We live in a time where African fashion has a strong foothold in world-wide trends. Everytime you look up another celebrity is rocking an African print, another western designer has an African inspired line, and a new generation of African designers are making their mark on the world, modernizing the old ways of African fashion. But all of this had to start somewhere. Every print and style has a different place of origin, but let’s look at where most would say it all started. Let’s look at Egypt, the originators of fashion.
Interestingly enough, both men and women wore makeup. For practical reasons, everyone wore makeup to protect their skin from the harsh desert climate. The frequency of use allowed it to evolve into a more fashionable form of expression. Cosmetic makers would use red ochre to make rouge, and mix it with ointments to make lip balm. To get a green color they used minerals like malachite, while using galena to get a dark grey paint.
The most recognizable feature of Egyptian makeup is their black eyeliner. Once again worn by both sexes, it was primarily used to protect their eyes from the glare of the sun. The black eyeliner was made from khol, a charcoal like mineral.
The average Egyptian women wore ankle-length sheath dresses, often with one or two shoulder straps. The fabric of choice was linen, mainly to the keep comfortable during the intense desert heat. Upper class Egyptian women wore pleated dresses with fringes made with fine, transparent linen, lined with flashy ornamentation.
Poor Egyptian men simply wore loincloths, while the average man wore a wrap around skirt held up by a belt. Upper-class men wore knee-length kilts with pleats or stiffened fronts, made of a rectangular linen. The finer the linen, the more transparent it was, which seemed to be the common trend with rich Egyptian people.
What people remember the most about ancient Egyptian fashion, and has been the most influential to modern day fashion is Egyptian jewelry. Both rich and poor Egyptians put a lot of effort in their choice of jewelry. It was a means to express their status, and it was widely felt that jewelry made them more attractive to the Gods. They wore rings, earrings, bracelets, decorated buttons, jeweled collars, amulets, necklaces, you name it. Only the rich could afford gold and precious stones. The average Egyptian would use colored pottery beads instead.
Jewelry had a close relationship with religion and how Egyptians wanted to be viewed by and communicate with the Gods. A very common piece used was the scarab. Scarabs became a symbol of rebirth and the cycle of time. Soon the scarab became the official symbol for the God Khepri, the god of rebirth and embodiment of Ra. Because of this, scarabs became very popular as amulets, and were often the chosen piece of jewelry to be buried in.