Braids and Curls

One thing is made very clear by the statues, coins, and paintings that provide our evidence about the hairstyles worn in ancient Rome: women changed their hairstyles very often. Though there is no one typical Roman hairstyle, it is obvious that Roman women often curled and braided their hair.

Perhaps to make up for the simplicity of their wardrobe, including the fact that Romans didn't wear hats, Roman women wore elaborate hairstyles. From the early years of the Roman Republic (509–27 B.C.E. ), women began to coil their long hair into a crown on their head. They might braid the hair first and then wrap it into intricate designs. They also used a device called a calamistrum to curl their hair. The calamistrum was a hollow iron tube that was heated. Hair was rolled around it, and when it was removed the hair retained its curly shape. These early hair curlers were very common among wealthy Roman women, and men sometimes had their hair curled as well.

Carving of a Roman man with long braids. Both men and women wore braids and curls in their hair. Reproduced by permission of © .

During the Roman Empire (27 B.C.E. –476 C.E. ), when Roman civilization was at its height of power, women took their braided and curled hairstyles to extremes. They were careful never to appear in public without carefully tended hair, and they kept slaves, known as ornatrices, who were specially trained in hair styling.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

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

Yates, James. "Calamistrum." Smith's Dictionary: Articles on Clothing and Adornment.*/Calamistrum.html (accessed on July 24, 2003).

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: