Hairstyles during the Old Kingdom

It has often been maintained that the ancient Egyptians, like their modern descendants, shaved their heads most carefully, and wore artificial hair only. The following facts moreover are incontrovertible: we meet with representations of many smoothly shaved heads on the monuments, there are wigs in several museums," and the same person had his portrait taken sometimes with short, at other times with long hair. Herodotos also expressly states of the Egyptians of his time that they shaved themselves from their youth up, and only let their hair grow as a sign of mourning. An unprejudiced observer will nevertheless confess, when he studies the subject, that the question is not so simple as it seems at first sight. We must therefore conclude that when a man is said to be shaven we are as a rule to understand that the hair is only cut very short, and that those persons alone were really shaven who are represented so on the monuments, viz, the priests of the New Empire.
As a fact the monuments of the Old Empire show that short hair (as seen in the accompanying illustrations) was originally the fashion for all classes, for the shepherd and the boatman as well as for the prince, and was even worn by those in court dress. At the same time the great lords possessed also a more festive adornment for their heads in the shape of great artificial coiffures. Amongst them we must distinguish two kinds of wigs, the one made in imitation of short woolly hair, the other of long hair.

The former consisted of a construction of little curls arranged in horizontal rows lapping over each other like the tiles of a roof; as a rule very little of the forehead was visible, and the ears were quite covered as well as the back of the neck. The details vary in many particulars, though this description is correct as a whole. The little curls are sometimes triangular, sometimes square ; the hair is sometimes cut straight across the forehead, sometimes rounded ; in many instances the little curls begin up on the crown of the head, in others high on the forehead ; other differences also exist which can be ascribed only to the vagaries of fashion, It strikes us as humorous that the people should ape this attire of their masters ; in the earliest times the master alone and one or two of his household officials wore this wig, but in the time of the 5 th dynasty we have many representations of workmen, shepherds, or servants adorned with this once noble headdress. On the other hand the second wig, that of long hair, seems never to have been displaced from its exclusive position, although it was certainly a more splendid head-dress than the stiff construction of little curls. In the long-haired wig the hair fell thickly from the crown of the head to the shoulders, at the same time forming a frame for the face ; while round the forehead, and also at the ends, the hair was lightly waved. The individual tresses were sometimes twisted into spiral plaits. Nevertheless, this marvel of the Egyptian wig-maker's art, with all the variations which it admitted, did not content the dandy of the Old Empire ;
and he exerted himself to make his head-dress still more imposing. A certain Shepsesre', who held the office of superintendent of the south at the court of King 'Ess'e, must have been specially anxious to excel in this respect. He caused four statues to be prepared for his tomb each representing him in a special coiffure.
 In two he wears the usual wigs, in the third his hair is long and flowing like that of a woman, and in the fourth he wears a wig of little curls, which reaches down to the middle of his back.^ The latter must have been an invention on the part of the wig-maker, for it would be impossible ever to dress a man's natural hair in such a wonderful manner. The same might be said of the wig which became the ruling fashion under the 6th dynasty. This consisted of a senseless combination of the two earlier forms ; the long-haired coiffure, the whole style of which is only possible with long tresses, being divided, after the fashion of the other, into rows of little curls, though its waving lines were retained.
Source: Adolf Erman, life in ancient Egypt. 

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