Friday, 22 April 2005

Roman "ladies" in the morning

Women in ancient Rome, were allot fussier about their morning "toilette" than the men. (This would apply particularly to the rich ladies.) They would awake of course at the same time (sunrise or before). Like the men they would go to bed at night almost fully dressed. However, in the morning unlike the men who were practically ready to step out of the house like that, they would make several additions to their attire, which usually involved a colourful tunic, an elaborate fabric belt around the waist, jewellery (including bracelets, anklets, necklaces and earings).

Before the Roman matron was ready to do this though she would have to "put her face on". This consisted of applying what we would call make-up, only unlike modern make-up this was made of chalk, lead and other such unpleasant and unhealthy ingredients. The chalk and lead were used to whiten the skin, herbal dyes would colour the lips red and ashes mixed with charcoal were used to intensify the eyebrows and outline the eyes.

Of course, you may wonder when both men and women washed, as they didn't seem to do so in the morning. The men would go to the public baths (thermae) later on in the day, usually the early afternoon or evening, whereas the women would go to the baths in the afternoon at a time specifically alloted to them. Once the women had finished bathing and had left, the men were allowed in again. For obvious reasons there were no mixed baths...

Attending to her hair was a rather laborious task which if the lady was rich, was usually carried out by a slave girl who would often be chastized badly if she accidently caused her mistress any pain, did not produce the desired look, or did not manage to get the curls quite right. These unfortunate girls would often be screamed at, beaten with a leather strap or worse. Lucky was the girl whose mistress was bald as she would only have to apply a pre-styled wig to her head..
Hairstyles ranged from the simple to the outrageously elaborate and there are stories of ladies who had tier upon tier of curls piled up on their head so that they looked rather ridiculous. (One can only imagine what an arduous task this would have been for the unfortunate slave-girl...).


Light said...

Is it true that Roman Prostitutes dyed their hair blue? And wore footgear that had adverts for their services carved into 'em?

Alterior said...

Hi Light!

In 40 A.D. a law was passed requiring all Roman prostitutes to dye their hair blonde in fact.
As for the blue part, it was the Gauls who dyed their moustaches blue before going into battle.

Light said...

Ahh, blonde! That would make more sense...

I read in a book (I forget which one) that they had blue hair. And it just struck me as...well, bizarre. Blonde makes more sense to the generally dark haired Roman culture I guess.

I believe the Pict were big fans of the blue woad too.

Alterior said...

Oh yes. And the Romans were terrified of them when they first landed here and were comfronted by loads of blue-faced warriors with ash in their hair! :-)

Speaking of woad, did you know that Queen Elizabeth I banned woad dyers from living in the City because of the dreadful smell. they had to live miles away. Considering the stenches which normally frequented London streets in those days, woad must be pretty nasty for them not to be able to endure it.