Between the art and the mummies left behind by ancient Egyptians, we know a lot about how they wore their hair. You probably have some pictures in your head already, like blue-and-gold striped pillowcase-looking thingies with snakes coming out of the forehead. And stuff like that. Right? Well, there’s that and more.
Hairstyling was a big deal in ancient Egypt, for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Tomb artwork depicts noblewomen with their hairdressers, applying cosmetics, bathing, and so on. These people cared a lot about their appearances!
Your average Egyptian woman, up to the time of the New Kingdom (which started around 1550 BCE), wore her hair pretty short – either shaved or in a bob. After that time, the fashion was more for long braided ‘dos, sometimes with bangs. Short hair was a logical choice, for the sake of comfort in the hot desert. For protection from the sun, some women might have worn a linen headcloth.
Lest you think that all ancient Egyptians went around looking like flappers (who based some of their styles on ancient Egyptian ones after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, but don’t let that confuse you), you’ll be interested to know that wigs and hair extensions were common adornments for women who could afford them. The oldest wigs found in ancient Egyptian burials are 4000 years old! They were made of both human and animal (ie: horse) hair as well as plant fibers. Wigs, at various times, involved braids of all sizes, curls, beads, and styling products. Women with short, thin, or white hair wore braided extensions to improve their looks. Vegetable-based hair dye, particularly henna, was also in use, both on natural hair and wigs.
Interestingly, wigs would have provided some relief from headlice, which only thrive in natural hair. Third Plague, anyone? Lice prevention was a big deal, since they could transmit some pretty serious diseases – but evidence of headlice has been found on even the noblest mummies.
It is thought, based on images found in tombs, that Egyptian men and women wore perfumed cones on top of their hair or wigs for special events. The cones would have been made of tallow (animal fat) and scented with any of a wide variety of perfumes that were in use. The point of a perfume cone would have been to melt over the course of a party, leaving behind a pleasant scent. But historians aren’t 100% sure that this is what those pictures are showing; some people say that what looks like a perfume cone is really just a hieroglyphic way of showing that someone’s hair or wig was scented.
Check out the pictures below to get a better idea of what I’ve been describing, and stay tuned for my next post about crowns!