Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Very Hairy Tale!

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

It’s evident that ancient Egyptians cared about how they looked just like the rest of us do today, and of course hair was a major concern to them, just like it is for any one of us today.

As everything they did with style and flamboyance, so did their headdress, which too was of major significance to the Egyptians. And elaborate hair styles were not confined to royalty even the working labor class flaunted some very interesting hairdos.

Although hair length was not limited to one gender or other, both men and women adopted a wide range of hair styles, ranging from a shaven head to long flowing locks, which to some archeologists was misleading, so was the fact that individuals with a shaven head were automatically assumed to have held religious office which too proved to be misguiding.
Hair styles have always marked different periods in modern time as fashion statements; this was true over the course of history, as Egyptian hairstyles varied over the ages. Evidence of these styles is provided by surviving wigs, inscriptions, tomb scenes and statuary. During the Old Kingdom, men and women alike kept their hair basically short and simple, although there were variations in style. Young girls wore their hair in a pony-tail, down the center of their back, weighed down with an ornament or metal disc or the end of the tail was curled naturally or encouraged to do so by hair irons, which have been found in excavations.
However, in the New Kingdom women wore their hair long or used wigs. Hair was decorated with flowers and ribbons; a favorite was a lotus blossom. Also used for decoration were coronets and diadems made of gold, turquoise, garnet, and even malachite beads, but poorer people decorated their hair with petals and berries which they used to hold their hair back. Headbands or ivory and metal hairpins were also used to hold the hair in place. But to attach wigs or hair extensions Egyptians sometimes used beads to keep them in place.
Children wore a special hairstyle during ancient Egyptian history, called the “side-lock.” The hair was shaved off except for a long lock of hair left on the side of the head. This was sketched on hieroglyphic as a symbol for depicting a child or a youth. Both girls and boys wore this style until the onset of puberty. Children decorated their hair with amulets of small fish, presumably to protect them from the dangers of the Nile. Children sometimes used hair-rings or clasps.
Priests had to shave every third day because they needed to avoid the danger of lice or any other uncleanness to conduct rituals. They were required to keep their entire body cleanly shaven and that included eyebrows and lashes.
Near El Deir El Bahari in Luxor excavations have revealed a factory for manufacturing wigs out of natural hair or fibers. Besides being popular and worn by men, women and children, with all their variety, they were a headdress worn on special occasions, such as ceremonies and banquets. If the hair was not dark enough, thick enough or plenty enough, Egyptians preferred to flaunt a wig or risk not being beautiful enough to appear in public!
As much as washing their hair regularly was a routine for Egyptians, they were very fussy about caring for their wigs! Wigs were usually made from human hair, sheep's wool or vegetable fibers. The more it looked like real hair, the more expensive it was and the more it was sought after. Of course the ones made completely from human hair were the most expensive and Egyptians used emollients and oils made from vegetable or animal fat to properly care for and make the wigs last longer.
Egyptians loved coloring their hair as much as the next modern-day fashion conscious person, and certainly something had to be done about hiding gray hair, so “henna” was used. The leaves of the henna shrub are used to make the henna paste that produces a red-orange dye that bonds to protein and so was used to dye hands, nails and hair. In fact henna is still used to date for its vibrant red color and its excellent gray-hair coverage.
Although wigs were popular and saved face for men who were balding, the matter was not taken lightly, balding that is. There were many potions and remedies to stimulate hair growth, the most popular being chopped lettuce patches that were applied to balding spots. The things that people do to keep with the fashion goes back beyond time, back to the roots of humanity!

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem