Did They Have "Vogue" in Ancient Rome?
Guest post by Kate Quinn, author of
In some ways they had it better than us 21st century girls: the Roman ideal of female beauty is another thing I wouldn't mind seeing brought back on modern magazine covers. Thin, tan, and toned? You'd be told to eat some more stuffed dormice, stay out of the sun, and for Jupiter's sake get rid of those leg muscles before people mistake you for a slave girl. Soft, tan-free, and voluptuous was the ideal Roman look – and speaking as a girl who's always looked more Joan from Mad Men than Blair from Gossip Girl, the Roman way is a look I can get behind.
|Joan meet Blair|
Roman fashion is something else to envy – those draped goddess gowns aren't just chic, they're comfortable. Underwear consisted of a simple laced-up leather version of a bra, and a linen tunic for a slip – no more thongs to avoid VPLs, no more of those boy shorts Victoria's Secret insists are wedgie-proof, but aren't. Add a sleeveless dress on top and drape, pleat, pin, belt, and tuck the folds to suit your figure – and don't worry about your dress going out of style next year, because the layered look stayed in for hundreds of years through the Roman Empire. Slip on a pair of comfortable strappy flats – no more four-inch stilettos, no more clunky platforms, no more of those spiky ankle boots that give even the slimmest girl cankles. Finish off your look with a huge assortment of jewelry: rings, brooches, necklaces, earrings, anklets, bracelets, whatever your heart desires.
Roman men groused a lot about women wearing makeup – some things never change – but the women of Rome paid no attention to them. Rich women imported expensive cosmetics from places like Egypt and Greece; poor women bought cheap knockoffs from the ancient-world equivalent of Rite-Aid. Skin creams were popular to whiten the face (stick to your Lancôme foundation, though; those Roman skin creams sometimes had lead in them). Vermilion, red chalk, or poppy petals were used for blush; soot-based kohl or charred rose petals for eyeliner. Colored eyeshadows came from powdered malachite or azurite (I wonder if Roman women cringed to be reminded of their blue eyeshadow days as much as I do when I look at my high school pictures). Perfumes were doused liberally, and nails could be colored with red dyes. As for hair, curls were popular (no more torturing my ringlets out with a flat-iron!) and so were elaborate pinned-and-piled updos. Wigs were popular too: sport a short Audrey Hepburn pixie cut at home when it's too hot to mess with your hair, and then go blond, redhead, or brunette with an assortment of pre-styled wigs for when company drops by. (Take a look at Lucy Lawless's array of do's from Spartacus: Blood and Sand.)
If there was anything else the Romans understood very well, it was cleanliness. Their goddess of health was called Hygeia; people bathed in ancient Rome, and they bathed often. Elaborately too – most modern women only treat themselves to the spa as an occasional treat but Roman women tripped out to the bathhouse as a near-daily social occasion. You met your friends at the local bathhouse and caught up on the day's news while first basking in a hot steam room, then cooling down with a splash in a refreshing cold pool, then wandering to a social area where you might get a toning massage or choose a facial or a bikini wax from the list of spa treatments while sipping wine and gossiping. Some of these beauty treatments might seem a bit odd today – one anti-wrinkle cream included swan fat and bean meal, and an early-version chemical peel recommended by Nero's Empress involved a liberal application of ass's milk. But there's no doubt Roman women believed in pampering themselves.
So perhaps we can combine the best of both worlds. I'll pass on lead-based skin creams and anything with swan fat. But no tanning, no flat-irons, and the phrase “She's a size 16; put her on the magazine cover”? Sign me up now.
Heather, thanks so much for having me! I've long been an avid reader of The Maiden’s Court, so it was a treat to be a guest blogger.
You can find Kate on her website or blog. You can pick up her previous release Mistress of Rome or her newest release Daughters of Rome (links go to Amazon.com).
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