The Egyptian wig was worn to show someone’s status in society and was one of the prominent features of the ancient civilization’s culture. Various drawings show Egyptians wearing wigs, which made historians believe they played their role in citizens’ daily routines.
Why Did Egyptians Wear Wigs?
Wigs indicated one’s status in Egyptian society as people wore them in place of headdresses or with elaborate headpieces. In addition, people used their most expensive wigs instead of more regular wigs on special occasions and religious ceremonies.
Moreover, wigs were considered essential aspects of daily ancient Egyptian life. Elite Egyptians, male and female alike, regarded wigs as a necessary element of their clothing. The men, however, often had shorter wigs than women.
The wigs were often quite large and thick. Hence, they were used as adornment and protection to the wearer’s head from the scorching sun, like hats are used in modern times. Handkerchiefs were also worn to protect the wig from dust and preserve its integrity.
People were conscious of their loss of hair in ancient Egypt. We know this due to archaeological discoveries of instructions and recipes for hair growth remedies. Hence, the wigs were also used as an ornate cover for thinning hair.
Customary Exemptions From Wigs
Children in ancient Egypt didn’t wear wigs. Instead, female children usually braided their hair or sported pigtails, and boys had their heads shaved. Some Egyptian children also wore a side-lock, which was a braid on one side of their shaved head.
Likewise, Priests were not accustomed to wearing wigs, and they shaved their heads instead. Under the customs then, the law barred servants and slaves alike from wearing wigs. What’s more, they were also not permitted to shave their heads.
The Beard Wigs
The Egyptian weather made keeping beards appearances a sore sport for the men. Nonetheless, the Egyptians regarded the beard as a manly quality, and thus, they settled for fake beards (known as beard wigs) to satisfy such notions. Males of the royal household wore these false beards on their chins during official or festive events.
The Pharaoh’s own beard was much lengthier than the standard fake beard that existed. He regularly wore it straight and with a lot of thick hair.
Ancient Egyptians portrayed the Gods with thinner beards that had curled tips. According to popular belief, kings were descendants of gods, and on some occasions, kings wore a curved beard to demonstrate that they embodied the image of gods. For the same purposes, some of Egypt’s female rulers, such as Pharaoh Hatshepsut, sported the beard wigs at special ceremonies.
Beard wigs were made of human hair or wool, and people used them with hooks that fastened behind each ear. They were braided and knotted into a tight, solid rectangle or tube shape that hung straight down from the chin.
What Were Ancient Egyptian Wigs Made Of?
The most excellent real ancient Egyptian wigs were made from human hair, and they were also the most expensive of the times. Notably, a fascinating accounts list from the ancient town of Kahun put hair’s value in the same category as gold!
There was also a blended wig, which was constructed of part human hair, part vegetable fibers. The middle-class Egyptians largely criticized such Egyptian hair pieces, particularly those who couldn’t afford wigs entirely made out of human hair.
Wigs were also made of sheep’s wool, but the cheapest wigs were made out of 100 percent vegetable fibers.
Colors and Adornments of Ancient Egyptians Wigs
Most wigs were colored deep black, and blond wings were less prominent but equally impressive. As an icon of her day, Queen Nefertiti made a trend out of dark blue wigs.
In addition to wigs, there were countless ways to adorn hair in ancient Egypt. The wigs could be curled and braided along with the addition of bangs’ extensions. The men preferred simpler styles, while women loved more adornments such as golden tubes, jewelry chains, flowers, and tiaras.
The Structure of Wigs
Ancient Egyptian wigs had a base which was a fiber-netting skullcap, attached to strands of human hair, wool, flax, palm fibers, amongst other materials. Wig hairs were mostly fixed directly outwards from the skullcaps. This helped create large, full wigs that protected the wearer from the harsh weather.
The Trends of Wigs in Egypt
The wigs were outfitted in various ways, each distinguishing a given period and the fashion trends of such eras. As time went by, the hair on wigs increased in length, and the arrangements became increasingly complex.
For example, during the earliest periods of ancient Egypt, men and women sported short-looking wigs with minimal amounts of curls and straight hair. Later, some women opted for the trend of lengthier hair and wore longer and bulkier wigs that showed their natural hair underneath.
During the Middle Kingdom period, the trends favored bulky wigs with curls of hair covering both shoulders. During the New Kingdom, men adopted wigs that were longer in the front than in the back and smaller than before, while the women opted for even bulkier ones that completely covered the shoulders.
The Production and Maintenance of Wigs
In the production process of ancient wigs, hair was first collected. Hair was tremendously treasured, and the Egyptians traded their hair in exchange for desirable goods.
As soon as they collected the required amount of hair, the wig-maker carefully cleaned the hair, ridding it of any lice eggs present. Once the cleaning process was complete, it was separated based on its varying lengths.
Wig-makers would then coat the hair with a blend of resin and beeswax to make it more suitable for work. The hair would then be weaved through a cap made of fine netting, and the strands were then fixed onto it with wax.
When the basic wig was produced, the hairstylists made the attached hair into braids and curls. Wax and resin held the hair in place notwithstanding continued usage, even in the harsh weather.
Wigs could contain several amounts of hair.
One particularly impressive wig artifact that was discovered carries 120,000 individual hairs!
Moreover, ready-made wigs were made in factories, as archaeologists have found. Wig chests have also been identified in tombs, which assumingly also come from the wig factories.
Importance of Wigs in Egypt
Egyptians spent a great deal of effort taking care of their wigs and were not at all inclined to share their expensive wigs. However, the wigs were not washed, but they were perfumed instead using fragrances of scented petals, essential oils, and cinnamon bark.
Human hair has always provided a perfect canvas for self-expression, but not everyone can be very flexible in their choice of hairstyle. That was true in ancient Egypt too, where depictions of hair reflected social status and idealized identities of men, women, and children.
Wigs in Iconography
The chapels were usually commissioned by “high-ranking male officials” to show idealized versions of their families. There was no relenting whatsoever in the iconography, as Egyptians were depicted wearing wigs.
The drawings also followed through as there were illustrations of women with long hair and men with short or shaven heads. What’s more, there was a stark disparity in the depiction of non-elites with their natural locks.
Ancient Egyptian Men in Wigs
Adult men of the elite class sported wigs that rose well above their shoulders, highly dignified elites were known for wearing intricate wigs organized into strands, curls, or braids.
Moreover, sons of the elite were of a subordinate status to their fathers, both in the family and society. This lower-ranked status is depicted in chapels, as the lads are illustrated with a short, round wig or a shave-cut head.
Little or no hair signified subservient status, whether to a god or mortal master, as it’s clear from drawings of priests and household servants who had shaved heads. However, when the priests held a son’s figurative part in a ritual, they chose to wear a wig with a sidelock.
Ancient Egyptian Women in Wigs
Far different from the men’s shorter hair, female elites and household women servants were depicted with their long hair, which fell below shoulder level. Women always had their hair long, even underneath their bulky wigs, and were painted with short locks only in devotional contexts.
Wigs and Hairstyles in Tomb Chapels
Even though the depictions in tomb chapels didn’t intend to recreate exact scenes from reality, they helped reflect the elite’s ideal identities. The identities constructed in their iconography, were organized to reflect a corresponding set of ideals in life that described the individuals’ character and societal status.
For example, the male elites showcased their derived ranks and identities from their position outside the home by their hairstyles. At the same time, women constructed their identities on monuments related to a man, via iconography, and through their status as someone’s daughter, relative, wife.
In this article, we discussed why Egyptians wore wigs.
Here are reasons why the Egyptians donned the wigs which they are known for:
- Ancient Egyptians wore wigs to signify their status in society
- Wigs were quite trendy in Ancient Egypt, especially for those high in rank
- Notably, Queen Nefertiti would wear dark blue wigs to differentiate herself from the standard black and occasional blond wig
- Slaves and servants weren’t allowed to wear wigs, and they were also not allowed to shave their heads
- They had various purposes such as decoration and shade from the burning sun
- The pharaohs wore beard wigs to showcase their God-like status
- Wigs were greatly treasured as they were made of human hair
If we think about it, the reason why Egyptians wore wigs is quite vain. However, they invented a useful and wonderful accessory that is even used in the modern world – especially to help people regain their confidence after losing all of their hair due to chemotherapy for cancer.