On our previous, “Why do I live where the sun melts my face” episode, I designed the Archaic Chiton and Archaic Himation for those that needed less fabric than Roman could provide, but still look glam. I’m pretty much kicking most of my Roman pieces to the curb for this. I feel more at home as an Archaic Greek for an alternate summer persona. Probably because it allows me to be more of a peacock in line with my Byzantine primary work when those heavy layers are unsuitable. This gives me time to work on my academic work with Byzantine dress, while keeping cool with simple sewing projects I can bling out extravagantly with trim and bezants.
When it became clear that the weekend of Trimaris Memorial Tourney was going to be facing record breaking heat, I wondered how little I could wear, and still look put together. I feel like my Iron Age peploi/bog dresses/war tubes are just not okay enough outside of running around the field at Pennsic or working around camp. When my husband, who is known for his gingerness, is packing his Roman tunica and shorts and bottles of sunblock instead of his usual two layers of linen, you know what’s up.
Amenhotep Sa Amenemhat has been pretty inspiring with his work in the Bronze Age, predominately his impression of a New Kingdom Egyptian priest of Amun. He suggested I take a look at Egyptian, and I sort of sneered a bit. Really, the most common Egyptian look that women in the SCA attempt is the strappy sheath dress. I have no issue with it, because I’m a fan of supportive garments, I just have my own body image issues that are stopping me from tailoring my own. When Caid announced that their upcoming reign would be Egyptian, my friends from Calafia got in contact with me for sources, so I jumped onto the SCA Egypt group on Facebook and browsed through the files section, which I found out was pretty comprehensive on options outside of the strappy look.
I openly admit to not looking too deeply into Egyptian textiles. It’s not really my “thing”, though there’s quite a bit of overlap between that and some Bronze Age Greek I’ve been reading up on. When a book I have out on Interlibrary Loan, Ariadne’s Threads: The Construction and Significance of Clothes in the Aegean Bronze Age by Bernice R. Jones, cited images and contemporary extant pieces from Egypt that looked to be well-fitted tunic dresses of sorts versus the straps, or the oversized bag-tunic, I decided to look closer, and followed through to Pharaonic Egyptian Clothing by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, where a fast skim was able to make the idea of a bag tunic more doable for my personal tastes.
The bag tunic itself was worn by both men and women, and there were a variety of cuts and pleating styles done with it. Most artwork shows women wearing slim fitting clothing, in reality, this may not have been the case. The bag tunic could have been quite wide, and when belted under the bust, created the wide top. I’ve played this game with wide Roman chitons that required double belting. No thank you. I want part of the “less is more” idea, here. I had a remnant of 27″ wide natural colored linen and a free afternoon. Why the heck not?
The construction is exactly the same as a Roman man’s tunica, or at least, the way I make them. I folded the fabric in half the short way, and formed holes for the arms on the sides. The neckline is based on the bag tunic found at Tarkhan, where it is nothing more than a vertical slit, versus a Roman boatneck style. Other tunics show keyholes, so there was some good variation going on. This image from University College London gives a good diagram, and also shows the inclusion of fringe. I did not fringe my linen, though I was seriously tempted to do so.
I finished the hem of my garment with a slit for walking, and an inkle trim that has been sitting on my loom for the better part of two years. It reminds me of pieces found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, and was given the thumbs up by Amenhotep when I asked for advice.
When I initially tried it on, I was first a bit twitchy about the low cut of the neckline, but had to remind myself that this was far from a modest society. That wasn’t as much of the issue as it wanting to slide off of my shoulders, though. This was rectified by adding a tie to the back, which Vogelsang-Eastwood mentions in her book as a technique done on women’s clothing.
I also tossed together a necklace with some beads I had in my stash, mostly leftover from my previous Bronze Age foray into Mesopotamian garb. The turquoise is ceramic, but not real faience. The red is genuine carnelian, and the cowries are also real, and took a bit of finagling with jump rings to turn into viable pendants. I stacked this with a carnelian necklace I made for my Mesopotamian project and still have, because it’s all real stone and worth a pretty penny.
The finished look on my dressform:
Of course, I still needed to cover my hair. What better than the quintessential Egyptian kerchief? A wig was not going to happen in this heat, and I’m a fan of veiling and covering when out in the sun, because scalp sunburns are awful. This gives the added bonus of protecting the back of the neck as well. It’s basically a half-oval with trim used for ties. Based on ones found in Tut’s tomb. The blue is accurate to one of the finds.
And here I am all put together at Trimaris Memorial Tourney, Jeff takes bad pictures, so I found if I make terrible faces, they come out better. While I normally don’t put on makeup when it can melt off, I felt like the application of malachite-green eyeshadow and some black kohl eyeliner was necessary to complete the look. Both are non-toxic modern alternatives to the period cosmetics. Please, do not rub real malachite or lead galena on your eyes when we can fake it safely.
– One layer and you’re done.
– Throw your hair in braids, pin them up, cover, done.
– Totally non-gendered. Men could wear a shorter tunic if desired.
-The v-neck style can be adjusted a bit to allow for more to show in the back or front. This allowed me to control cleavage, and give my back more “venting”, this was nice and let the usual back sweat evaporate out and cool that spot nicely. It also allowed me to wear a normal t-shirt bra, instead of a bandeau which is what I opt to in my chitons so there are no visible straps.
– Excellent use of a remnant that was otherwise going to just become another Greek chiton. 27″ was plenty wide for me. But this won’t work for everyone.
-Kerchief can be re-configured on your head for a Norse look. I did that later in the day when I was cooking and eating dinner in our camp.
– It doesn’t feel much like, “me”. I got that vibe when I was making it more than wearing it. Though I got a ton of compliments for how put together it looked and the simplicity for dealing with the soaring temps.
-My Egyptian-ish sandals are in bad shape and made me gimpy.
– Not a lot of “peacocking” options outside of bling. The Egyptians didn’t really have dyes that worked on linen, so natural and bleached is the way to go.
Conclusion: Will I wear it again? Yes. I may even make another to add into my Pennsic/hot event rotation that has the waist seam. It will be good for waterbearing on the field, especially with the turban covering my head, and me avoiding the need for a floppy hat that usually just gets in the way. I also really want to try one of the super pleated long sleeved tunics with the waist seam. I figure I can easily sun-dry some pleats into wet linen on a hot enough day here in Trimaris, especially with how dry the summer is shaping up to be. Obviously, this technique would would better in Caid, but hey, we take what is given to us. Will I go for the full on crazy wrapped kalasiris look? Eh, that remains to be seen. I’m happy being Greek. 😉
I’ve already decided that my next stop on the Anna and Amenhotep’s Bronze Age Revue will be Hittite, but that will probably have to wait until after Pennsic once things cool down a smidge. Climate between Anatolia and Egypt were pretty different.
5 thoughts on ““This Kingdom Is Too Darn Hot” Party presents: Pharaonic Egyptian.”
Wow. Thanks for all the details. I looked at the archaic chiton as you’d mentioned on FB and that’s a LOT of fabric even for my little 5′ 1″ self, but this one, I may have a remnant that might work, or if i DO have to purchase fabric it’s definitely less, how much would you say you used? (I’d imagine that contributed to the “who wore this” part of the history as well.)
I always have to cut my chitons shorter than the fabric width, otherwise they’re mud traps. For reference, I’m 5’5″, and my bust is 42″. Fabrics-store.com has a fabric width of 59″, so that’s pretty long, even after hemming. I usually take up 4-6″ depending on the purpose of the dress. It should touch your instep if it’s for court, take it to your ankle if it’s for heading out to the battlefield with jugs of water. I cut this one to my ankles because of the heat and knowing that the site is super sandy and dusty. You’re really not wasting a lot of fabric by doing this, the strips off the bottom can be used as facings for cuffs on other garb, or turned into the ties in the back of the bag tunic as I did it.
I was able to fit comfortably in a 27″ wide remnant with the seam allowances, as shown with the bag tunic. You still need the extra fabric to move, after all. So we’ll say it was 53″ around after sewing, allowing my bust an ease of 11″ overall, or about 5-6″ on each side to form the sleeves and such. Since you’re smaller, maybe consider taking your bust +10″, and cutting it in half to give a good body panel width.
Actually, that’s even less than I was thinking. I just folded one of my two remnant pieces in half and pinned up a “test tube” to make sure I had the measurements right, and it absolutely fits with room to move, and should be roughly ankle length. Score! 🙂
Me too. Thanks for the details. I think I’ll make some for next year’s Calontir Lilies War. The headcovering really makes it happen.
Proper headwear always makes or breaks the outfit!