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wore kingdom shoulder period

Most scholars believe that some ancient Egyptian men and women often wore wigs regardless of the style of their natural hair. The more elaborate styles that artists represented for upper-class men and women were almost certainly wigs. Representations of rich women often include a fringe of natural hair at the forehead, under a wig, leading scholars to believe that it was a sign of wealth and status to wear a wig and that vanity had little to do with it. Most scholars assume that all people above a certain station were depicted with wigs on, yet it is not always clear whether the style in a statue, relief, or painting is a wig or is natural hair.


During the Old Kingdom (2675–2170 B.C.E. ), men wore both a close-cropped style and a shoulder-length style. The shorter style probably represents natural hair cut close to the skull. The wearer swept the hair back in wings, covering the ears, when wearing the shoulder-length style. Men also wore moustaches and sometimes a goatee in this period. Working men wore their natural hair cropped closely. Only workmen were ever depicted with gray hair or with male-pattern baldness. This difference between richer and poorer men in statues, reliefs, and paintings reflects a wider convention of portraying upper-class tomb owners in an idealized manner, at the most attractive point in their lives. The major distinction between men’s hairstyles of the Old and Middle Kingdoms (2008–1630 B.C.E. ) was in the shoulder-length style. Often in the Middle Kingdom men tucked their hair behind the ears when wearing shoulder-length hair in contrast to the covered ears of the Old Kingdom. This feature of the hairstyle probably relates to the fashion for large, protruding ears during this period. Men also wore wigs pushed farther forward than they had during the Old Kingdom, indicating that a low forehead was considered attractive in this period. While early in the New Kingdom, men continued to wear the same styles that had been popular in the Middle Kingdom, men’s styles became more elaborate around the reign of Amenhotep II (1426–1400 B.C.E. ). Artists portrayed a hairstyle with two different styles of curls: one in triangular-shaped wings, or lappets, at the side of the head and one down the back. Scholars sometimes call it the lappet wig because of these overhanging folds of hair. These details made hairstyles appear more complex and suggest that men paid more attention to their hair in this period of relative peace and prosperity.


Women also could wear either a short or a long hairstyle in the Old Kingdom. The ideal was heavy ringlets that could just frame the face, or a longer wig that included hanks of hair over each shoulder and down the back. Scholars call this style “tripartite” because the wearer divided her hair into three sections. Tripartite hairstyles could be shoulder-length or longer. Often a fringe of natural hair was displayed over the forehead when wearing a tripartite wig. Almost all women wore the same styles regardless of class. During the Middle Kingdom, women added short, curled wigs to the possibilities for coiffure. Royal women also began wearing the so-called Hathoric wig, named for the goddess Hathor. This style resembled the way Hathor wore her hair when depicted on the capital of an architectural column. The thick, wavy hair came forward over the shoulder and curled, sometimes around a ball. Natural hair remained visible down the woman’s back. At the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539–1292 B.C.E. ), royal women continued to wear the Hathoric wig and the now ancient tripartite wigs. When human women wore this style in depictions, the artists decorated it with additional rows of horizontal ringlets. Goddesses, however, wore their hair in the most conservative fashion, recalling the Old Kingdom style. Upper-class women also added a full-length style called enveloping. Rather than dividing the hair into three parts as in the tripartite wig, an enveloping style presented the hair as a continuous mass enclosing both shoulders and the back. In the Eighteenth Dynasty, enveloping styles generally reached the shoulder blades. Women’s hair was a component of their sexual allure. Images of young women on cosmetic articles such as mirrors or the objects called cosmetic spoons, have especially elaborate hairstyles. In The Story of Two Brothers, written in the Ramesside Period (1292–1075 B.C.E. ), the scent of a woman’s hair prompts a man to kill her husband because he desires her so greatly. The scent of a god’s hair also helps identify him.


During the reign of Akhenaten (1352–1336 B.C.E. ) men and women could wear nearly identical styles. The most popular unisex style was the Nubian wig. This hairstyle consisted of tapering rows of tight ringlets in layers. Such hairstyles can be found in sub-Saharan Africa in modern times and most likely derived from hairstyles in Sudan (ancient Nubia) during the New Kingdom. Another Nubian style worn in New Kingdom Egypt was the rounded wig. This wig hung in ringlets to the nape of the neck. Both men and women wore the Nubian wig and the rounded wig. Moreover, both royalty and commoners wore these styles. The royal wearers had more complex wigs, but basically the styles were the same for all. These styles, however, were abandoned at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. During the Ramesside Period (Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties, 1292–1075 B.C.E. ), long hair was the defining stylistic characteristic. Men continued to wear the lappet wig, and women still wore enveloping and even tripartite wigs. But now men’s hair could reach below the shoulders. Women’s hair could reach their waists.


Both male and female children could wear the so-called “side lock of youth.” In this style, most of the head was shaved, except for a long tuft of hair gathered at one side and usually plaited. This style also associated the child with certain gods who played the role of a child within a divine family. In many periods of Egyptian history priests shaved their heads, and perhaps other parts of their bodies, to achieve ritual purity. Especially in the Ramesside period, artists depicted processions of bald priests carrying the god’s boat or performing other ritual actions.


Jacques Vandier, “Coiffure, Costume et parure (ancien empire),” in Manuel d’archéologie égyptienne (Paris: A. et J. Picard, 1952–1978): 106–115.

“Costume et coiffure (moyenne empire),” in Manuel d’archéologie égyptienne (Paris: A. et J. Picard, 1952–1978): 248–253.

“Costume et coiffure (nouvel empire),” in Manuel d’archéologie égyptienne (Paris: A. et J. Picard, 1952–1978)


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