The ancient Egyptians cared very much about their appearance. They wore finely tailored and flattering clothes and took great care of their bodies. It is often considered strange then that the wealthiest Egyptians–both men and women–shaved themselves bald. Evidence indicates that being clean shaven on the head and face was a sign of nobility, and copper razors found in the tombs of upper-class Egyptians reveal the importance of staying clean shaven. Archeologists, scientists who study the distant past using physical evidence, also believe that Egyptians shaved to keep themselves cool in the hot Egyptian climate.
Though some Egyptians shaved themselves bald, they still cared about having a pleasing hairstyle, and so they wore a variety of stylish wigs. Egyptians were skilled wig makers. They made wigs out of human hair and bound the wigs to their heads with various headbands and headdresses. By the time of the New Kingdom (c. 1500–c. 750 B.C.E. ), wigs had become very ornamental and were woven with gold and jewels. Poorer Egyptians, however, wore wigs made from wool. Male Egyptian rulers sometimes wore beard wigs during special ceremonies.
Not all Egyptians shaved and wore wigs, however. Hairstyles were used to show a person's position in society. Young children had their hair cut short, except for a long strand called a side-lock that hung from the right side of the head. Married women also had a distinctive hairstyle. They wore their hair with bangs (hair covering the forehead) and shoulder length locks at the sides and longer locks in the back. This is called the triparti style because of the three different lengths of hair. Hairstyles did change considerably over the long history of ancient Egypt. The hieroglyphs, drawings that tell stories of the Egyptian past, indicate that long and short hair was popular for both men and women at different times. One style that was popular throughout Egyptian history for both sexes was to have long hair that was combed behind the ears and then in front of the shoulders, creating an attractive frame for the face.
In addition to wigs and varying hairstyles, Egyptians wore different types of hats and headdresses. At the peak of Egyptian society, the ruler, called a pharaoh, wore the distinctive double crown known as a pschent. Other forms of headwear were worn for specific ceremonies. Many of the ceremonial hats were decorated with a figure of the uraeus, a sacred hooded cobra. Especially during the New Kingdom period, Egyptians used jewels and elaborate braiding, similar to cornrows, to decorate their heads.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.
Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Trasko, Mary. Daring Do's: A History of Extraordinary Hair. New York: Flammarion, 1994.
Watson, Philip J. Costume of Ancient Egypt. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.