It’s the ultimate in retro fashion — an Egyptian woven dress that is now considered the oldest known piece of cut, fitted and tailored clothing. Radiocarbon dating puts the dress, recovered from an ancient Egyptian cemetery called Tarkhan, at between 5,100 and 5,400 years old.
Analysis of a 2-centimeter-long thread from the V-necked, linen dress with pleated sleeves yielded the new radiocarbon age estimate. Examples of similar, floor-length Egyptian dresses date to nearly 5,000 years ago, says archaeologist Alice Stevenson, curator of University College London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, home to the Tarkhan Dress.
Stevenson and Michael Dee of the University of Oxford report the garment’s age online in the February Antiquity Project Gallery.
Stevenson suspects a socially elite woman wore the Tarkhan Dress shortly before Egypt’s first dynasty of kings appeared around 5,100 years ago. Tailored clothes might have been made even earlier. Tailors and other craft specialists emerged in societies where royals sought prestige goods, Stevenson suggests. Comparably old woven fabric from Jordan and Peru was draped or wrapped around the body, rather than cut to fit, she adds.