Egyptian Body Decorations
Ancient Egyptians took great care with their bodies, from the way they dressed to the ornaments that they wore. The many ways that Egyptians decorated their bodies reveal their fascination with appearances. Caring for the skin was very important, especially to wealthy people. Egyptians washed their bodies often using fairly harsh soaps that stripped oils from the skin. To soften their skin they used a variety of ointments and creams. These might contain scents to perfume their bodies. The Egyptian climate was very hot, and many Egyptians shaved their heads and their facial hair. Presenting a smooth, almost polished body surface was considered a sign of high status. Historians believe that the Egyptians may have invented some of the world's first grooming products, from deodorants to toothpaste, in order to improve their smell and appearance.
Egyptians used different kinds of makeup to paint their faces and bodies. Kohl, a black pigment, was the best-known form of makeup, and it was used by people of all classes to outline the eyes. Both women and men paid special attention to their eyes and used eye makeup to protect themselves from evil and to honor the goddess Hathor, the mother of the world. Eyes were typically made up with black kohl or green malachite powder, made from a mineral found in nearby mountains. Egyptians also used red makeup for their lips and rouge, or a reddish powder, for the cheeks. Evidence of many other forms of makeup has been found in tombs and depicted in hieroglyphs, the picture language that reveals so much about Egyptian history. It appears that Egyptians may have used wrinkle treatments and painted their nails as well.
Another way that Egyptians ornamented themselves was through the use of jewelry. The best-known pieces of jewelry were the highly decorated collars and pectorals (jewelry that was hung over the chest by a chain around the neck) that both men and women wore on their upper chest, under and around their neck. Many other forms of jewelry were worn, including necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. Wealthy women might sew jewels into the fabric of their kalasirises, or long dresses.
The ruling pharaohs, kings and queens, wore special ornaments of their own, and these ornaments were filled with symbolism. Nearly every Egyptian pharaoh carried the crook and flail, symbols of the rule of the king. The crook was similar to a tool used by shepherds, a long staff with a hook at the end. The flail was a wooden rod with three straps hanging from one end, each strap bearing decorative pendants. Another ornament carried or worn by many pharaohs was the ankh, a symbol of life that looked like a cross with a loop for its upper vertical arm, whose origins are a mystery to historians.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Watson, Philip J. Costume of Ancient Egypt. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.