Personal appearance was important in ancient Egypt and women wore elaborately designed clothes, dramatic make-up and intricate hairstyles. These varied according to status and wealth but being poor didn't stop women decorating themselves. Hair in particular was highly valued by ancient Egyptian females of all ages despite the common practice of head-shaving. Wealthy women wore wigs made of human hair and tomb paintings portray them having their hair styled by servants.
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Old Kingdom Hairstyles
In this ancient Egyptian period running from 2575 to 2150 B.C., the start of the Age of the Pyramids, women preferred shorter cuts and chin-length bobs, whether with their own hair or their choice of wig. Some styles, however, were popular throughout the periods of Egyptian history, and hierglyphs from different times show that long hair, tucked behind the ears then draped forward over the shoulders, was a consistent favourite.
Shaved Heads and Wigs
Evidence of bronze razors date from the Middle Kingdom period, 1975 to 1640 B.C., show that shaving remained a popular choice for the body and the head. A shaved head was most importantly a sign of cleanliness and social status and also helped with the scorching Egyptian heat. Women did not want to be seen in public with no hair, though, and if they were bald, they wore wigs, often changing styles according to the fashion of the day.
New Kingdom and Ptolemaic Periods
The new kingdom ran between 1539 and 1075 B.C. New Kingdom Egyptians used elaborate braiding woven close to the head as well as jewels to adorn themselves. Wigs were still popular in this era and often threaded with gold. Archaeologists found the statue of a young Nubian woman from the Ptolemaic era, from between 323 B.C. and 30 B.C., who had a shaven head with just five carefully placed clumps of hair.
Servants and Married Women
While servants also wore wigs and shaved their heads, the wigs were of a poorer quality. Typical hairstyles included long hair tied in one loop at the back of the head and a number of long plaits, gathered together to hang on one side of the face and shoulder. Married women wore their hair long at the back, shorter at the sides and even shorter at the front, hanging as fringe over the forehead.
Wigs were worn either long or short. The short style in the old and middle Kingdoms was cut into overlapping layers and curled with a short piece of hair cut horizontally across the forehead, showing the eyebrows. Long wigs were cut as one length from the roots to the shoulder, sometimes curled into spirals. In later periods the trend for long hair included fashioning the ends into decorated tassels.
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