Wigs were so popular among the Egyptians; however, there is speculation that there might have been a combination of the religious custom of shaving the head and the practical problem of keeping the hair clean and free of vermin in the hot Egyptian climate. There is also evidence that they had a taste for elaborate hair styles which could not be combed out frequently.
Although it appears that shaving the head was practically universal among men; except when they were away from their own country, women sometimes wore wigs over their own hair, which was parted in the middle and combed flat, often showing below the wig in the front.
When making the wigs, which were usually large and well ventilated, there was no attempt to imitate natural hair. They were very decorative, often indicating social ranking, and they served the same function as any head covering in protecting the user from the sun.
When the common people started to copy the same styles, the people of rank then adopted longer and more elaborate wigs. There were several periods in history during which high-ranking women wore exceedingly large wigs.
The best wigs were made of human hair; however, various substitutes; such as, wool and palm-leaf fibers were also utilized. Natural dark brown hair was sometimes worn, but the wigs were frequently dyed with black being the favorite color.
There was probably no better time for hair than in ancient
. You could dye it, cut it, braid it, shave it, weave charms into it—and then there were the wigs—of countless designs. The ancient Egyptians-- both men and women--were known for hating facial and body hair and used all kinds of shaving implements to get rid of it. But hair on the head? They loved it—and had so many ways of showing it. Egypt
"Human hair was of great importance in ancient
," writes Egyptologist Joann Fletcher, Ph.D., for Egypt Revealed magazine. "Rich or poor of both genders treated hair—their own or locks obtained elsewhere—as a highly pliable means of self-expression." Egypt
But hair styles were more than self-expression. Wigs, which the Egyptians were very fond of, not only allowed for ornate hair decorating, but also helped the ancient Egyptians with cleanliness, protected the (shaved) scalp from the sun and kept the head cool and also prevented that modern-day scourge—head lice, according to Fletcher. She writes, "Our research has turned up the world’s oldest head lice, which bedeviled an Egyptian from
about 5000 years ago." Abydos
How do we know about ancient Egyptian hair?
’s hot and dry conditions naturally preserved the soft tissues of the body after death, including the nails, skin and hair. This is true even of poor people who were simply buried in the sand and not mummified. From this process we have seen the many different ways the ancient Egyptians adorned their hair. There is archaeological evidence that hair extensions and dyes were used in Egypt at least as early as 3400 B.C. Egypt
We have also recovered many different tomb paintings and statues that show elaborate hair styles. A most interesting feature on many of the statues is the artistic rendering of a bit of the person’s natural hair peeking through under the wig, indicating that wigs were a desired form of hair ornament and were an obvious supplement to the hair—and not used to replace the natural hair.
It is the tomb paintings that show the hair in "motion." Many paintings show women with their ornate wigs topped by a perfumed cone, often worn during festive occasions, which melted and cascaded over the wig as the evening went on. The tomb paintings also show men and women getting their hair done by other individuals, probably servants. There is evidence that the Egyptians cut their hair with very sharp blades as early as 3000 B.C.
What is most intriguing, according to Fletcher, is that women’s wigs were less elaborate than those of men’s. Therefore, they may have appeared more natural looking. One exception was a female mummy discovered in the Valley of the Golden Mummies with a mask on her head with a unique hairstyle at the back arranged in a round cake-like shape, according to Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass.
For the most part, women used hair extensions to fill out thinning hair or just make regular tresses more luxuriant. Wigs and extensions were almost always made of human hair—either collected from the individual or bought or traded from someone else. Wigs and extensions were fashioned with a variety of clever weaves and knots that were secured into or onto the real hair (or scalp) with beeswax and resin. Many wigs had an internal padding of date-palm fiber that gave the wigs their famous fullness.
Braids were a favorite form of hair extension, and some were woven into intricate designs to give more length and greater style. According to Fletcher, a man buried at Mostagedda had used thread to fasten lengths of human hair to his own. The wavy brown hair of Queen Meryet-Amun had been filled out around the crown and temples with tapered braids. She was also buried, as many well-to-do women, with a duplicate set of braids.
The ancient Egyptians hated gray hair and would use a variety of methods to eliminate it. Sometimes the hair would be dyed after death. The dye of choice was vegetable henna, which, five thousand years later is still used by many native Egyptians (and people abroad) for the same purpose. In one mummy, the henna dyed the natural dark brown hair an auburn color, while turning the unpigmented white hairs a bright orange.
Art was a part of everyday life of the ancient Egyptians. And it is clear that they considered their hair as a supreme form of self-art which had endless possibilities. Again, we can thank the skill of these ancient artisans and the climate for allowing us to still enjoy what they did thousands of years ago
Ancient Egyptian hairstyles established the person's status in society. As a young girl, Egyptian children (both boys and girls) had their hair shaved off, with the exception of a long lock of hair attached to the side of the head. With the onset of puberty, the boys would shave off the rest of their hair, while the girls wore their hair in plaits or a ponytail style, with the single tail hanging down the center at the back. Hair could be long and braided with curls at the end or with weighted accessories that would adorn the hair and keep it hanging straight.
As with modern women, ancient Egyptian women could maintain a hairstyle that was long or short, preferring their hair smooth and close with chin length bobs. For longer hair, women of the
New Kingdom had wigs, their hair decorated with flowers or ribbons. Employing a stylized lotus blossom as a head adornment, it developed into the diadems made from turquoise, gold, and malachite beads. Even the poorer women would be able to add adornments such as berries and petals, while children's hair was decorated with amulets, hair-rings and clasps. Often, the ancient Egyptian woman would wear a headband to keep her hair in place, employing when necessary ivory hairpins and beads to attach wigs and hair extensions.
Shaving the head bald might seem to be an extreme style for women in particular, but there were many benefits. It assisted with keeping the bearer cool in the hot Egyptian climate, it allowed for sanitary maintenance, preventing such things as head lice, and it was much easier for the hair to be washed and changed, just like clothes, as this could be done by the servants, and the owner would always have a fresh change of hair.
With the interaction of
Rome on , there was a cultural crossover that saw some female Egyptian mummies wearing the ornate hairstyles of the ancient Roman woman. Roman hairstyles were even portrayed in statues. Egypt
Wigs were created from sheep's wool, vegetable fibers, and human hair, with the more natural looking hair, the more in demand. They could be curled or made with plaits, with the nobility and royalty wearing long wigs that were separated into three parts. Wigs could be long or short, the latter made of small curls that were arranged in horizontal lines that overlapped each other like roofing tiles. The ears and the back of the neck were fully covered with only the forehead partially visible. The long-haired wig hung to the shoulder, framing the face, with a sampling of waves and spirals. The wigs had to be maintained with vegetable oils and animal fats, to which they added scents and adornments such as cinnamon and petals. Wigs were so special to the ancient Egyptians, that they accompanied them into their tombs for the journey to the next life.