Most people have seen King Tut's singularly awesome golden chariot, but they probably haven't seen the 145 loincloths, 12 tunics, 10 belts, two leopard skins, 28 gloves, 24 shawls, 15 sashes, 25 head coverings, two aprons, four socks, and 47 pairs of shoes he was buried with. In the early '90s, textile archeologist Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood rediscovered Tut's ancient Egyptian clothing in the Cairo Museum, and most of it was in the same boxes where Howard Carter, its discoverer, placed it back in 1922. One box even had a copy of The Egyptian Gazette dated six weeks after the tomb's discovery.
Many of the textiles were so deteriorated that their original colors and patterns could only be seen through a high-powered camera lens. Alarmed by their rapid deterioration, Dr. Vogelsang-Eastwood organized two teams of international experts to reproduce 36 of Tut's garments using ancient methods. The Weaving School in Borås, Sweden, produced the linen cloth, while all embroidery, printing, and beadwork was completed at the Stitching Textile Research Centre in Leiden, Netherlands.
These clothes exemplify how the boy king was prepared to turn heads in the afterlife.
An ancient Egyptian tunic was made from a long sheet of linen sewn up the sides, with two holes left for arms and a large one cut in the middle for the head. The only accessories they had to hold this sheet together were sashes, which ranged from simple strips of cloth to tapestry-woven designs (right) and Amarna sashes.
A sheet and sash may sound like an easy Halloween costume, but the threads used to weave Tut's linen tunics were so fine and dense that it was difficult for the Borås Weaving School to reproduce the same sheer quality; the hand-spinning techniques needed to make such threads were quashed in most parts of the world by the Industrial Revolution. The weavers finally found linen of ancient Egyptian quality at a mill in Bergamo, Italy, where the world's top design houses go fabric shopping.
Why did Tut have so much underwear? The answer lay with his contemporary, the wealthy architect, Kha, whose undisturbed tomb held 50 loincloths and 17 tunics. By applying Kha's clothes to undies ratio, it seems more likely that Tut was buried with around 50 tunics before robbers sacked his tomb a few months after his funeral.
Mortuary priests cleaned up after these burglaries but lazily jammed clothes found on the floor into whatever box was closest. As a result, the original of this faience and gold beaded tunic spent 3,300 years in a crumpled mess, mouldering on top of random shoes and bowls. The gold weighted the heavily creased fabric, speeding its deterioration compared to undecorated textiles that were found still neatly folded in other parts of the tomb.
This child-sized tunic says festival all over it. The repeating pattern of Heb-Sed hieroglyphs, most noticeable along the trim, shows that it was made specifically for Tut to attend the ruling pharaoh's jubilee celebration in Memphis, Egypt. It's the only one of Tut's garments that researchers can pin to a specific event, though it's unclear which pharaoh was celebrating his Heb-Sed. Most didn't arrange for the celebration until their 30th year of rule, though that didn't stop Tut's father, Akhenaten, who put on a Heb-Sed only three years into his reign.
Tiny Tut may have worn this garment while watching his old man prove he was still physically fit to rule by running eight times around a ritualistic track wearing nothing but the two crowns of Egypt, a short kilt, and a strapped-on bull's tail. To top off this royal track event, the pharaoh ran in the “company” of a real sacred bull named Apis.
This was Tut's only garment with sleeves, designed for him when he was an early teen. His crowning name, “Nebcheperture,” is tapestry woven in cartouches around the collar along with images of the tree of life, a blessing for the young king, appear on both sides of the ankh sign in the middle of his chest. The bottom of the tunic is lined with panels depicting floral palmettes, griffins, sphinxes, and hunting scenes involving dogs, bulls, lions, gazelles, and ibexes. In order to reproduce this garment, the Borås Weaving School consulted Bedouins in Egypt who still spin thread on spindles and weave similar designs on looms that haven't changed in 4,000 years.
The "Syrian" tunic was most likely sent as a diplomatic gift from Egypt's longtime trading partner, the Mitanni Kingdom located in modern-day Syria and Angola, where sleeves were all the rage. In the end, this tunic was a sad souvenir to take into the afterlife. Though Tut sent his army to defend the fashion-forward Mitanni, they were crushed by invading Hittites right around the time that Tut died at the age of 19, obliterating the Mitanni Kingdom and throwing Tut's realm into chaos.