A Hair-Style Archaeologist Recreates the Hairdos of Ancient Rome

While it is rather easy to look back on old fashions and hairstyles with a critical eye, one woman is more intrigued by the process of creating ancient hairstyles. Janet Stephens, a self-professed hair-style archaeologist, asks how did ancient women make their hair.

Janet Stephens Is a Hair Dresser and a Hair-Style Archaeologist

A Hair-Style Archaeologist Recreates the Hairdos of Ancient Rome

While her daily job is to be a hairdresser in Baltimore, Janet Stephens has a second calling. Her time spent giving people layers and funky bobs made her wonder how women made their hair in ancient cultures, so she endeavored to recreate the hairstyles of ancient Rome. She started her own YouTube channel where she now boasts all types of ancient hairstyles, from that of the Empress Plotina to Cleopatra’s coin hair, making her something like a hair-style archaeologist.

Janet’s First Hair-Style Recreation Was That of Empress Julia Domna

Her first foray into YouTube was two years ago when Janet recreated the empress Julia Domna’s hair using tools that Romans at the time would have had. But, Stephens does more than just recreate ancient hair-style fashion for YouTube. She also publishes her research in papers for scientific journals. One of those was called “Ancient Roman hairdressing: on (hair) pins and needles.” It described the difficulties of recreating Roman hairdos and the tools required to do so.

Roman Empress Julia Domna's hairstyle

Many historians had assumed that the gravity-defying curls, bumps, and buns of hairstyles from ancient times were just wigs. However, Stephens never quite bought into the wig theory. Through trial and error, she managed to achieve the ancient hairstyle by sewing the braids and bits with a needle. She then dug deeper into fashion and art history books to find references to stitching. Sure enough, in 2005, she had a breakthrough while studying translations of Roman literature.

She concluded that the Latin term ‘acus’ was being misunderstood when it comes to hairdressing. It has several meanings, and while translators generally go with hairpin, it could also mean a single-prong hairpin or needle and thread. Since then, many journals have recognized Janet’s expertise.