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Archaeological Hairstyling

Historians said ancient hairstyles were so difficult to achieve they had to have been wigs. Janet Stephens, professional hairstylist and amateur scholar, took that as a challenge.

Studying translations of Roman literature, Ms. Stephens says, she realized the Latin term “acus” was probably being misunderstood in the context of hairdressing. Acus has several meanings including a “single-prong hairpin” or “needle and thread,” she says. Translators generally went with “hairpin.”

The single-prong pins couldn’t have held the intricate styles in place. But a needle and thread could. It backed up her hair hypothesis.

In 2007, she sent her findings to the Journal of Roman Archaeology.

In what may be the ultimate YouTube fashion how-to video, Janet Stephens walks through how she reverse engineered the elusive Vestal Virgin hairstyle from statues and then shows you how to braid and bind the hair to get that look that was oh-so fashionable 1800 years ago. It makes going to a museum feel like opening a copy of Elle magazine.