Wigs and Hair in Acient Egpyt

The Egyptians were famous for their wigs, usually made from human hair and braided and styled in countless different ways, from the simple to sheer elaborate. In much the same way as in 18th century Europe, hair was of great importance, and both male and female, rich and poor alike, treated their hair as a highly pliable form of self expression.

Both men and women would often shave their hair and wear wigs. From at least the time of the New Kingdom, priests shaved off all of their body hair, most likely as a precaution against lice, whose presence would have been considered as unacceptably offensive whilst they were ministering to the gods. Elaborate New Kingdom wig made from human hair.

Hair pieces in the form of false plaits and curls were sometimes added to the existing hair, even in the case of relatively poor individuals, although full wigs were actually much more common. Many wigs were extremely complex, and arranged into careful braids and strands. Although usually made of human hair, some wigs would have a padding made of vegetable fibres beneath the surface. This would have given the wigs their familiar fullness and thickness.

Women often wore very long, heavy braided wigs, and these were considered to add to their sensuality. Men generally wore shorter wigs than women, although their styles were sometimes even more elaborate. Wigs were worn on public occasions and at banquets and would have often been scented.

Incense and perfume …

There are numerous representations of guests at banquets and public functions who wear incense cones on top of their heavy wigs. These incense cones can be found on both men and women, and were made up of aromatic incense mixed with fat.

It was originally assumed that these perfumed cones would gradually melt in the heat, and run down the wig and clothing, supposedly leaving the wearer cool and fragrant. It seems unlikely however that people would have wanted their expensive and elaborate wigs and fine clothes matted and stained with congealed fat!

It has now been suggested that the depiction of the incense cone is used simply to convey the idea that the wigs were scented. Such incense cones have never been discovered archaeologically, and it does seem plausible that the cones illustrate a fact that would otherwise be impossible to represent in a pictorial form.

A cure for baldness and grey hair …

The Egyptians took great care of their hair, and were concerned to avoid greying and baldness. Many texts survive today which include, amongst others, remedies for these conditions, although it’s highly questionable whether they were actually effective at all. Wig streaked with grey Grey haired wig

Sometimes the hair would be dyed, even after death, with vegetable henna – still a very popular choice throughout Egypt and the Middle East today. The henna would dye the naturally dark hair a deep auburn colour, and the unpigmented grey hairs would usually be much lighter in colour.

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