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Fashion Philosophy: Cleopatra


Cleopatra on barge

This week, by popular demand, we’ll be deconstructing the fashion sense of Egypt’s most famous pharaoh, Cleopatra. (And if this doesn’t satisfy your thirst for all things ancient-Egyptian, be sure to check out our post on fashion inspired by King Tut.)

Cleopatra was a legend in her time — literally! Much of what we know about her today was recorded by Roman historians, who — to be blunt — were not exactly known for being the most reliable documentarians. Back then, myth and history were intertwined, so it’s hard to tell exactly what’s fact and what’s fiction. Furthermore, Cleopatra did travel a lot in her life, so there’s no doubt she would have worn Roman styles in Rome and Egyptian styles in Egypt.

That being said, there are lots of recorded facts about Cleopatra’s fashion and beauty choices to discuss. Today, I’m going to talk about Cleopatra’s beauty routine and several unique elements of her style. Read on to learn more:

History 101: About Cleopatra

  • Cleopatra VII was the daughter of Ptolemy XII. (The identity of her mother is unclear.) She was born in either 69 or 68 BC.
  • When Cleopatra was 18, her father died and she began to co-rule with her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII. They married, as was custom back then, to keep the royal power within the family.
  • Cleopatra is famous for her liaisons — both political and romantic — with Julius Caesar. It was Rome that put Cleopatra back on the throne after her own brother exiled her. Ptolemy XIII ended up dying in the conflict, after which Cleopatra’s younger brother became her new co-ruler.
  • Cleopatra and Ceasar had one child,  a boy named Caesarion.
  • After Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cleopatra’s brother died mysteriously and she made Caesarion her co-ruler.
  • In 41 BC, Cleopatra met Mark Antony. The couple allied politically, fell in love, and eventually had three children together.
  • In 31 BC, Antony and Cleopatra went to war together against Octavius, the then-emperor of Rome, and Caesar’s adopted son. Their war efforts failed and when Octavius pursued them all the way back to Egypt, the couple decided to commit suicide. Cleopatra died on the 12th of August, 30 BC.
  • After the death of Cleopatra, Egypt became a part of the ever-growing Roman empire. Cleopatra was Egypt’s last pharaoh.
  • Despite popular legend, Cleopatra was not a great beauty. Like Marie Antoinette, her beauty came from her charisma and charm. She was also very shrewd, resourceful, powerful and passionate — a good role model for ladies today.

Elements of Cleopatra’s Style

A beauty regime fit for a queen

Honey close up

Cleopatra, like many Egyptians of her time, was a big fan of beauty products. In fact, her beauty regime is still famous to this day. She was well-known for bathing in milk and honey in order to keep her skin soft, and enjoyed wearing scented oils and perfumes.

Cleopatra also wore the makeup look we oftentimes associate with ancient Egypt today, by using kohl eyeliner to extend the line of the eye and powdering the lids with green (not blue) crushed malachite.

Take inspiration from Cleopatra’s beauty routine by treating yourself a nice DIY spa day. Make a bubble bath feel extra luxurious by adding a few drops of essential oil for a soothing scent, then slather yourself in moisturizer or body butter, paint your toenails, and put on a homemade face mask. (You can even make a milk and honey face mask for an authentic Cleopatra-inspired spa day!)

When getting dressed, be sure to spritz on a feminine scent. (Try to avoid “young” scents like sweet fruit or cotton candy – Cleopatra was more of a floral/musk girl.) I’d recommend dabbing just a little on your neck above your pulse points so that it can only be smelled when you lean in to talk to people. Finish off your makeup with some winged eyeliner and some eyeshadow, for a dramatic nighttime look.

Bold Accessories

Cleopatra statement necklace

This detail about Cleopatra’s style can be inferred by viewing the statues that were made of her. Since she was often depicted in traditional royal garb, bold jewelry may not have been part of her regular dress. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth noting!

Cleopatra is traditionally depicted wearing a large, flat, circular neck piece and a variety of traditional Egyptian headdresses. When translating this element of her style into your everyday ensemble, it may be a bit overwhelming to wear both a statement necklace and large hair accessory, so be sure to pick just one or the other. That said, have fun with whatever piece you choose and be bold!

Elements of Isis

Goddess isis
The goddess Isis. | Source

Did you know that Cleopatra had a “fashion muse” of her own? After Caesarion was born on the god Horus’s birthday, Cleopatra started referring to herself as the reincarnation of Isis.

(Quick lesson on Egyptian gods: Isis was the goddess of motherhood, fertility and rebirth, and was the mother of Horus. It was therefore a natural choice for Cleopatra to refer to herself as this goddess in particular.)

Once she started referring to herself as Isis, Cleopatra also began dressing the part. She wore red, yellow, and white — the goddess’s colors — and became much more involved in ceremonies dedicated to Isis.

To make your outfit as divine as Cleopatra’s, try to include Isis’s signature colors (red, yellow, and white) and incorporate symbols associated with the goddess, such as the ankh and the sycamore tree.

Putting It All Together: Outfits Inspired by Cleopatra

Flirty Pharaoh

Daytime outfit inspired by Cleopatra
Product Info: Shirt – Storenvy, Necklace – Anthropologie, Dress – ModCloth, Hat – UNIQLO, Earrings –, Perfume – Bath and Body Works, Purse – ModCloth, Shoes – H&M

Cleopatra is perhaps most famous for her sex appeal and romantic relationships, so what would this post be without a date look? Since it’s still quite chilly out (there’s still snow up here!), you may have to add layers to wear this one, but for all of you in warmer areas, have fun!

Wear a chambray top unbuttoned over a yellow maxi dress for a dressy look with a relaxed vibe. Add red shoes and a white bag to reference Isis’s colors. The hat and necklace are tributes to the statement necklaces and headdresses Cleopatra is shown wearing on most statues. Next, add a spritz of your favorite perfume – I recommend Midnight Pomegranate from Bath and Body Works – it’s my go-to scent, as it’s inexpensive and has a sweet, musky scent without being overpowering or too mature. Lastly, add wing earrings for yet another subtle reference to Isis (as seen in the image above).

Queen of the Nile

Cleopatra fashion - outfit inspired by the queen of the Nile
Product Info: Necklace – Dorothy Perkins, Dress – ASOS, Bracelet – Stella & Dot, Eyeliner – Nordstrom, Eyeshadow – NARS, Lipstick –, Mascara – Nordstrom, Clutch – Nordstrom, Shoes – Target

Cleopatra was born into the Ptolomaic dynasty, so she lived a life of prosperity and abundance. A great way to channel that swanky vibe is through a formal outfit.

A cream-colored dress with a cool draped detail is feminine, classy, and reminiscent of ancient robes. Accessorize with red shoes and a yellow clutch to add hints of Isis’s look. Cleopatra was historically known for her love of pearls, so add a pretty pearl bracelet. Finish accessorizing with a regal gold collar necklace. For makeup, go for a strong cat-eye with plenty of mascara and a swipe of neutral shadow. I love the way this dark neutral pink lipstick adds color to the look – and the shade is called called Honey! (See what I did there?)


And there you have it, a guide to taking Cleopatra’s style choices and make them suitable for your modern lifestyle. What did you think of this post? Will you be testing out a Cleopatra-approved beauty routine? Who should this column cover next? Leave a comment below!

Posted on on March 23, 2013 / Filed Under: Inspiration / Tags: , , , , ,

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12 Responses to “Fashion Philosophy: Cleopatra”

  1. 1
    March 23rd, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Yes, Cleopatra was a legend and she still inspires people now, in a fashion and beauty sense as you have pointed out.
    I can only just imagine myself in a milk & honey bath and being pampered by the servants.
    Anyway, back to reality, love the dress & the red shoes together. Excellent contrast and eye-catching!!!

  2. 2
    March 23rd, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    This post was so, so interesting! Loved learning about Cleopatra, plus the outfits tie all the elements together perfectly. How about a post on Queen Victoria?

  3. 3
    March 23rd, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    ^Second. Queen Vic!

  4. 4
    March 23rd, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    I love these segments and while I’m the type of person to put honey on my hair but the face is kinda weird thing for me but I’m willing I try it. The outfits are really cute too :)

  5. 5
    March 24th, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Love these ideas, will definitely be trying them when the weather warms up!

    Also, to combat the popular misconception – Cleopatra was 100% ethnic Greek (generations of inbreeding, yuck!) , not Egyptian, and her family ruled there in as a foreign occupation.

  6. 6
    March 24th, 2013 at 9:51 am

    that is the justification I gave for buying a Greek goddess outfit (as it was the only one I could find) when I dressed as Cleopatra for Halloween, because she was Greek. In fact, Mark Anthony was criticised for changing from wearing Roman garments to Greek garments when he was in Egypt with her. It basically acted as a symbol to Rome that he wasn’t coming back.

  7. 7
    March 24th, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Jojo,

    Ten points to Ravenclaw! The Ptolemaic dynasty was in fact of Macedonian descent, not Egyptian, and Cleopatra was the first in the dynasty to ever even learn to speak Egyptian! (Her family spoke, of course, Greek.)

  8. 8
    March 25th, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Bath and body works is going to discontinue midnight pomegranate so stock up!

  9. 9
    April 12th, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Love this post about Cleopatra. :)

  10. 10
    June 13th, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Love the accessories and the red shoes. I can’t seem to get enough of red shoes.

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