History of Hair: Words of Wisdom from Ancient Adornments. 2021

Ancient Egypt

3100 BCE - 30 BCE

When looking back on ancient civilizations, the hairstyles and hair decorations in Egypt definitely took the cake. It is obvious that Egyptians had a large focus on their appearance, and their hair looked nothing short of FABULOUS. The way an Egyptian’s hair looked told a story about their status, role in a society, and their political significance. The importance of hair decorations in ancient Egypt share a lot of similarities with how people decorate their hair today. Similar to modern hairstyles, Egyptian hairstyles varied with age, gender, and social status. Here is some information I have dug up starting with the Egyptian children, focusing on the trendiest styles of the era, and ending on a different note - hair decorations for the dead.

Hair Decorations for Protection

Let’s start at the beginning. The importance of appearance was taught to children in Egyt at a young age. They were given very unique hairstyles. Their hair was either shaved off or cut short except for one single, long lock of hair. This single strand was kept on the side of their head and was known as the side-lock of youth. These locks are demonstrated in the hieroglyphic symbosl of children in ancient Egyptian carvings. Girtls and boys both wore this same style until the onset of puberty. This one lock of hair would also need some jazzing up. Children decorated their hair with amulets of small fish (yes, small fish!), hair rings, and clasps. This was presumably to protect them from the dangers of the Nile.

Following puberty, young boys in Egypt typically shaved their heads. Young girls wore their hair in plaits or would do their hair up in a ponytail style. Their hair would swing down the center of the back. Young Egyptian girls that were dancers would wear long thick braided ponytails. The edge of the tail was either naturally curled or was somehow enhanced (most likely through heat and hair curlers) to do so. If the bottom of the ponytail was not properly curled, it would need to be weighted down by various adornments or metal discs.

Trends of the Old and New Kingdoms

Women's hairstyles in Egypt were more creative than those of men. Women generally preferred a smooth, natural wave (similar to the top selling extensions in today’s era). Women in the Old Kingdom preferred to have short cuts or chin length bobs. The women in the New Kingdom would have loved the longest lengths of clip-in extensions. They wore their hair as long as possible or sported a fashionable wig (or both at the same time). Both of these styles required their own types of wigs with the latter opening up Egyptians to hair extensions.

Independent of which Kingdom you lived in, your hair needed decoration! Women spent a long time tying and decorating their hair with various flowers and linen ribbons. They would thread golden tubes on each layer of hair, or string gold rosettes between strings of small beads to form full head covers. A stylized lotus blossom was the trending adornment for turning heads in Egypt. This developed into donning fancy coronets and diadems. I personally have decided women need coronets walking around their own homes today on top of their own amazing hairdos (even my husband agrees).

Find Your Own Decorations

Egyptian women were creative and it took nothing less than a nature walk to spice up their hairdo. Impoverished people found more simple and cheaper ornaments of petals and berries to hold their hair in place at the back. These women would also wear headbands and use ivory and metal pins to hold their hair in place. Simple beads were used to attach their wigs or hair extensions (making hair clips feel like a luxury today). Why spend all of this time decorating your hair? The answer is simple. No Egyptian woman wanted to look like a slave!

Slaves and servants were not able to look the same as Egyptian nobility. No decorations, their hair needed to look as boring as possible. Usually, they had to tie their hair at the back of the head into a simple kind of loop. Another type of hairstyle for slaves was to tie it in nine long plaits at the back of the head. Their hair would then dangle together at one side of the neck and face.

Ancient Egyptian Hair Spas

Only the smoothest coiffed hair will do in Egypt! Single and double sided combs were made from wood or bone. The task of shaving bone was done with a stone blade, then copper, and finally with a bronze razor. Hair color? Egyptian salons tried to do it all! Scientific studies show that people used henna to conceal any wispy grey hair from as early as 3400 BC. Henna is still used for hair color today. It wasn’t just the texture of their hair that had to stand out. These women wanted their gorgeous locks to smell amazing. Egyptians made use of something similar to our modern aromatherapy. The top hair fragrances? The most common oils used were fir oil, rosemary oil, sweet almond oil, and castor oil. These not only acted as a perfume, but they were also used to stimulate hair growth. Another method to stimulate hair growth was the seeds of fenugreek. This is something that plant herbalists and pharmacologists still use today.

How to Look Like a Goddess

Similar to modern times, people in Egypt wanted thick, rich, volumtuous hair. Hair extensions and wigs were very popular and were worn by all - men, women and children. They were worn for decoration both inside and outside of their homes. Egyptians put on a new wig EACH DAY and the wigs they would choose would vary in style (Cher’s concerts would not stand a chance). The primary purpose of a fancy wig was as a headdress for special occasions, such as ceremonies and banquets. The hair on wigs were often curled or sometimes made with a multitude of plaits. Only queens or noble ladies could wear wigs of beautiful long hair separated into three parts, the "goddess look". In later times New Kingdom, everyone was allowed to look like a goddess.

There were basically two kinds of wig styles; wigs made of short hair (for the Old Kingdom) or long hair (for the New Kingdom). The Old Kingdom wigs were made of small curls arranged in horizontal lines layering over each other resembling roof tiles. The woman’s forehead was partially visible while her ears and back of her neck were fully covered. Small curls were made on either triangular or square cuts of hair. In the New Kingdom, the hair from a long-haired wig hung down heavily from the top of the head to the shoulders forming a frame for the face (similar to what people today look for in hair extensions). The hair would have the occasional wave, and tresses were twisted into spirals. Women preferred the wigs with several long tassel-ended tails.

Wigs and extensions were very expensive. Hair extensions were often preferred because they could be tied up in the back. All types of hair were meticulously cared for using emollients and oils made from vegetable or animal fats. Just like today, the hair that was properly cared for lasted longer. Although Egyptians preferred to wear wigs and took care of them, they also did spend a lot of time (and adornment) on their natural hair. Wigs were fragranced with different oil than hair. Wigs were scented to smell like petals or piece of wood chips such as cinnamon. When faux hair was not used, it was kept in special boxes on a stand or in special chests (maybe a pro-tip from the past?). When it was needed, it could be worn without tiresome up-keeping.

Real vs Synthetic Hair

Wigs were usually made from human hair, sheep's wool or vegetables (I wonder how they would compare with the new generation synthetic fibres we have today). The more it looked like real hair, the more expensive it was and the more it was sought after. The cheapest wigs were made fully from vegetable fibres. “Wig making specialists” and barbers made the wigs and this was considered to be a respectable profession. It was one of the jobs actually available to women at the time.

Making the Dead Look Phenomenal

If you’re going on a trip to the afterlife, you’d better look your best! Since it is believed that wigs were required in the afterlife, the dead were buried in the tombs with them. Diadems made of gold, turquoise, garnet, and malachite beads were discovered on an ancient Egyptian body dating back to 3200 BC. Even when you look your best, it is still important to look after your luscious locks. Combs were commonly found from early tomb goods. Wig boxes were also found in tombs so they could keep their hair in splendid condition.

Words of Wisdom from Ancient Adornments

From Old to New Kingdoms, from Egypt civilization to modern day, there are many things that have remained the same. We all deserve to express ourselves like the inner goddess we are. Hair is an important factor throughout history to allow us to have a unique look that we create for ourselves. Our hair can tell a story about ourselves to other people. Whether we use gold or berries, wigs or extensions, real or synthetic hair, we can create the way other people view us and the way that we view ourselves. Find your own path and wear your hair decorations with pride!

FUN FACT: No extensions of any kind for the priests! No hair extensions, no eyelash extensions, and especially no nose hair extensions (yes, those are a thing right now). Priests were required to keep their entire bodies cleanly shaved. They shaved every third day because they needed to avoid uncleanliness to conduct rituals. This is the reason why priests in hieroglyphics are bald-headed with no eyebrows or lashes.

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