Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Egyptomania and the Color Trends of 1923


Above: Furnishing fabric, Steiner & Co, about 1920, England. Museum no. CIRC.668-1966. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

∼ by Ann Wilson

When archaeologist Howard Carter unearthed the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922, the discovery would spark an obsession with ancient Egypt that became a global phenomenon that influenced all aspects of design, including fashion and textiles. “Egyptomania,” as this craze was sometimes called, was the major inspiration for the color palette chosen by the Textile Color Card Association of America (TCCA) for the Fall 1923 Season. Women’s Wear described the TCCA’s choices as “authentic colors based on the discoveries found in the tomb of King Tut-ankh-Amen coincident with the wave of Egyptian designs and Egyptian fashion trend.” 1

We’re fortunate to have the Fall 1923 TCCA color card in our collection.

From these detailed photos of the swatches, we see obvious references to Egypt: Egyptian Red and Egyptian Green, Sphinx brown, and Mummy Brown.

Digging a little deeper into the other colors, we see many with names linked to Egypt, including:

Papyrus and Blue Lotus – Both of these plants feature prominently in ancient Egyptian design motifs, as shown in the illustrations below, sketched from ancient Egyptian art and artifacts.2

Cartouche is a reference to the lozenge-shaped motifs containing hieroglyphics that identify Egyptian royalty (see below left).

Coptic refers to the Copts, a Christian community with origins in the Late Antiquity period in Egypt. We have a wonderful collection of Coptic textiles that date to the 4th century A.D. Such textiles were usually used in burial rituals, and those that survive are often fragments of tunics. (Click on the image below on the right to link to our online collection.)

The bright blue Faience color refers to a pottery technique used in ancient Egypt characterized by a shiny glaze of brilliant blue, a color linked to fertility and the gleaming qualities of the sun.

The Hathor color is a reference to a major goddess who played many roles in ancient Egyptian religion. Hathor was considered a symbolic mother of the pharoahs and a goddess of the underworld who guided the dead into the afterlife.

The color named Luxor refers to the city where the Valley of the Kings and the tomb of King Tut are located.

The brown woolen swatch named Sakkara refers to the ancient site of the Step Pyramid of Djoser3, built in the 27th century BC. This stepped formation can be linked to the stepped motifs that were popular during the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 30s, as seen on the design of this blouse from the women’s magazine La Femme Chic.4

Another image from La Femme Chic from 1923 shows blouses in a popular tunic style with embroidery. The motifs add a bit of an Egyptian flair to these 20s silhouettes, in green and gold colors similar to the hues on the Fall 1923 color card. A similar style, called the “Tutankhaman Over-Blouse,” was sold by Jessette Ltd. in London. Its design was described as “an exact reproduction of the hieroglyphic of the king, from the tomb at Luxor.”5

Blouses by Andre Schwab, La Femme Chic, c.1923
advertisement in British Vogue, c.1923

The dark green Beetle color on the 1923 TCCA card is a reference to the scarab, a very important symbol in ancient Egypt. It is thought that scarabs came to be revered due to their habit of rolling dung into spheres larger than themselves, which they push along and bury in the ground. Their eggs are laid within these spheres. This ritual was linked with the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and the passing of the sun from sunrise to sunset.

The scarab beetle is often pictured with wings and positioned below an orb symbolizing the sun. The damask textile swatch below from our collection clearly shows such a winged scarab motif. It also happens to be close in color to the Carnelian swatch on the 1923 card. Carnelian is an orange-red gem prominently featured in Egyptian jewelry and artifacts, often with lapis or turquoise. The image below the swatch is a chest ornament from the tomb of King Tut featuring the winged scarab motif in gold with inlaid carnelian and other gems.

chest ornament from the tomb of King Tut

With its Fall 1923 card, the TCCA went beyond its mission to capture the mood of America through color by capitalizing on a craze that captivated not just the U.S. but countries around the globe.6 The 1923 Fall Season Color Card of America is one of the clearest examples in our collection of how contemporary events influence trends in color, fashion, and textiles.

  1. “Fall Color Card to Show Egyptian Colors.” Women’s Wear, March 19, 1923, 3.
  2. Wilson, Eva. Ancient Egyptian Designs for Artists and Craftspeople. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1986
  3. Pyramid of Djoser (or Zoser), or step pyramid, Saqqara Necropolis, Memphis (Unesco World Heritage List, 1979), Egypt, Egyptian civilization, Old Kingdom, Dynasty III. (2014). In Bridgeman Images (Ed.), Bridgeman images. Bridgeman.
  4. Dirix, Emmanuelle, & Fiell, Charlotte (Eds.). 1920s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook. Goodman Fiell, 2011.
  5. Howell, Georgina. In Vogue: Six Decades of Fashion. Allen Lane, Penguin Books Ltd, London, 1975.
  6. Kirberg, A. “Forecasting, Standardization, and the Americanization of Color: The Formative Years of the Textile Color Card Association of the United States (1914-1924).” Dress. 2015;41(2):81-94.

Special Collections Technician, Textile & Costume Collection, Thomas Jefferson University

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