Pschent

The single most important piece of headwear in all of Egyptian history was the pschent, the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Historians believe that Upper Egypt (surrounding the upper Nile River in the south of present-day Egypt and in Sudan) and Lower Egypt (most of present-day Egypt) were united in about 3100 B.C.E. by King Menes. The rulers of Upper and Lower Egypt each wore a different type of crown. The White Crown of Upper Egypt, known as the hedjet, was a white helmet that was shaped much like half a football with a stretched out, rounded end. It also had a coiled uraeus, or sacred hooded cobra, just above the forehead. The Red Crown of Lower Egypt, known as the deshret, was a round, flat-topped hat that extended down the back of the neck and had a tall section that projected upward from the back side. From the base of the projection a thin reed curled up and forward, ending in a spiral. When King Menes united the two Egypts, he combined the hat into the pschent, or Double Crown. The pschent had as its base the Red Crown, which completely covered the wearer's hair. The White Crown emerged out of the top of the Red Crown.

From the time of King Menes on, nearly every pharaoh from the Old Kingdom (c. 2700-c. 2000 B.C.E.), Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-c. 1500 B.C.E.), and New Kingdom (c. 1500-c. 750 B.C.E.) is depicted wearing the pschent in hieroglyphs, pictures of Egyptian life that are preserved in tombs. The pschent symbolized the power of the pharaohs who ruled over one of the greatest empires of the ancient world.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

"Royal Crowns." Egyptology Online. http://www.egyptologyonline.com /pharaoh's_crowns.htm (accessed on July 24, 2003).

Watson, Philip J. Costume of Ancient Egypt. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

[See also Volume 1, Ancient Egypt: Unraveling the Mystery of Hieroglyphs box on p. 18]

Wigs

Upper-class Egyptian men and women considered wigs an essential part of their wardrobe. Wearing a wig signaled a person's rank in Egyptian society. Although a shaved head was a sign of nobility during most of the Egyptian kingdoms, the majority of Egyptians kept their heads covered. Wigs were worn in place of headdresses or, for special occasions, with elaborate headdresses. Egyptian law prohibited slaves and servants from shaving their heads or wearing wigs.

The base of an Egyptian wig was a fiber-netting skullcap, with strands of human hair, wool, flax, palm fibers, felt, or other materials attached. The wig hair often stuck straight out from the skullcap, creating large, full wigs that offered wearers protection from the heat of the sun. Most often black, wigs were also other colors. Queen Nefertiti, who lived during the fourteenth century B.C.E., was known for wearing dark blue wigs, and festive wigs were sometimes gilded, or thinly coated in gold.

Wig hair was arranged in decorative styles throughout all the kingdoms of Egypt. During the earliest dynasties (which began around 3200 B.C.E.) and the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2700-c. 2000 B.C.E.), both men and women wore closely cropped wigs with

This man and woman are wearing traditional Egyptian wigs.

Reproduced by permission of © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS.

This man and woman are wearing traditional Egyptian wigs.

Reproduced by permission of © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS.

Egyptian Wigs

rows of short curls or slightly longer straight hair. In later kingdoms, some women began to grow their hair longer and wore wigs of greater length and bulk that showed their natural hair beneath. By the time of the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-c. 1500 B.C.E.), bulky wigs with hair coils draping forward over each shoulder were favored. During the New Kingdom (c. 1500-c. 750 B.C.E.) men's wigs became much longer in the front than in the back and less bulky, but women's wigs became larger, completely covering the shoulders. For special occasions, wigs were decorated with gold, braided with colorful ribbons, or adorned with beads. Wigs were made even more elaborate with the addition of golden bands, caps, and fancy headbands.

The hot climate of Egypt made it uncomfortable for men to wear beards. However, Egyptians believed that the beard was manly, so they developed artificial beards, or beard wigs. Men of royal rank tied stubby beards on their chins for official or festive occasions. The king's beard was longer than that of other men and was usually worn straight and thick. Gods were depicted with thinner beards that curled up at the tip. Egyptians believed that kings were descended from the gods, and in some ceremonies kings would wear a curved beard to show that they represented gods.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess, 1970.

Lister, Margot. Costume: An Illustrated Survey from Ancient Time to the Twentieth Century. London, England: Herbert Jenkins, 1967.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume: From Ancient Mesopotamia Through the Twentieth Century. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Was this article helpful?

+1 -1

Responses

  • Jarno
    What egyptian women wore?
    8 years ago
  • julia
    How to make pschent, the united crown?
    8 years ago

Post a comment