The National Outfits of Egypt

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Each nation has its unique traditional costume. The garment becomes representative of a people’s heritage. It becomes a source of pride.

There are some instances, however, when a nation can trace its roots to the very dawn of civilization. In these cases, a single national garment becomes difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint.

For millennia, Egypt, along with its people and culture, has persisted in the struggle against time. From the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt and the Greco-Romans of Alexandria, to the Arabs and Ottomans, the land of the Nile has had its influence on every major chapter of world history. Subsequently, Egypt has had a number of national outfits over the course of its five thousand years of existence.

Ancient Egypt

With a major river and two surrounding deserts, Egypt has always been a hot country, with the majority of its population living along the banks of the Nile. The people of ancient Egypt often wore lightweight clothes, which can be seen in the many paintings and monuments they have left behind.

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Most clothes during that time were made were made from linen, which is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant that grew abundantly in Egypt.

In the Old Kingdom, men often wore wrap-around, pleated skirts called shendyt. These were usually pelted to the waist and sometimes, gathered in the front. At that time the skirts were short, but as the Middle Kingdom came to be, the skirts grew longer.

Women, on the other hand, had the same traditional outfit throughout the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms of ancient Egypt, a simple sheath dress called kalasiris. The dresses were held up by one or two straps and were worn down to the ankle.

Greco-Roman Egypt

During the reign of the Ptolemies after Alexander conquered Egypt, putting an end to Persian Achaemenid rule, Egyptians, for the most part, wore their same traditional Pharaonic outfits.

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The ancient Egyptian civilization has had so much influence that the Greek Ptolemies slowly assimilated with it. More than often, these Greek rulers would be depicted wearing Egyptian royal clothing.

After the battle of Actium, Octavian, later renamed Augustus, annexed Egypt into the domain of the expansive Roman Empire, bringing the Greeks’ rule to an end. With the introduction of Roman culture to Alexandria, changes in fashion came about, with tunics made of two rectangular pieces of fabric sewn together, becoming the garment-of-choice to most Egyptians living in Alexandria.

Islamic Egypt

With the end of Byzantine reign and the rise of Islam, Egypt has seen radical changes to its national outfit that still persist to this day.

Egyptian farmer women, during that time, would wear a gallibaya outdoors and a mandil, a type of headscarf decorated with pompoms, but in the cities, women would wear a wide dress called a tob sebleh.

City women also wore a burqa’, a long rectangular face veil either of white cotton or open weave, and a headscarf.

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The traditional menswear of Egypt is the long gallibaya. Egyptian farmer men also wore a wide version of gallibaya called kamis. While working farmers would raise the skirt of the gallebaya and wrap it around their thighs.

During the late Ottoman rule, men from the civil service and the ruling intelligentsia class could be seen wearing European clothing with a distinct headwear called tarboosh.

After the 1952 Revolution, the tarboosh was abolished. However, to this day, there are still a handful of tarboosh makers around Cairo.

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