In ancient Greece and in the period of ancient Rome following, hairstyles were a distinct attribute of the culture. Typical of ancient Greek fashion in hairstyle was the preference for golden-red hair and bountiful locks for both men and women, with the fashion of longer hair and noticeable facial hair coming in and out of style at various times. In ancient Athens the custom was for young boys to wear their hair until puberty when it would be cut in a ceremonial act, only to be grown long again as an adolescent reached manhood. Women generally did not have the same public presence as men, since their roles were really defined by their relationships to their fathers and husbands, but would typically wear their hair covered by a net of gold mesh, or a coif, or would tie their hair back into a knot at the crown of the head. Men would use this style of tying the hair in a knot as well and use ornamental clasps of gold or ivory or other rich material to keep the hair in place.
For Greeks, and for the Romans of certain periods that followed, specific features of hair were considered more desirable: thick, wavy hair had its popularity at one point, alternating with short, close-cropped hair for men, as did carefully cut beards for men, and blonde hair was considered preferable to the more prevalent dark hair of the region. In ancient Greek texts, the gods and heroes, for example, are often described as having the idealized golden hair.
The art of hairstyling and the consuming work of maintaining hairdos was particularly apparent after the fourth century B.C.E. when barbers became well-established figures of Roman cultural life. The Roman man’s hairdresser was called the tonsor and he would ensure that a typical well-bred man would have a cleanly shaven face and closely cropped hair. Equally, a woman’s hairdresser, her ornatrix, would ensure that a woman of the upper class had her hair properly plaited, or set in rows of curls, for example. The Roman woman’s beauty routine would require the many attendants and ornatrices, who were basically from the slave class and who themselves, as is often the case in the history of costume and fashions, would be distinguished from the upper classes by a different form of appearance. Slaves and servants in both Greek and Roman cultures typically wore their hair shorter and without the ornamentation available to the upper classes.
Another trend in women’s hairstyles for both Greek and Romans was the use of wigs. Wigs were popular in that they offered an easy change of hair color and facilitated keeping up with rapidly shifting trends in hairstyle. Trends were so rapidly changing that a woman might have a sculpture portrait made of herself with a removable hairpiece that could be interchanged with hairpieces of different styles.