Roman Hairstyles for Women
By: Domina Arria Marina

Roman women originally dressed their hair with great simplicity, left loose and confined by a band encircling the head, or platted into braids and then fastened with a large pin. Young girls wore their long hair in simple buns tied at the base of the neck or wore their hair in a top knot. Simple hairstyles for married women changed during the reign of the Emperor Augustus when a variety of different and elaborate hairstyles came into fashion.

For more than just attractiveness, hairstyling was the leisure pursuit of the cultured, elegant female. Hair was seen as much as an indication of wealth and social status as it was of taste and fashion. Having a complex and unnatural hairstyle illustrated the wealth of the wearer in being able to afford to take the time to style their hair. A “natural” style was associated with barbarians, who the Romans believed had neither the money nor the culture to create these styles.

During the rule of the Flavian emperors (69-138 BC) hairstyles were raised to a great height by rows of false curls. Hairstyles involved hair being twisted, waved, curled, and arranged in elaborate layers. Ringlets were created to create hairstyles which fell to the sides and the backs of the head. Wigs and hair pieces were used to create an illusion of abundant locks.

Apart from society, hair was used symbolically to mark rites of passage; for instance, loosened hair was common at a funeral, and the seni crines (six braids) was the hairstyle worn by brides and Vestal Virgins. 

As the Roman Hairstyles for women became more elaborate and an important sign of status, it became necessary for slaves to create the latest fashionable hairstyles. These slaves were highly skilled and valued. The Roman slave hairdressers were called ornatrices.

Assisted by expert hairdressers and augmented with false hair and wigs, the Roman women spent much time and effort on their tresses. They even had hair dyes and bleaches. Cosmetics and hairstyling required mirrors, which were made of highly polished bronze or silver in rectangular or round shapes. Grey hair was dyed using a form of walnut dye. Blonde hair was greatly admired by the Romans. Roman women used a form of hair dye to produce the prized blonde hair, or they purchased hair cut from Germanic slaves to make wigs. Wigs were common in Ancient Rome which were combed into elaborate hairstyles. Often ribbons, gold, pearls, and other precious jewels were sewn into the hair to help emphasize the intricate styles.