With school back in session I thought it would be really fun to do a month of hair history! For the entire month of September, I will be focusing on a different historical context behind hair and perhaps makeup. With any schools of practice there is a rich historical background on how and why we do things, examples in the world of hair would be the following. Why red heads where viewed as followers of the devil, how the first bob haircut was documented on Cleopatra, why and how we started coloring our hair, getting a perm in World War 2 could get you killed, and there is so much more.
This week I thought that the beginning would be a great place to start, not the beginning of time or creation, but the first documentation we have of hair from Ancient Civilization.
Picture it, the year is roughly 3200 B.C., Ancient Egypt, it is extremely hot, sand is everywhere. With these climate and environment conditions it can be extremely challenging to maintain your hair, so the best way to stay cool and remove the challenging and up keep of your hair is to shave your head! Men and woman would shave their heads, so they wouldn’t have to worry about managing their hair. The ancient Egyptians had the tools that we use today to remove body hair like tweezers and razors. They would remove all their body hair and the priests and high officials would rock a perfectly smooth body.
If you look in the tombs of Egypt you’ll notice elaborate hairstyles, they achieved these styles by creating wigs out of the hair that had been shaven off. They would design these beautiful styles that would be easier to maintain, and upkeep compared to having their own hair. The preferred color was typically black, however if the color of the hair was a dark brown that was also favorable. If the hair was lighter than they preferred, the hair would be dyed a darker color. Dark hair was in fashion up until the twelfth century and that is when red, gold, and green colors were introduced. They would color the hair using henna dyes which is a combination of minerals, spices, and muds that would stain then hair. There is not enough information or evidence to say if wigs or hair color were part of a religious ritual aspect or simply for practicality.
Wigs were made of human hair; however various substitutions were needed at times. Wool and palm leaf fibers were often used to help create a wig. Wearing a wig would be great in the outdoors to protect the head against the rays of the sun, but indoors the wigs could become hot and uncomfortable to wear. At dinner parties perfumed waxes would be offered to rub on the scalp under the wig to help create a cooling effect so the wigs were more comfortable to wear. Waxes were also used in styling the wigs. Braids were very popular at this time and waxes would be used to help keep the braids in place, however this made for a style that would be rather stiff and did not have a lot of movement.
Beards were very popular in Ancient Egypt, originally real, they eventually became false. The length of the beard signified the rank of the man. They would decorate the beards with golds and metals for those of a higher status. Beards that had a slight curl upwards to them were usually reserved for the gods. Beards were not exclusive for men, they were also sometimes worn by queens. A statue of Hat-shepsut (1480 B.C) is shown with her long beard with a slight curve upwards at the end.
With Egypt being the oldest documented civilization with the use of wigs, it is astounding seeing how many of their techniques are still being used today.
Moving forward with this month, if you have any hair history related questions please let me know in the comments below or message me privately and I will do the best of my ability to answer your questions.
Corson, R. (2012). Fashions in hair: The first five thousand years. London: Peter Owen. (p 24-27)
THE GEOGRAPHY OF HAIR
The Geography of Hair is devoted to share experiences and stories in cosmetology and how it has affected people, myself, or us as a society.