Dress and the Roman Woman
Self-Presentation and Society
By Kelly Olson
Routledge – 2008 – 14 pages
In ancient Rome, the subtlest details in dress helped to distinguish between levels of social and moral hierarchy. Clothes were a key part of the sign systems of Roman civilization – a central aspect of its visual language, for women as well as men.
This engaging book collects and examines artistic evidence and literary references to female clothing, cosmetics and ornament in Roman antiquity, deciphering their meaning and revealing what it meant to be an adorned woman in Roman society.
Cosmetics, ornaments and fashion were often considered frivolous, wasteful or deceptive, which reflects ancient views about the nature of women. However, Kelly Olson uses literary evidence to argue that women often took pleasure in fashioning themselves, and many treated adornment as a significant activity, enjoying the social status, influence and power that it signified.
This study makes an important contribution to our knowledge of Roman women and is essential reading for anyone interested in ancient Roman life.
'An assiduously researched monograph, Dress and the Roman Woman makes a welcomed contribution to the growing interest in dress and adornment in the Roman world … this surprisingly slender book represents the fullest and most recent examination in English of women's dress and adornment at Rome. Dress and the Roman Woman should become an immediate standard resource for scholars of Roman social history and women's history, and in particular, required reading for historians of Roman dress.' – Bryn Mawr Classical Review
Introduction 1. The Clothing of Women 2. The Cosmetics Arts and Care of the Body 3. The Dangers of Adornment 4. Self-Presentation, Status and Power. Conclusion
Kelly Olson (PhD, University of Chicago) is associate professor at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Her research interests are in the areas of Roman society and culture, and she has published numerous book chapters and articles on Roman women and ancient clothing.