The Roman Makeover

by Sally Pointer

Meet Heather, a 21st century geologist who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time! She’s about to be transformed into a Roman fashion victim! Heather, the Roman Fashion Victim
First the clothes have got to change. She wears a tunic made from linen dyed with madder roots and secured on the shoulders with small clasps and stitches. A light wrap known as a palla goes over the top. Palla and tunic
After a thorough cleansing at the Roman Baths, a moisturising layer of cold cream is applied. This recipe dates to the second century and was devised by Galen. cold cream
A foundation layer of white paste is applied. The rich favoured white lead (pretty but poisonous), safer alternatives include chalk and orris root. chalk and orris root
A healthy glow is restored with a rouge made from red ochre. Roman writers commented on the excessive use of rouge by fashionable young ladies. ochre
Eyes receive special attention. Using a cosmetic grinder (something the British did for the Romans) kohl, made with lamp-black or galena is applied to the eyes and brows. A dramatic effect is aimed for with brows emphasised. kohl
Eyeshadow made from saffron is applied.This expensive spice was loved by the Romans, who also added it to perfumes as well as food. saffron eyeshadow
Lips are made up with a lipsalve tinted with alkanet root and ochre. ochre alkanet root
Her hair is dressed with bone pins and a ribbon. A lavish application of perfume- perhaps Krocinion or Megalion, finishes the look. Finished, the fashionable Roman lady!
Fashionable Roman Lady Fashionable Roman Lady

The research behind The Roman Makeover

Sally Pointer has an academic background in archaeology and specializes in the use of experimental reconstructions as a way of exploring aspects of life in the past.

Her current research project combines a reassessment of the known facts about make-up and cosmetic use throughout history with a programme of experimental reconstructions of products, recipes and techniques in an attempt to further our understanding of this very subjective area.

The cosmetics used for the Roman Makeover are based on documentary evidence left by Greek and Roman writers and supported by the use of replica cosmetic implements. As much attention is paid to the accurate sourcing of ingredients and preparation methods as is paid to the finished look itself.

Experimental archaeology is, by its very nature, a combination of hard research and best guess. It is intended to stimulate questions and can never pretend to be absolutely accurate in the most minute detail. Work continues on this research and I am always happy to hear from people who may have noticed some detail apparently unrecognized in early texts or feel that some basic premise has been mis-interpreted. It is only by continually questioning our understanding of the evidence from the past that we can make progress in our understanding of it.

The Roman Makeover can be provided as an informative and entertaining talk/workshop, with the opportunity to handle the reconstructions and experience the perfumes first hand. It has recently been demonstrated at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff and at the Clothed Body in the Ancient World conference in Milton Keynes.


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