Or lack thereof
There’s a worrying lack of clarity when it comes to Ancient Egyptian hairstyles, given that there has been a strong stereotype perpetuated that Ancient Egyptians, both male and female, shaved themselves bald. To be frank, it’s even hard to research this topic and find reliable sources. Hearsay, it seems, is king.
Which, I suppose, is not surprising, seeing that a society where everyone was bald is rather sensational. But, I am sorry to have to say, this was not the case.
Now wait! You’re saying. I’ve been lied to my whole life?
Well, yes and no. Some people did shave themselves bald. But the idea that everyone was walking around with no hair on their head is patently inaccurate.
This is made more confusing to the average layperson given that anytime the history of shaving or razors is brought up, Ancient Egypt is always mentioned. Because, even if adults didn’t all shave the top of their heads bald, they were shaving addicts when it came to all other areas of the body. Further, you’ve probably seen the traditional image of the Ancient Egyptian child wearing the sidelock of youth, the hairstyle worn by all Ancient Egyptian children. This hairstyle required the entire head of the child to be shaved, except for a single braided section.
However, once adulthood was reached, there were a myriad of hairstyle options to choose from. Priests and priestesses shaved their head as part of their ritual duties, and many men shaved their heads as well. But other men simply kept their hair clipped short. Wigs were another option, and a popular one because the woven structure would not trap desert heat near the head. Note that you did not have to be shaved bald to wear a wig.
Women had many options, including wigs. But, whether their hair was fake or not, it was worn long, at least to the shoulder, though I can’t find evidence that it was ever worn any longer than the mid-back. The Ancient Egyptians were also pros at adding extensions to the hair. Many mummies have been found with natural hair still on their heads, with extensions woven into that. I’d love to show pictures, but given that it could come off as rather grim, I’ll leave you to research it if you’re so inclined. Further, other mummies have been found with a fat-based hair gel on their heads! Henna was also used as a hair dye to cover those pesky greys. The Ancient Egyptians, it seems, were pretty good at making sure you could achieve the hairstyle of your dreams.
If you chose a wig because you wanted to skip all the extension and hair-product-based drama, or because you were going grey or naturally balding, you had a lot of options, especially if you were wealthy. Real human hair was the most expensive material used, but there were also wigs made from materials such as vegetable fiber, wool, or other animal fibers.
We’ve actually found some Ancient Egyptian wigs, or some of their decorative aspects, intact at burial sites, and I’ll leave some images here below.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short three-week journey though Ancient Egyptian fashion! Join me next week as we head back into the world of Ancient Egyptian religion.
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