Ancient Roman Hair

To continue the series on historical style, I skipped the Greeks and moved on to Ancient Rome. The Romans derived their fashion (and art and architecture and religion..) from the Greeks, but they also continued to evolve their style and experiment with different looks, especially when it came to hair. At one point,  fashions in hair changed so rapidly, that portrait busts made of women came with detachable hair to keep up with the newest look


Initially the styles were simply dressed, parted and combed to the back into a low chignon or coiled on the head. Elaborate hair was only worn by courtesans and foreigners. In the time of Fulvia toward the late republic, the hair was quiffed slightly in front without waves or curls and braided in the back.

In the early empire (27bC -AD69) Livia, the wife of Augustus wore her hair parted in the middle and waved, falling into curls or a long loose roll in the neck. Sometimes a fringe of curls were worn – and like celebrities today, her style was widely copied.

Rome, Ara Pacis museum: cast of a portrait of ...

In the Flavian period (AD69-96), the fringe of forehead curls were arranged onto a wire frame into a high crescent called the orbis. As the styles got more elaborate, false hairpieces and wigs were used, and a lot of money was spent on oils and perfumes for hair. Romans were quite superstitious about their hair, and wouldn’t wash it too frequently for fear of disturbing the spirit guarding the head. They did however, dye their hair different colours. For black dye, a mixture of leeches and vinegar was fermented in a lead vessel and applied in sunlight. To prevent teeth going black, it was suggested they hold oil in their mouth during this process. What women wouldn’t do for beauty – scary but true.

Apart from hair-pieces, women adorned their hair with ribbons, leaves, flowers, pearls, precious stones and nets.

Eventually, the hairstyles became so outlandish, the christian church, (as they do) riled against wigs and deigned it a mortal sin to wear them. Some conformed, and some didn’t, and women’s attitude to fashions seems to be exactly the same now as it was then .

My source is Richard Corson’s Fashions in Hairworth checking out if you want more information.


2 thoughts on “Ancient Roman Hair

  1. Pingback: Ancient Roman makeup – shoot | retromorphosist

  2. Pingback: Rocking the Roman look | retromorphosist

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