Ancient Romans were people who lived in the Italian peninsula and also some parts of Europe and Western Africa from the 8th century BC to the 5th century AD. Ancient Rome is renowned for its excellence in art, architecture, language, and science.
But, when you think of clothes of the romans, you will find many similarities with Ancient greek clothes. During the early years their clothing was much influenced by the Greeks and Etruscans (of Etruria, Italy). But as they extended their borders, their clothing became more complex. The clothes were ornate, richly colored, and showed one’s social status and position.
In this article I will cover:
Fabric of Roman clothing
Romans wore clothes made of wool and linen. But higher classes also used clothes made of silk which was imported from China. Silk was predominantly a fabric for women. The cotton from India was imported to Ancient Rome and was used for weaving along with wool and linen.
Most Romans wore colorful clothing. Even expensive dyes like saffron yellow and Tyrian purple were used among higher classes. The purple dye was obtained from the small glands in the mollusks purpura.
The production of wool was part of daily housekeeping for most women. Women, irrespective of class, knew how to weave. Other than that, fabrics and clothing were also produced by professionals.
Ancient roman clothing for Men
All men in Rome wore tunics that ended at the knee. These tunics had bands of purple color attached to the edges on the hem and across the shoulder called clavi. The width of this band denoted the rank of the person wearing it. Higher the rank wider the band.
The Roman senators wore lacticlavus, a broad purple band on their tunics. This distinguished them.
Tunic/Tunica was a basic garment worn by both men and women of all social classes. Originally it was made from wool later they were made from linen. For men, it was a sleeveless or short-sleeved tubular shape pinned around the shoulders, with openings for the neck and arms. It was secured with a belt or left hanging free.
The length of the garment and ornamentation showed one’s status in society. For example, the tunics were generally knee-length for Roman men. Shorter tunics were worn by soldiers, slaves, and manual workers.
If men wore longer tunics, it was considered a mark of effeminacy. But later this changed. Though in the initial period, long or ankle-length tunics were frowned upon by men, later marriage dresses for men fell to the feet and had long sleeves. They were called Tunica Talaris.
Toga was worn over the tunic. It was wrapped over the shoulder and chest, taken over the arm, and draped under the right arm.
The Roman men wore toga over their tunics. The toga was considered their national costume.
Men wore Toga virilis, a white woolen cloth about 6 feet wide and 12 feet long cloth which was cut as a segment of a circle. They wore it draped across the left shoulder, passed around the back, under the right arm, and once again over the left shoulder. The folds created in front as the fabric crossed over served as a pocket and was called a sinus.
The toga virilis of ordinary men were off-white or darker in color. The senators wore a brighter white-colored toga. The senators were prohibited from appearing in public without wearing a toga.
The magistrates and some priests wore a toga called toga praetexta which had a wide purple edging. They wore it over a tunic with two vertical purple stripes. This particular toga was also worn by young boys and girls who were free-born.
Toga picta and tunica palmata were purple in color with gold embroidery. They were initially awarded to generals to wear on their victorious return. But later, they were used as the official dress for emperors and official consuls.
Toga pulla was made of darker color wool and was worn for mourning.
The toga was extremely difficult to wear and maintain. They were chiefly worn by leisure class people to show off their wealth. Ordinary men who had to work for a living rarely wore a toga as it was impractical.
The ordinary people, philosophers, and pedagogues wore pallium, which was a Roman cloak similar to a Roman woman’s palla and Greek’s himation. It was made of wool or flax. But higher classes wore pallium made of silk and embroidered with golden thread.
The civil and military used a hooded, bell-shaped weatherproof garment made of leather or wool called paenula. By the time of Tacitus, it was worn by lawyers and later replaced toga for senatorial use. It was long and closed except for a slit at the chin like a poncho.
The military mantles were called paludamentum and sagum. The Emperor or the general in command wore paludamentum while in the field. It was fastened at the shoulders with fibulae. It was generally crimson, scarlet, or purple. There was also white paludamentum.
Sagum was a red wool cape worn by soldiers. It was a rectangular piece of cloth fastened at the shoulders over the armor by leather or metal clasp. It was made of unwashed wool saturated with lanolin.
This was a cloak like garment. It was fastened at one shoulder.
Women’s Clothes in Ancient Rome
Every woman wore a Tunic. The tunics worn by women were ankle-length. They were either form-fitting or loose. They also had long sleeves.
For married women, this tunic was called stola. Married women wore a Stola over their inner tunic called tunica intima. Stola was similar to a toga worn by men. It was usually made of wool or linen. Stola was generally a sleeveless long pleated dress. Some versions of it had long or short sleeves. The Stola was fastened at the shoulders with clasps called fibulae. It was worn with two belts, one fastened below the breast and a wider belt fastened at the waist.
Over the Stola, citizen women wore a rectangular shawl about 11 feet long and five feet wide called palla. This was similar to Himation of Greeks. It could be worn as a coat or draped over the shoulder like men’s tonga. The palla also served as a hooded cloak.
Matrons were expected to wear a veil when in public. The prostitutes and women convicted of adultery were forbidden to wear a Stola. Instead, they wore a woman’s tonga or tonga muliebris.
All Romans wore undergarments called subligacula or subligaria. It was either in the form of a pair of shorts or a loincloth. For protection from cold, both men and women wore a soft under-tunic called subucula. The women also wore a strophium, a band of cloth covering their breasts.
Children’s clothing of Ancient Rome
Roman children dressed much like adults. They wore a toga with a purple band around the edge called toga praetexta. Boys wore it until the age of fourteen to sixteen, after which they wore the citizen’s toga called toga pura.
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