostly the Egyptians remained barefoot. However, sandals were used by them on special occasions or to safeguard the feet from sunburn or thrones etc.
I think, it is also essential to mention about the dress-code of Bedouin community in Egypt who are living in the Eastern and Western deserts of the country for many centuries. Presently, most of Bedouin population is inhabited in Sinai and in other urban parts of the country as well. Bedouins are known in the world for their ancient living styles, habits and customs. The Bedouin clothing which is mainly dependent upon the weather; is traditionally sewn in accordance with the desert conditions. Male dress includes layered and flowing robes along with a piece of cloth to be wrapped around the head and neck to retard moisture loss that can lead to heat stroke and to shield the face against the harsh and dry sand. Bedouin women usually wear black dresses and head covers embroidered in tiny cross-stitch designs: blue for unmarried women, red for married. They cover their faces with a veil highlighted in the same stitches and often decorated with shells and coins.
The consistency of luxurious fashion of the Egyptian women is continued till today. Although due to Islamic culture and religious bindings, Abaya or Burqa is also a prominent feature of the traditional women clothing in Egypt, yet some historians connect this characteristic with the ancient social conventions.
Today, Egypt or Misr has a population of approximately 94 million people and the vast majority of the population of Egypt consists of ethnic Egyptians. Traditional dress of Egypt, which is the legacy of ancient Kings and Queens is somehow continued by the Egyptian people with slight variations, no matter from whichever ethnicity they belong to.
Although pure and classic clothing is limited to the national events, cultural festivities and parades etc and the modern youth has adopted Jeans and T-Shirt culture, yet the traditional outfits with varied styles are still common in the aged and rural communities of Egypt.
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