Hair in Ancient Egypt

by Michael Sones

Ancient Egypt was one of the earliest societies we know of in which beauty was important. The archaeological evidence is very good here. Paintings, combs, hairpins, wigs, and romantic poetry all reveal the importance of hair for the ancient Egyptians. Hair was considered sacred and like modern people Egyptians also worried about thinning or graying hair and wished to preserve at least the appearance of youth for as long as possible.

This was despite it being a common practice in all classes of society for the people to shave their heads. While there were social and religious reasons for this the very hot climate of Egypt had a distinct role. Long and elaborate hairstyles are hot and a paradise for vermin. Egyptian women shaved not only their heads but also other parts of their bodies and wore open pleated skirts to reveal this.

Young girls wore their hair short or in a pony tail. Children had their heads shaved completely except a few long strands left dangling on one side of the head which was called the “sidelock of youth” and remained until puberty.

Look at the bust of Queen Nefertiti of the eighteenth dynasty of the 14th

century BC. She was clearly a very beautiful woman and her headdress, on her shaven head, accentuates the lines of her neck, face and forehead. Her name means “The Beautiful One is Come”.

The Ancient Egyptians thought thick hair was best and they liked elaborate hairstyles. They used hair extensions and wigs made of real hair, horse hair, palm-leaves, straw or sheep’s wool. The wigs were usually divided into three sections with one going down the back and two down either side at the front to the breasts. They even dyed their hair and wigs a variety of colours with blues, greens, blondes and gold colours being among the preferred colours though black wigs hued by indigo were the favorite.

It was also believed that a woman’s wig could enhance her sexuality. Men also wore wigs, which although smaller than a woman’s, were often more complex in design. Wigs were often scented with perfume and wealthy Egyptians had personal barbers who would come to their homes. Wigs were made by barbers or by women. The photo is of an ancient Egyptian wig made from human hair over a net.

Further information on Egyptian cosmetics and hairstyles can be found on this site at COSMETICS, STYLES & BEAUTY CONCEPTS IN IRAN by Massoume Price. This is an interesting historical overview of cosmetics and beauty concepts in the ancient Middle East with particular reference to Persia (Iran) but also has much valuable information about Egypt. The article has some very good photos of ancient statues revealing hairstyles from 3000 BC.

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