Royal Couture

PART II: Reconstructing Tutankhamun's Wardrobe

By Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood

Tutankhamun was a minor king who reigned during a time of upheaval and died young, but his tomb has been a treasure trove of incomparable riches. Looking at the sumptuous textiles and garments he left behind, we can only imagine the extravagant wardrobes of more prominent kings.

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In 1327 BCE, a young Egyptian king died and was buried with hundreds of objects so that his life in the afterworld would be comfortable and full of familiar and necessary items. Over the following millennia, his name was all but forgotten until a fateful day in 1922 when his tomb was rediscovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The name of Tutankhamun is now famous throughout the world and immediately conjures up images of gold masks, chariots, and beautiful chests with inlaid images of the young king and his wife. What is not so well known is that the tomb also contained over four hundred linen textiles and garments, many of which were worn by the king himself.

In the early 1990s, textile archaeologist Dr Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood rediscovered Tutankhamun’s textiles in the Cairo Museum. Most of the collection was in the same boxes where Howard Carter placed them in 1922. One box even contained a copy of The Egyptian Gazette dated six weeks after the discovery of the tomb!

The textiles and garments were found in different parts of Tutankhamun’s tomb, but most were in the treasury. They were stored in some of the many chests found there, as well as draped over statues and statuettes. Over the centuries, water seeped into the tomb, damaging some of the textiles. Those in the parts untouched by water remained in a nearly perfect state. The tomb was also robbed on at least two occasions. It seems that the thieves did not take the elaborate garments as these would have been difficult to sell on the ‘second-hand’ market. It appears that they took away only plain textiles as there are, for example, no sheets on the beds, as were found in other tombs. Nor are there many shawls, something the king is known to have worn from various tomb paintings and images on different objects.

In ancient Egypt, status was displayed by the amount and quality of the cloth you wore and by the presence of colour. A merchant, for example, may have had some narrow stripes in red and blue on the edges of his garment. Tutankhamun’s tomb was filled with exceedingly fine linen cloth, some of which was decorated with colourful dyed yarns and beads.

The range of clothing found in the tomb of Tutankhamun included basic items such as underwear (there were over 100 loincloths), sashes, shawls, and royal headwear, as well as tunics of various types and sizes.

What is noticeable is that there were various sizes of clothing in the tomb. Some items were suitable for a young child, others for a teenager. The majority of items, however, were for an adult. The smallest garments include a loincloth, a highly decorated tunic, a woven sash, and a mini priestly leopard skin made of embroidered linen. All these items were made for the king when he would have been about eight or nine years old, which is around the time he became king. It is tempting to think that these items were preserved because they were the garments he wore during the various rituals associated with ascending the throne of Egypt.

Another group of garments forms an outfit consisting of a tunic, a shawl, and a hip wrap with red bands. The size of these items suggests that they were made for a boy of about 12 to 14 years of age. It is also clear that they were made especially for Tutankhamun, as the main item is a sleeved tunic that has his name embroidered on the front of the garment. His name can also be seen enclosed in 26 cartouches worked into the woven collar that was sewn around the neck opening. Interestingly, these garments are not actually Egyptian in origin. The main tunic, for example, was cut and sewn in a very different manner from the typical Egyptian forms. It was also decorated with a mixture of woven bands and embroidery that is unlike any other found in Egypt. By looking at various contemporary tomb paintings it would appear that these garments were of the type worn by the Mitanni (a people who used to live in what is now northern Syria), but we do not know if they were made by the Mitanni and sent to Egypt or by Mitanni craftspeople living in Egypt itself. It would appear, however, that this was an expensive diplomatic gift, voluntary or not, from one court to another.

By the time Tutankhamun was an adult, his wardrobe reflected the many functions his position entailed. He was, after all, a ruler, a priest, a charioteer, a hunter, as well as a family man. There are examples of different types of garments that reflect these roles. For instance, there is a finely woven tunic in dark blue decorated with stylized flowers and ducks. Around the neck is a falcon (the king was Horus the falcon god, and Horus was the king). Given that the more colour a person wore the higher their status, it would be difficult to get a more obvious example of position than this one. It positively screams ‘HERE IS THE KING’ with its profusion of colour and showy decoration.

There is also a colourful woven sash that further emphasizes the royal nature of this and other garments from the tomb. The sash is made from a shaped waistband with four long red ribbons. The band includes images of falcon wings (another symbol of the god Horus) which would have encircled the king’s waist. A large cartouche bearing the king’s name is prominently featured on the section of the band that would have covered his back.

In order to emphasize his royal status, Tutankhamun was also buried fully clothed, probably in a tunic, sashes, shawls and of course, the nemes, the royal headwear, part of which actually survived and is recorded in photographs taken while the coffin was being excavated in the 1920s. This type of headdress is represented in paintings, on statues, and on other objects as being made of blue and white striped fabric with a bound, cloth ‘tail’ that hangs down the back of the wearer. Amazingly, the tail survived in situ at the back of Tutankhamun’s neck together with fragments of linen that appear to have woven blue and white stripes and possibly some gold stripes to add to the drama. All in all, it would have looked similar to the famous gold mask with its blue and gold headdress that was found covering the king’s head and his actual nemes.

Also found in the tomb of Tutankhamun were two tunics covered with beaded trelliswork and incorporating gold discs. Interestingly, the beading is only on the front of the garments, indicating that they were probably worn during important rituals when the king was seated and could only be seen from the front. Other tunics found in the tomb are decorated with woven stripes in red and blue on a white background. These have the air of garments worn for less formal occasions, perhaps when he was a ‘family man’.

Tutankhamun’s role as a priest is reflected in the presence of three leopard skins in the tomb. Two of these are real, the third is the small, embroidered example mentioned above. All would have been used by the king when performing various priestly rituals, including those associated with mortuary practices and funeral rites. Another group of items that may reflect the king’s spiritual role are two pairs of wings that were made in imitation of falcon wings (the god Horus) and vulture wings (the goddess Nekhbet). These wings had short sleeves, so that they could be worn on the front and back of the upper part of the body and became the king’s symbolic wings, as well as surrounding him in divine protection.

Among the finds in Tutankhamun’s tomb, there were also garments associated with chariot riding. The king was buried with various pairs of linen socks (probably as protection against dust

and small stones), as well as numerous pairs

of plain and decorative gloves and gauntlets. The gauntlets were made in such a manner that it was easy to hold the reins of the horse pulling the royal chariot.

Other garments found in the tomb are associated with Tutankhamun’s role as a hunter (of animals, as well as of the enemies of Egypt). Among the textiles recorded, for example, was a long and narrow length of cloth with red and blue stripes along the edges. Initially, this was described by Carter and his team as being a turban. But later it turned out that this was the royal hunting ‘corset’ that would have been wrapped around the pharaoh’s upper body when riding on a chariot to cushion his body against the constant bumping (the chariot had no springs) while going over stones. This type of corset and how it was worn by Tutankhamun is also depicted on a number of objects in the tomb.

At the beginning of this article, I noted that people around the world know the name of Tutankhamun, but more specifically, they know of a select group of glamourous objects from his tomb. When we look closely at the clothing he wore, however, we start to paint a picture of his life, and he becomes a living, breathing person, whispering fascinating stories across thousands of years. 

This article was first published in print in RAWI's ISSUE 11, 2021


Life-sized model of Tutankhamun that is believed to have been used as a mannequin to hold his clothes and jewellery or as a mannequin for the royal dressmakers. Wood, gesso, pigment. Reign of Tutankhamun (ca. 1336–1327 BCE), Dynasty 18, New Kingdom.

© Courtesy of Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig

Child’s tunic (reproduction), embroidered by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood. The original is in poor condition due to prolonged water damage from flash floods that inundated parts of the tomb. It took a long time to work out the design using 1:1 colour photographs and replicating it piece by piece. The garment may have been the coronation robe as it has the ‘heb-sed’ motif down the edges and along the hem. It took two days to sew all the gold ‘buttons’ on to it.


Recreation of a beaded tunic found in extremely poor condition. It consisted of a box of beads and fragments of blackened linen with some beads in situ. It was reconstructed by a student at the Textile Research Centre in Leiden with the beaded bands down the middle and sides taking three months to make. This tunic would have been worn at official ceremonies when the king was seated. There was no beading at the back so he could sit without breaking anything. The thousands of gold discs would have glinted in the sun.


Reproduction of a 'duck' tunic woven by a student at the Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås. This was a good quality tunic worn on a daily basis. The ‘ducks’ are walking along the edges and the bottom and then suddenly take off and fly along the top just under the neck opening. A second row can also be seen through the neck opening. The original was in good condition. The recreated collar was woven by Marie Ekstedt Bjersing.


Recreated linen socks. Howard Carter gave the wrong measurements for these socks in the official records, so the soles were far too narrow on the first recreated pair. They are made of two layers of linen, the inside one very fine and the outside one thicker. The originals were in reasonable condition. Reconstructions by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood.


Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood is the director of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden and a specialist in Middle Eastern dress and textiles. She has worked for many years as a textile archaeologist in Egypt and is the author and editor of numerous authoritative publications including Pharaonic Egyptian Clothing (Brill, 1993), and Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), among others.