Ancient Rome: fashion accessories

Published: 01st February 2010
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In the early ages, jewelry worn by Romans was mainly made by Greek craftsmen and was in a predominately Greek style. They primarily worked with gold, glass and semiprecious stones. Specimens were enamelled, damas-quined or plated.

As the spoils of military conquest became greater, more sophisticated stones became available, including pearls, diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds. This luxury in jewels corresponded to the periods of Roman commercial expansion during the last two centuries BC and the first two of the Christian era. Although Rome was then an important manufacturing centre, Antioch and Alexandria rivalled her in the execution of fashion accessories in the Oriental taste. Gradually Roman artisans introduced not only their filigree and granulation techniques and their decorative motifs, but also their habit of piling on precious stones.

The tendency towards luxury became more marked in the third and fourth centuries AD, with a predominance of Syrian styles represented by large gems. This translated into heavy pendants, ear-rings or crotalia, and bracelets developed into multiple convolutions.

Roman footwear did not differ much from that of their predecessors, the Greeks, the former having adopted the essentials of Athenian fashion. In terms of style, the footwear of both peoples exhibited a marked difference between the right and the left shoe. In terms of function, however, Roman footwear adopted a new meaning: certain types of shoes were a distinctive mark of a social class.

The first roman shoes were rather simple. Known as the carbantina, they were sandals held in place by a thong. The carbantina were replaced by the calceus, a low-cut shoe with a leather sole and thongs crossed tightly over the foot and up part of the leg. Only citizens were allowed to wear the calceus.

At first, the calceus senatorum was black, then, under the late Empire, became white. It was quite high, slit on the inside and fitted with a tongue. The red leather thongs muleus were reserved for the Emperor.

Emperors wore shoes in the current styles, but made of richer materials. Gallienus launched the zancha, a high leather boot fitting closely to the leg, imported from Armenia or the Crimea.

The pero was a light boot made of raw, natural hide. It reached to the calf and laced all its length. The pero was worn in the country.

In the house, Romans wore sandals, either the solea, whose sole was fastened on by cords over the instep, or the crepida, which were leather espadrilles held on by a strap passing through eyelets, with a wide range of fastenings. Women wore the soccus, a s richly decorated slipper, or the calceoli, a term which seems to have been applied specially to shoes worn in the house. The upper of women's shoes was not divided into two pieces, as was usual for men's footwear, and women's shoes were made in red, green or yellow as well as white.

The gallicae, originally from Gaul, were closed boots, which appeared in Rome in the last century of the Republic.

Hair and headgear

During the Republic, hairstyles were simple. Roman women wore their hair parted in the middle and rolled in a chignon, or plaited it and then rolled it. There were variations as married women began to wear their hair coiled on the crown. By the time of the empire, hairstyles had become very sophisticated. The hair was still parted down the center but it could be waved, curled, or worn in a loose roll that sat low on the back of the neck. These complicated and often enormous arrangements, required the work of a hairdresser or ornatrix responsible for adjusting the false switches or wigs, or dye hair blonde or ebony black. Dyeing the hair was a common practice. Originally only prostitutes colored their hair yellow. But with time, women of all classes began to do so. Otherwise the Roman woman bound her hair with a simple red or purple vitta.

Men's hairstyles were also rather simple and careless at first. They grew their hair and beard long only during times of mourning. Baldness was a deformity, so bald men wore wigs or false hair pieces glued to the scalp. During Hadrian's time long hair and trimmed beards became fashionable and hair was crimped with curling irons.

There were several types of headgear. The galerus was a close fitted cap. The petasus, inherited from the Greeks, was a straw wide brim hat wore mostly by women, though senators were authorized to wear it at the Circus. The pileus was a men's cap made from felt, it was round and brim-less, encircling the head. The cucullus was a simple hood, attached or not to a cape.

Make-up and grooming
The thermae were more than public baths. They were social places where men met. Women had their own separate baths or visited the public baths in the morning.

A visit to the bath lasted several hours and comprised four stages. It started with the sudatorium, where bathers could be massaged with scented oil followed by the calidarium, an even hotter chamber with a hot pool. A rest break followed in the tepidarium, a warm room, to prepare the body for the cold water treatment - the frigidarium.

After bathing, they exercised by training with weights, running, or playing sport games. The less active played board games.

Cosmetics, perfume, and skin care products were very popular. Like the Greeks, women used a toxic white foundation made of lead, honey, and fat to which they added a dye made from ocher, saltpeter foam, or wine dregs for color. Soot was applied to the lashes and brows . Face masks could be made from plant extracts, but sheep fat and breadcrumbs soaked in milk were also used. Spots were treated with butter and white lead, sores - with cow placenta.

The author is the founder and owner of Adriana Allen LLC - a European fashion brand offering handmade and one-of-a-kind handbags and fashion accessories. You can learn more about world fashion, fashion's history, and how to buy fashion accessories at our official blog

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