Ancient wigs

 

In pharaonic Egypt, wigs were part of the costume of the elite. These luxury items were worn regularly, on special occasions. Often they are made of human hair, as the ones from the Museo Egizio seen on this page. The complete wig presented here is that of Merit, wife of Kha from the ancient Egyptian 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom). I studied this wig and the others in the collection in 2018. This wig is built up of different layers of hair with some braids on the back of the wig and loose, wavy strands ending in small curls at the bottom of the wig. These type of wigs became popular in the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom.

 

Wigs were used by both men and women in those days. In fact, it is sometimes stated that wigs for men were even more elaborate than those worn by women in ancient Egypt. From several tombs of royal families and noblemen, wigs have been uncovered. In later periods of pharaonic history the wigs became bigger and more voluminous. They were even stuffed with fiber in order to create more volume in the hairstyle. More information on wigs can be found here

 

 

  

© Museo Egizio Turin, Italy.

The images presented below show reliefs or painting of wigs being worn by women in the New Kingdom. What is important to notice is that the artist has attempted to show how the hairstyle became more transparent towards the lower parts of the wigs, below the shoulder. This is probably because the hair of the owner was always worn underneath these wigs and the women were never completely bald when wearing them. The wigs are worn to augment the hair, not to replace it. Just over the shoulders, the hair of the owner - often worn relatively short - ended and the thin layers of the wig augmented the hairstyle in a semi-transparent manner. You can also see this feature in Merit's wig. Other specific features of New Kingdom wigs are the two braids or strands framing the face, and the braids on the back of the wigs.

This is a depiction of Merit herself wearing her wig. This painting (Museo Egizio) shows the artist's attempt to indicate her wig by adding white, wavy lines to the black background of her hair, suggesting a more transparent lower part of her hairstyle. Another feature is also shown: the fact that the locks framing the face are draped back over the top of the head.

The fact that the wearer's own hair and the wig complemented eachother is nicely depicted in this scene. although here, more emphasis is put in the wearer's original hair. It is depicted hanging on the side of her face in loose, long strands. Since she is depicted having very long hair of her own, no attention is given to presenting the wig being transparent over the shoulders.

The two frontal locks of hair, framing the face in other depictions are shown here as being draped over the top of the head towards the back. This is a feature many New Kingdom reliefs of wigs show. In this image the desired effect of wigs, to enhance the thickness of the wearer's own hair is clearly indicated by the transparent locks of the wig past the shoulders.  

Here, the woman wearing the wig is depicted wearing the front braid or strand of the wig (often depicted being draped over the top of the head) as a thick separate strand being folded back over the shoulder to keep the hair out of her face. This loose strand or braid that is framing the face, is a feature that can also clearly be seen in Merit's wig.

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