Bead net dress

The dress may have been worn for dancing in Dynasty 5 (c. 2400 BC)

This dress was excavated by Guy Brunton at Qau in 1923-24. In 1994 and 1995 two conservators, Alexandra Seth-Smith and Alison Lister, re-constructed the dress.


The dress may have been worn for dancing in Dynasty 5 (c. 2400 BC). Each of the 127 shells around the fringe are plugged with a small stone so that it would have emitted a rattling sound when the wearer moved. When it was being conserved, it was thought to fit a girl of about 12 and to be worn naked.

Guy Brunton commented that the dress reminds us of the story of King Sneferu going on a sailing trip on the palace lake, recorded on a papyrus dating from around 1800 BC. The King gets twenty young women to row a boat and, to relieve his boredom, orders:

"Let there be brought to me twenty women with the shapeliest bodies, breasts and braids, who have not yet given birth. And let there be brought to me 20 nets. Give those nets to these women in place of their clothes!"

The point of the story is that the behaviour of the King is outrageous rather than normal, but this tale has been used to make the bead-net dress into an erotic and exotic garment.

When Janet Johnstone, an Ancient Egyptian clothing consultant, made a replica of this dress she found that the bead-net dress was too heavy to be worn when placed directly on the naked body. Janet also discovered that due to its ‘netting’ structure it could fit women of all shapes and ages.

Is it therefore our imaginative reading of the dress that makes it erotic?

Find out how to make your own bead neat dress here

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