The schenti, or kilt, was the basic garment of the Egyptian nobleman, or upper class, from the earliest days of the Old Kingdom (c. 2700–c. 2000 B.C.E. ) all the way through the New Kingdom (c. 1500–c. 750 B.C.E. ). At its most basic, the schenti was a rectangular piece of cloth, wrapped around the hips and held in place by tucking one end into the tightly wrapped waist or by wearing a tied belt. Evidence of the schenti comes from the many hieroglyphs, or picture drawings, that appear in the well-preserved tombs of Egyptian nobles.
It is believed that the first schenti were made of leather or animal hides, but soon linen became the preferred fabric. Linen was made from a flax plant and was produced by a well-developed weaving industry. It was a light fabric, comfortable in the hot weather of Egypt, and it was easy to starch, or stiffen, into the pleats or folds that were favored during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000–c. 1500 B.C.E. ) and the New Kingdom.
The basic form of the schenti remained remarkably the same throughout the over two-thousand-year history of ancient Egypt. There were, however, many variations in this basic form. The first innovation in the schenti was a curved cut made at one end of the rectangular fabric, which then appeared in the front of the garment when that end was tucked into the belt. These front decorations grew more elaborate, with fringe appearing in one Old Kingdom example and vertical pleats adorning other examples. By the time of the Middle Kingdom, schenti had grown slightly longer, reaching to just below the knee. Another addition was a triangular apron that hung down the front of the schenti. The apron looked like a pyramid, with the pointy tip at the waistline and the flat base at the knee. This apron was often starched, sometimes in such a way that it projected out in front of the wearer. During the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, many hieroglyphs show men wearing a longer, transparent skirt over the top of their schenti. Sometimes these skirts hung all the way to the ankles and, in some cases, were starched and pleated.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Watson, Philip J. Costume of Ancient Egypt. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.