That title is a little misleading. Perhaps, “Getting the Roman Look in an Affordable and Easy Manner” would have been better.
Full disclosure, My goal is to be as period as possible within my limits, budget, and safety (i.e. not using lead on my face). This is MY goal because it makes me feel good. I think everyone should decide for themselves what the best goal for them is. Also, it’s better to attend an event than to not simply because you don’t feel your look is “just right.” What my other goal is, is to help people get the “look” in a way that is affordable and doable. This is especially important to those who don’t have the spoons.
Here is my routine (currently).
The parameters for the products I searched for were: hypoallergenic or at least paraben free (as I’m allergic to parabens I couldn’t test certain products, but they are likely out there) and as affordable as possible given the previous. Some of the traditional items listed are theoretical. And I’m not an expert on all the traditional sources.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND DOING A 72 HOUR SKIN TEST (BEHIND THE EAR IS A GOOD PLACE) BEFORE USING NEW PRODUCTS.
Traditionally: white lead mix, tin oxide mix, chalk and vinegar
Modern substitute: Hello Bello *Diaper Cream ($7-8 but it will last quite a long time) it’s made of zinc (for whitening) and healthy oils. It’s hypoallergenic and actually a really nice moisturizer. Highlighter will give a nice glow but it will lightening it a bit. I use e.l.f. Metallic Flare Highlighter ($6).
*I got the idea of using diaper cream is from Katie Lewis’ Roman Cosmetic class. The zinc is a whitening agent as you can see and a sunscreen. It also contains a lot of nice oils. It actually a great moisturizer.
Traditionally: Kohl and lampblack
Modern: Addictive Cosmetics (an independent woman owned company) Eyebrow Pomade #4 ($9) (on Etsy or https://www.addictivecosmetics.co) or e.l.f. Instant Lift Brow Pencil in black ($2). I love Addictive Cosmetics and their brow pomade really shapes and holds nicely. Their products are a little more expensive but they last forever and don’t have the usual allergen suspects.
Traditionally: Ochres, charred rose petals…
Modern: e.l.f. 18 Wonders Pallet ($14) If you mix the Solar and Summer eyeshadows together it looks like yellow ochre, as you can see below. Also, I’m sure their are cheaper brands that carry this color. Hopefully the below example will help with finding similar colors. There are also variations in the color of yellow ochre. The NYX Ultimate Petite Shadow Phoenix Palette ($6-$8) looks promising for both yellow and red ochre.
Traditionally: Kohl or lampblack
Modern: e.l.f. No Budge Retractable Eyeliner ($4) or Almay All-Day Intense Gel Eyeliner ($6 – $9). Neither have parabens or phthalates in them and although e.l.f. doesn’t claim to be hypoallergenic, it appears to qualify. I will also use Neutrogena Healthy Volume Waterproof Mascara ($8) as I’ve seen it said that they used kohl on their eyelashes. e.l.f. also has a variety of mascaras that are more affordable.
Traditionally: Alkanet, possibly wine dregs, who knows what else
Modern: A lip tint is a nice route to go as lipstick has a heavy look. I’ve found that Burt’s Bees Daisy lip tint balm ($5) is pretty close to alkanet (left). There are also sellers on Etsy that make alkanet lip balms which are good products but are a little more expensive. If you want to support small business, I like the Dirty Made Clean Soap Company’s Rosy Color Balm ($5 + $4 shipping). The later is lighter.
Traditionally: Alkanet, anything that would give a rose-y hue
Modern: You can use either of the above.
Where to begin with hair. Hair styles of the upper class were usually based on the Empress of the time. Some of those styles can be very elaborate, especially Flavian. Wigs are an option as is a low bun with a center part.
Personally, I like the hair style seen on Agrippina the Elder and Agrippina the Younger. It’s during my time period, it works with my hair, and the Venus locks are flattering to my round face.
Here is a link to a YouTube video on how to style your hair like Agrippina the Elder: https://youtu.be/X1ZRgz-Pdh4
Simple Examples of Hairstyles:
“There is no single type of hairstyle: let every woman choose the one that suits her best after consulting her mirror. An elongated face calls for just one part, leaving the forehead free…A round face needs the hair to be gathered in a bun above, leaving the ears uncovered. For another, the hair should be worn down, falling over both shoulders…for another face the hair should be drawn back behind… Nor can I enumerate all the hairstyles; everyday brings new ones…”Ovid (Art of Love III. 133-152)
Augustan Era 27 BCE – 14 ce
excerpt from the book,
Women and beauty in Pompeii
For more on period cosmetics:
Cosmetics & Perfumes In the Roman World by Susan Stewart
And for a very deep dive visit: EXPLORING THE OBSCURE
The best route for 1st century BCE to 1st century CE Roman (which is a time period that is popular for Roman personas) is the gap-sleeved tunica. It’s remarkably easy to make and just requires fabric, thread, and a needle. You can see my tutorial on how to make one here. There is also the stola that was occasionally worn over the tunica but only by married women, it was a sign of the matronly woman (Later it was reserved for the upper class. It went out of favor around the end of the 1st century CE, around the same time the gap-sleeved tunica did, which it was worn with.). If you portray someone unmarried or a courtesan it is best to avoid it. It is also an additional step that’s not really necessary.
Sources for Fabric:
Sheets from thrift stores work perfectly well. Sometimes you can even find patternless tablecloths and light curtains that will also work. Try to find something with a cotton/linen/wool feel to it and remember, polyester is very warm and flammable (not that the others aren’t too but… plastic).
As for affordable natural fabrics, there is a seller on Etsy that sells a cotton voile for $3.99 a yard in a variety of colors (see my tutorial for colors). I recently purchased a few yards of different colors to see if it’s a good source and it works and would be very light for the summer. When you have a lot of the really thin fabric it becomes less see through. Linen-store.com has cheap linen (as linen goes it is inexpensive but also low quality) for around $10-12 a yard and local fabric stores often have sales.
Undergarments seem to be a big deal for some people. I don’t really get it as they are “under your garment.” If you feel more comfortable or need to wear a bra (yes, some of us do need to wear one) with the gap-sleeved tunica, something with thin straps pinned under the connectors or strapless works. Now, I am not a skinny or small chested woman in the least (DDD) but I did find that the strapless bras from Torrid actually work. Yes, I was indeed utterly shocked by this. There’s also sports bras, shelf bras, and tank tops with the built in boob shelfs. They’ll hold your boobs up (goodbye heat rash) but also give you the undefined look of wearing a strophum. I wear a strapless bra with a thin shoulder strap tank top shaper in nude. The important part is to have something similar to your skin tone and to be comfortable.
Footwear, whatever your persona, is usually the hardest part of completing an ensemble and for some the type of shoe is not an option. Roman women, from what I can find, basically wore leather thong flip flops in this earlier period. Slaves and the very poor might, and probably did, go barefoot. Shoes have always been a status symbol. Those of us raised in the Western World don’t often realize that for hundreds and even thousands of years, and still in many places today, shoes were a luxury item. Not having shoes was a sign of your low social status. If finding, making, or wearing leather thong flip flops doesn’t work for you, a leather Mary Jane style will be close. Something similar comes along later. As the gap-sleeved tunica was often worn to almost floor length the style of shoe was likely not as important. Later, when the dresses got shorter some shoes became more elaborate. As previously mentioned, a status symbol.
If you’ve been on my site for more than a few minutes or have attended any of my classes you’ve probably figured out that Roman jewelry is my thing. The rest I do to complete the look but I’m in it for the jewelry. The jewelry I wear, except for rings, I make myself and they often take months of research for each piece. And they are not cheap. So, a solution is to get rosary chain (chain necklaces were very popular) and attach a simple hook and eye to the ends. They were worn like chokers but wear them to your comfort level. You’ll want to get gold chain as that was the preferred metal and none to very little faceting. The Romans did shape stones but often we see on modern stones micro or a lot of faceting. However, go with what you can afford. In the Fayum Mummy Portraits we see women wearing multiple strands of chain bead necklaces. If your persona is upper class pearls are a good option and glass pearls can be quite affordable. Also, thrift stores often have vintage faux pearl necklaces.
A note about being “historically accurate:”
There is no such thing. No one will ever be 100% accurate. Is the wool used to make one’s palla spun by hand and hand woven at home on the exact same style of loom, is the linen wet spun in caves to have a better quality, is the sheep breed the exact same and feed the same food, is the fabric dyed in the exact same way with the same sources of dyes (well, that may be possible), are the stitches accurate, is the garb sewn using the exact type of thread with the same type of needle, is the make-up the exact same and made with the exact same products in the same way, are they using the same beauty regiment, is their hair cared for, washed, and designed the same way (granted replicating Roman hairstyles is possible), are there extant finds to show exactly how something was constructed? It’s not possible. One of the best things I’ve heard someone say to someone who commented on their appearance is “I’m making an attempt.” Also, it’s important, in my opinion, to keep in mind that the SCA is full of very passionate people and passion and enthusiasm can often come off as criticism. We are an educational organization, although that’s not what it is to everyone and that’s okay, but some people, like yours truly, are major nerds. Sometimes criticism is blatantly obvious, but sometimes someone is just really enthusiastic and is offering advice or just really wants to talk Roman. If this doesn’t work for you, you can always tell them that if you’re interested in getting a more “period” look you’ll reach out to them. Of course, you don’t have to, but it does establish your boundaries in a non-confrontational way. As some of us have trouble confronting people and enforcing boundaries. So, make an attempt and you do you.