Like other aspects of personal dress, hairstyles in ancient Greece and Rome reflected a person’s age, sex, and position in society. They also varied according to trends in fashion and style. The hairstyle of the Roman emperor, for example, was frequently copied by other Roman men. Many examples of Greek and Roman hairstyles have been preserved on coins, vases, and statues.
Greek women wore their hair long—in waves or in ringlets. When they married, they tied it in bunches, or wore it up on the head, secured with a broad band of ribbon or a hair net called a sakkos. Slave women, or women in mourning, had their hair shorn into a bob.
Greek men also wore their hair long, and men from aristocratic* families tied their hair back in a bun secured with gold pins. Greek men wore beards. With the end of the Persian War, people rejected earlier aristocratic hairstyles by adopting simpler, more practical styles. Women rolled their hair into a tidy bun, and men no longer used golden hair ornaments.
During the Roman Republic, men wore their hair short and were clean-shaven. Only philosophers and those in mourning wore beards. Roman women wore a single long braid down the back or tied their hair in a knot high on the head, held with pins or with a hairnet called a reticulum, often covered by a veil.
During the days of the Roman Empire, hairstyles became more elaborate. Noblewomen had slave hairdressers in their homes, and men who could afford to visited a barber daily. Men wore their hair combed forward and sometimes had it curled. During the reign of the emperor Hadrian, beards became fashionable, and young men wore them carefully trimmed and curled. Both men and women oiled their hair, which was thought to encourage hair growth. Those who worried about baldness applied marrow* fat or the excrement of rats to their heads.
Fashionable Roman ladies sometimes sat for hours to have their hair dressed in complicated, sculpted styles. An easy alternative was the wig. Wigs were made from real human hair, and blond wigs—imported from Gaul, Germany, or Britain—were the most popular. Women also dyed their hair, with blond and red being the most popular shades. Blond hair could be achieved by using an herb from Germany, and red hair by using a mixture of fat and ashes. (See also Clothing; Gems and Jewelry.)
* aristocratic referring to the people of the highest social class
* marrow soft tissue of fat and blood cells found in the cavities of bones