2 December 2021

Coiffure Legendaire: Hair Like an Egyptian

The Egyptian civilization was a society which paid much attention to beauty and fashion. The vast majority of the Egyptian population used wigs and not just to to disguise baldness… wigs were used because of imperatives hygienic, religious and/or aesthetic.

As for their hair, they would wrap it, make it wavey, they even braided it… peasants, workers and, in general, the people belonging to lower classes wore short hair or even completely shaved. For hygienic reasons people had to have shaved heads, since the constant flooding of the River Nile caused by insect pests and lice. On the other hand, between the nobility and the more affluent classes the tendency was to wear wigs: which denoted the status within the hierarchical Egyptian society. They were true works of art, and the more ornate and elaborate, the higher social status indicated. It seems that wig Queen Isimkheb (circa 900 b.c.) had for big events weighed so much that she needed help to walk.

During the Middle Kingdom, these wigs were always symmetrical, short, square, trapezoid-shaped. They are adorned with small combs, flowers, colorful ribbons, gold headbands, feathers of birds… Later, during the reign of Akhenaten, this symmetry broke and asymmetrical hairstyles became fashionable.

On top of wigs, Egyptians also placed a kind of cone-shaped ointment perfume, made with vegetable and animal fats and that through certain rituals –with some erotic connotation– was on wigs, shoulders, linen dresses and whole body, impregnating them with aromatic fragrances. Various wigs have been found with remains of these perfumed cones.

Wigs were produced with natural Brown or dark brown hair, dyed after black and with beeswax. Notably, they wore wigs both men and women. In fact, the highest-ranking women looked, who had official acts, wore false elongated beards –reserved to the divinity and the Pharaoh– to imply that they could be as authoritative as men. It is famous for Queen Hatshepsut, ruler from 1490 BC up to 1468 b.c., which after the death of his father, Tutmosis I, adopted a false beard and clothing to take on the role of Pharaoh male.

Male wigs were also very elaborated; contrary to what we can imagine, much more than the female. They wore braids in curls at the bottom and the top. A very good example of this is which is preserved in the British Museum in London, presenting also two distinct chestnut shades. The oddest thing of all is that the craftsmanship of wigs has not changed too much now. Those wigs made sometimes with the own hair of the person that would use them, and then rode on top of his shaven head. To provide them with more volume used, as filling inside the wig fibers of date palms, flax, wool or other fibers. But the main element was natural hair, which is highly appreciated, just as the gold and incense.

Many extensions were used to increase the length and volume hair. Fake braids on women in different dynasties of Royal funerary trousseaux were found. These braids are also used to cover baldness or to hide gray hair. Similarly, in these funerary offerings abound boxes used to store the wig and keep its shape, like the Tutankhamun.

Various social groups are represented without a wig. On the one hand the maids or workers, used the haircut with a stripe in the middle, curly hair and bangs, but also could carry the same cut but a bipartition wig. The dancers also wore wig and let a long tuft of hair on the crown of the head in order to braid it and decorate it with a disk of rigid material at the end of the braid – this kept vertical braid and marked the rhythm of dance to make it oscillate.

The children of royalty neither used wigs. They wore very short or shaved hair, but they kept a lock of hair over the head that grow to braid to one side, so that it would fall by a temple. It was called ‘lock of youth’.

Priests never wore wig during rituals and religious services, as a symbol of purity and contact with the divinity. The priests carried the letter scrupulous hygiene of the Egyptian people: they are circumcised, be purified constantly and hosting food and ritual requirements.

In another area, we can not name one of the indisputable agents in the history of hairdressing… Barbers, whose office already appears reviewed by the notary Khety around the year 2000 BC describes the craft as a heavy and some lucrative profession: have to work from sun to sun, looking for someone on the streets who shave or shave the hair under the shade of a tree to take shelter from the heat, and advertise and offer its services to find customers. In fact, barbers will drag a long itinerant tradition until almost the 17th century.

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