“A Mullet from Hell”: Baltimore Stylist Resurrects Ancient Styles

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Photos of ancient hairstyles by Janet Stephens via the Wall Street Journal
Photos of ancient hairstyles by Janet Stephens via the Wall Street Journal

File this under awesome-jobs-you-never-heard-of-until-today:  Janet Stephens is a hairdo archaeologist.

More than 10 years ago, Stephens (currently a stylist at Studio 921 Salon & Day Spa in the Inner Harbor) was admiring some Roman sculptures in the Walters Art Museum when the idea occurred to her:  she should try to recreate some of the coolest Roman hairstyles (coiled, braided buns) on 21st-century heads. Scholars have long insisted that the Romans used wigs to create the elaborate hairstyles they fancied, but Stephens found that with a little research and ingenuity, she was able to recreate the style herself.

According to a flattering profile in last week’s Wall Street Journal, Stephens’s aesthetic curiosity actually led to an academic breakthrough. After figuring out through experimentation that the Romans probably used a needle and thread to sew braids together (instead of using a hairpin), Stephens noticed that most scholarship about Roman hair was probably wrong.

Says the Journal:  “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.”

Stephens wrote an article that was published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology in 2008, only the second publication by a non-archaeologist in the journal’s 25-year history.

These days, Stephens cuts 21st-century hair by day, and works on ancient styles in her spare time. She’s still looking for a model who’s willing to take on the hairdo in a Roman sculpture known as the Fonseca Bust. “It’s like a mullet from hell,” Stephens told the Journal. If you’re fashion-forward (or -backward?) enough to handle it, get in touch with Stephens through her salon. Want to do your own version of an ancient style? Stephens has a ton of elaborate YouTube videos for your styling pleasure.



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