The climate of Egypt forced people from prehistoric times to wear light, airy clothing. Linen, made from flax, was the most common material. In later periods, wool and cotton were used. On the earliest predynastic palettes, men are shown naked except for a belt around the waist with a cloth to cover their loins or a kilt with a thick fringe of plant material. The palette of King Narmer is the earliest record of a king wearing the short kilt, called the Shendyt, with its two ends crossed over and tucked under a belt tied at the front.
The dress of the Egyptian pharaohs changed little over time. In addition to the Shendyt kilt, they wore the Nemes headdress. The headdress was a piece of linen cloth gathered at the back of the head. The false beard was also worn to distinguish the pharaoh and associate him with the gods, who were believed to wear straight beards.
Along with the kilt, high officials of the Old Kingdom wore ornaments such as necklaces and pendants. Important men also wore a shoulder cape. Sem priests and others who performed priestly functions wore a whole leopard skin, including head, paws, and tail. By the New Kingdom, those in high ranks wore a longer tunic that reached the ankles. This fit under the arms and was held up by a ribbon around the neck. Other high officials wore a pleated kilt or a kilt with an apron over it and a pleated shirt. A short, wide sleeveless cloak was also worn. Sandals were made from leather, papyrus, or palm leaves.
Women's dress in predynastic times probably covered the whole body. A long, sheath-like tunic held up by shoulder straps with the upper edge either above or below the bust was the typical garment in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. In cooler weather, wealthy women put on a long-sleeved gown that hung in folds. During festive occasions, they would wear nets of faience beads across the middle of their tunics. By the New Kingdom, women's clothing was made of two or more pieces, usually in white, but sometimes in pastel shades. Women began to wear over their tunics sheer outer garments, pleated or straight, that were pinned over the bust or tied in decorative ways. Shoulder-length cloaks with a knotted fringe were added to the costume.
Common people wore simple garments, or in the case of boatmen, fishermen, and papyrus gatherers, no clothing at all. Servant girls wore only a skirt or apron. Farmers and other workers wore a simple apron. They wore a kilt when bringing produce to town or visiting relatives or temples. By the Middle Kingdom, the kilt became daily wear in the countryside, sometimes topped with a loose-fitting shirt or tunic.
During the Greco-Roman period, clothing was influenced by the conquering Greeks and Romans. Men and women both wore garments made of large pieces of material, intricately draped to create folds, pleats, and wide sleeves. The cloth was held in place by pins and belts. The chiton, himation, and chlamys are several Greco-Roman styles adopted by the Egyptians.
During the Coptic period, both men and women wore a tunic, a rectangular shirt-like garment fastened by a belt. Made of plain wool or linen, they were either decorated with a single band that ran down the center of the garment or two vertical bands over each shoulder that ran down to the knee or bottom of the tunic. These bands were intricately woven and colored. Coptic priests wore loose robes that covered their whole body. Over their robes, they wore a Patrashil, a vest of white linen decorated with religious images on the chest.
By the Islamic era, Egypt was famous for its beautiful textiles. The fabrics that Islamic rulers wore or had their names inscribed on signified their power. When the sultan took power, he was given a ceremonial robe called a "Kulah." To gain the appreciation of their people, caliphs and sultans began a tradition of distributing robes among the population on special days.