The costume traditions of the ancient Romans were, in general, fairly simple. Romans did not tend to wear hats or decorative headdresses throughout the long history of their civilization, which lasted from the founding of the city of Rome in 753 B.C.E. to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 C.E. But this does not mean that Roman customs and traditions of hair and hairstyling were not important. In fact, Romans had some interesting rituals relating to hair. They believed that washing their hair too frequently would disturb the spirits that watched over them. Yet they also believed that it was very important to wash their hair on August 13 as a celebration of the birthday of Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Sailors believed that it was back luck to cut their hair aboard ship—except during a storm.
Men's hairstyles in ancient Rome were very simple. Prior to the introduction of the razor in Rome in about 300 B.C.E. , men tended to wear both their hair and their beards long. After the introduction of the razor, however, short hair, combed forward, became the most common hairstyle for men. This hairstyle, known as the Caesar, remains popular to this day. It was named after the Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar (100–44 B.C.E. ). As for beards, they went in and out of style, depending on whether they were favored by the emperor at the time.
Though men typically did not wear hats, they could wear a ceremonial form of headwear known as a corona, or crown. Like many areas of Roman dress, there were strict rules about wearing coronas. For example, a gold crown decorated with the towers of a castle could only be worn by the first soldier to scale the walls of a city under attack. The most honored corona was made from weeds, grass, and wildflowers collected from a Roman city held siege by an enemy, and it was given to the general who broke the siege. Other ceremonial coronas were worn at civic occasions such as weddings and funerals. The notion that only an emperor wore a laurel wreath is actually a historical myth. Any victorious general could wear a laurel wreath.
In the early years of Roman history, women tended to wear their hair long and very simply. They parted it in the center and gathered it behind the head in a bun or a ponytail. Though women's clothing remained fairly simple, their hairstyles grew more and more complex, especially after the founding of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.E. With the help of slaves trained especially in hair styling, they curled and braided their hair, piling it on the top and back of their head and sometimes holding it in place with very simple headdresses. Archeologists, scientists who study the physical remains of the past, have discovered a wide array of hair grooming accessories in the tombs of Roman women, including hair curlers, pins, and ribbons.
Both men and women resorted to other means to change their hair. Dyeing the hair was very popular among women, with blonde being a favorite color. Men might also dye their hair. Men and women also wore wigs and hair extensions.
"Coma." Smith's Dictionary: Articles on Clothing and Adornment. http://www.ukans.edu/history/index/europe/ancient_rome/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Coma.html (accessed on July 24, 2003).
"Corona." Smith's Dictionary: Articles on Clothing and Adornment. http://www.ukans.edu/history/index/europe/ancient_rome/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Corona.html (accessed on July 24, 2003).
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Rome. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
Trasko, Mary. Daring Do's: A History of Extraordinary Hair. New York: Flammarion, 1994.